How do you explain your resume gap in a COVID job market?

September 25, 2020, 9:11 PM UTC

Welcome to The Broadside, a careers newsletter. Here’s what to expect in this issue.

Broadside writer Kristine Gill offers advice from hiring managers on how you can rebound from a period of unemployment, even if your resume looks slim. Then, scroll on for job opportunities from Hulu, the Department of Defense, Amazon and more.

In early spring, major employers announced layoffs, furloughs, and complete shutterings. Unemployment skyrocketed. Now, as the world tiptoes back toward normalcy, those who lost work will be applying to open positions in droves. What will they tell hiring managers about the gap on their resume? 

“I don’t think people should freak out too much if it’s been a few months,” says Glassdoor Career Expert Alison Sullivan. “Employers, especially now, are sympathetic to the fact that employment gaps happen for a variety of reasons.” 

“2020 has been a tough year for everyone,” says Laura Sapp, Head of Talent for the internet and media company IAC. “There has to be an understanding among managers and recruiters that this year is unlike anything we have ever seen before.”

But what about if you didn’t lose your job due to COVID? How do you land your first job back after a while away from the workforce?

“How you handle it is a mindset issue,” says Lisa Rangel, founder of Chameleon Resumes LLC. “You want to demonstrate some resiliency, some creativity and you want to demonstrate some humanity. That approach can directly or subliminally convey how you would handle the workplace as well.” 

These career experts offer tips on how to explain periods of unemployment and still come out on top. 

Broach the subject.

Sullivan says you should mention your unemployment gap in all of your materials as well as the interview. While it shouldn’t be the focus of your application, you also shouldn’t leave the information out. That could create a bombshell of sorts, depending on how the topic comes up. 

“Make it part of your resume, cover letter, and interview,” Sullivan says.

The resume: Don’t overthink it. Rangel says you can indicate a gap in your resume by simply listing those start and end dates for every position. But if you want to soften the blow, Sullivan says it’s fine to remove the months of your start and end dates on your resume. 

The cover letter: Reflect how you used the time away from work to your advantage somehow, Sullivan says. “Explaining how you used the time is going to be really important because it shows that you understand your career trajectory and can explain it,” she says. 

Don’t lead with the information as if it’s some kind of confession. “Lead with why you’re a good solution for the company,” Rangel says. 

Own your narrative.

Maybe you took time off after giving birth, or your mother fell ill and you quit to take care of her, or you followed a spouse to a new town for a job and you’re still searching for work. Maybe you left a toxic workplace without a plan. Even if you were fired, the most important part of addressing your unemployment is owning your narrative. 

“The people who can embrace those difficult questions and own them, and be crazy-prepared to answer the question in a vulnerable but diplomatic way—you’re actually going to make a better impression on an employer than someone who is sheepish and stumbles over their answer,” Rangel says.

If you’re worried about how to explain your situation, run it past some people first. 

“Rehearse what you are going to say,” Sapp says. “Get their honest feedback and tweak your response until you can deliver the message with confidence.”

“Even if you’re fired, there are very few reasons to have shame,” Rangel adds. “You can have remorse if there was a situation that involves an error in judgement, but it just comes down to embracing it, accepting it, owning it, and being prepared for it.” 

A tip: Don’t seem too willing to take the job you’re interviewing for. It could suggest you’re looking for any position just to get back in the game. Rangel says hiring managers aren’t as concerned about red flags like brief lapses in employment as they might be about a candidate who is overeager for a position, regardless of whether it’s a good fit.

“The reality is, sometimes, you do have to take any job, but you have to be genuinely interested in the job you’re applying for,” she says. 

“Hiring is costly and time-consuming no matter the labor market, so [employers] want someone who is going to enjoy the role and stick around,” Sullivan agrees. “That’s where explaining your gap and showing how you’re going to be a great fit is going to be key.” 

Build your skill set in the meantime.

If you find yourself out of work with some free time on your hands, consider building your skill set, taking on a new hobby, or checking things off your bucket list. 

“I once spoke with a candidate who always dreamt of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after the movie Wild came out, and she did it,” says Sapp. “It was a great icebreaker to open the interview.” 

Sapp’s interest is always piqued when someone has spent that time traveling. It makes for good conversation and says something about a candidate. Of course, not everyone can travel—especially in a pandemic.

Online learning can also up your game. Platforms such as MasterClass and Skillshare offer resume-boosting courses. A service called ChoiceIQ, an initiative of Meseekna, is also helping job seekers learn about their own ways of thinking so they can leverage their unique approaches to work when seeking opportunities. 

“It’s a powerful thing to point on your resume, so you’re not just saying you have Microsoft Excel skills, but that you’ve also taken the time to understand and improve your metacognition,” says Akhila Satish, CEO of Meseekna. She’s seen people achieve productivity and salary gains through doing this, both with new jobs and with promotions and raises within their current company.

“And if you can volunteer,” Sapp adds, “Go for it.”

— Kristine Gill

Making money moves

Amazon is hiring an Operations Manager based in Southern California. 

Arthrex is hiring an Associate Product Manager based in Naples, Florida. 

Chevron Phillips is hiring a Communications Advisor based in The Woodlands, Texas. 

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is hiring an Assistant Vice President, Principal and Major Gifts based in Brookline, Mass. 

The Department of Defense is hiring an Interdisciplinary Chemical Engineer/Chemist based in Richmond, Virginia.

Hulu is hiring an Attribution Research Analyst based in New York City. 

Oregon Public Broadcast is hiring an Executive Editor for Arts and Culture based in Portland, Oregon. 

Protective is hiring a Head of Learning and Leadership Development based in Birmingham, Alabama. 

The University of Pittsburgh is hiring a Chief Executive Officer for its LifeX platform, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hiring a Biologist based in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Who Gives a Crap is hiring a Head of New Product Development & Innovation based in Los Angeles, California. 

Events and other opportunities

Sept. 28-Oct. 1: Women in Manufacturing will host its annual summit virtually. 

Sept. 29-Oct. 1: Fortune will host its Most Powerful Women Summit virtually. 

Sept. 30-Oct. 1: The Network of Executive Women is hosting the NEW Leadership Summit 2020 virtually.

Nov. 5-7: Harvard Medical School will host a Career Advancement and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare event online.

Nov. 16-20: The Women of Silicon Valley's Women in Tech World Series will take place virtually.

Dec. 8-10: The annual Women in Negotiation Summit will be held virtually. The daylong event empowers women through negotiation-skills building.

Want to share a hiring or networking opportunity from your organization or elsewhere, or just have feedback about The Broadside? Email Kristine Gill.

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