Why it’s okay to have employment gaps in your resume

June 12, 2015, 6:15 PM UTC
Courtesy of Maren Kate Donovan

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for:What are three things you look for in a resume? is written by Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual.

As your company rapidly expands, relying on your personal network for new hires becomes increasingly difficult. Your personal network serves as a vetting mechanism, weeding out the bad candidates before they even get on your radar. The time and resources you save is invaluable in the early days of a growing company. But what happens when you must rely on traditional recruiting methods to identify the good candidates from the rest?

Well, having assisted in hiring hundreds of employees at Zirtual over the years, I’ve learned some resume-reading techniques that keep the process smooth and stress free:

Personalization goes a long way
A standalone resume lacks context. It shows nothing about the personality of the prospective hire and is simply a list of ingredients. An exceptional candidate will add context beyond the resume that clearly shows their interest and knowledge of the position. Start by paying close attention to the initial email and cover letter. Syntax, word choice, and anecdotes–these are all crucial elements that distinguish a good candidate from a great candidate. In my opinion, this is more important than the resume itself. I want to see excitement and passion about the position and Zirtual. If this isn’t evident, the candidate will immediately be put in the ‘no’ pile.

Individual achievements trump company milestones
So you worked for a company that had a multi-billion dollar IPO–so what? Listing off your employer’s achievements is like name-dropping the model your brother dated in college–it says nothing about your personal accomplishments. Instead, tell me what impact the customer service overhaul you led had on your company’s SLA. If you ran a marketing campaign, what were its specific goals? Getting specific with metrics ensures you were a key player on that project and instrumental to its success. Everyone wants to hire a winning employee, so make sure your resume highlights your specific achievements.

Employment gaps need to be explained
I’m not concerned if a candidate took a sabbatical after his first job to travel the world for a year and write about every adventure for his best friend’s blog. More importantly, I want to understand why there are employment gaps. For legal reasons, some questions cannot be asked in interviews, so I let the law be my guide when discussing this issue. But learning what a person was doing during their break, could affect they way they approach this new position. Every opportunity should result in a life lesson, which is why I’m interested in hearing how yours helped you get where you are today.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What are three things you look for in a resume?

3 resume tips that help make a great first impression by Debbie Messemer, managing partner at KPMG San Francisco.

In a job interview, here’s what’s more important than intelligence by Angela Dorn, chief legal officer at Single Stop USA.

Here are the 2 qualities that could make or break a job interview by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Why your resume matters less than it used to by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder of Koru.

3 resume tips for recent grads by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

Here are 3 things you should have on your resume by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn

What does your resume say about you? by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

CEO of Brit + Co: 3 ways to create a stand out resume by Brit Morin, CEO of Brit + Co.

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