5 Ways to Fill Employment or Career Gaps

If you have been unemployed for more than six months, an issue you might run into during your job search is the “Unemployed Bias.”

Employers sometimes prefer to hire people who are currently working because the assumption is that these people have the up-to-date skills that an employer values.

If you have a long gap between jobs, fill that time with productive activities and include those activities on your resume and LinkedIn Profile.

These activities show employers and recruiters your interest in your work and that you are demonstrably up-to-date.

5 Options to Fill the Gap in Employment

Here are five possibilities for addressing employers’ concerns.

1. Contract work

There is value in continuing to work, even if you don’t have a permanent, full-time engagement.

Contracting is a great way to keep your skills sharp and get exposure to new tools or industries (even if it’s short-term).

If you can’t get a contract through a recruiter, consider contracting directly with former colleagues, former clients, or former partners, a site like FlexJobs, or even friends.

The only hitch in this approach is when the engagement is not a “real project.” Recruiters tend to sniff out bogus resume fluff, and drop candidates very quickly. Remember, their reputation is on the line with each candidate they present. If they are serious about their career, they tend to be very thorough. So make sure you can represent yourself well with regards to your contract jobs—have a lengthy project description and results to discuss.

On your resume, you should list these engagements like you would any other. The company name might be yours, but it should be an official company (i.e., LLC) to present it as legitimate. The same bullets on deliverables and results should be included.

Don’t treat this engagement as any less important than the others listed or it will appear less substantial. In reality, you may have learned more in six months working for yourself than any other opportunity in your past. Those accomplishments should be included.

[MORE: How Contracting Battles Unemployment and Freelancing When Unemployed.]

2.  Temporary work

Temping is another alternative where the projects are shorter, but at least there’s a company representing you and can act as a reference stating all your temp jobs went well. This is important as “short-stints” on a resume can sometimes raise a yellow flag with recruiters concerned with your ability to stick with a company long-term.

It’s important to list these temp jobs in a group under the company representing you so it’s clear they are all part of one overriding contract.

{MORE: Job-Hunt’s FREE Guide to the Temporary Work Option.]

3.  Volunteering

Volunteering is another option.

Focus on volunteering in a job that is related to the field of work you are pursuing.

For example, if your field is marketing, try to help a non-profit with their marketing materials, strategies, planning, or process.

Some companies are offering non-paid internships that may lead to a permanent position. These need to be weighed carefully. Ask what percentage of interns become full-time, paid employees (and why some haven’t).

4.  Write and/or speak

Some colleagues I know, who are experts in their field, fill the unemployment gap with guest speaker and writing engagements. They give seminars on all types of subject matter for which they have a strong reputation.

This can pay a few bills and build credibility. And of course, lead to valuable networking and/or contract engagements.

5.  Get more training

During unemployed periods, it is also advantageous to attend training courses or classes you’ve been meaning to take — especially in areas that would expand your expertise in new, but related elements of your field.

Although, getting up to speed on the latest revision of a software tool may be valuable, it doesn’t add another dimension to your resume. Getting certified (like a PMP for project managers) can also add much-needed credibility and differentiation to your resume.  Before you invest in a certification or degree, scan the job openings on a site like Indeed.com to see how often it is mentioned or, even better, required for some jobs.

When the Employment Gap Is Family-Related

One other question that arises regarding gaps in employment: leave of absence to care for a seriously ill family member.

When you are taking care of a family issue, it is better to list it in a short entry on your resume / application or LinkedIn Profile to account for the time.

That notation addresses the obvious question that arises when it’s not listed, “What were you doing during that time period.”

When interviewed, you might be asked about it, but most interviewers stay away from the topic. You should be ready to make it clear that the situation is very unlikely to arise again. Keep in mind this can be an unspoken concern that creeps in if not addressed—the question of will you leave your employer again.

Bottom Line on Filling Career Gaps

Continuing to work, whether as a contractor, a volunteer, or a temporary employee, keeps your skills up-to-date, expands your network, and fills a gap on your resume. Remember, in this economy, it is not uncommon to hit a bump in the road during your career. How you handle it is what makes the difference going forward.

For more of my tips on handling this situation, see Overcoming the “Unemployed Bias”.

More About Beating Unemployment:

Jeff LipschultzAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).
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