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How to Manage Employment Gaps on Your Resume

By Martin Yate

A resume without employment dates considerably underperforms a resume with dates.

This means that if you want to get job interviews you need to use dates in your resume. Employment dates are some of the facts most frequently checked by employers. Consequently, the dates you use need to be defensible (and confirmed by your LinkedIn Profile).

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Managing Different Periods of Unemployment

The same strategy won't work for all periods of unemployment. Below find strategies for different timeframes, from no gap to unemployment that has extended more than two years.

Steady Work History

With a steady work history and no employment gaps, you can be very specific:

Microsoft   February 2010 – Present
Oracle   April 2006 – January 2010

However, even with a steady work history, most people use annual dates in their resumes because it shares the necessary information and saves on word clutter – creating more white space, which in turn makes the resume more visually accessible. Also, if you have recently lost a job, most headhunters and recruiters say you can get away with leaving “- Present” on your resume up to 90 days after your last pay check.

Gaps of a Few Months

Recessions and layoffs have affected almost every one of us, so gaps of a few months between jobs is no longer a cause for shame, it has become acceptable - just one of those facts of life. By using annual dates

Microsoft   2010 – Present
Oracle   2006 – 2010

The interviewer will have to ask you to define an employment gap or continuity, and as your goal in a job search is always to get into a conversation, this is not a problem. You explain the gap as time spent getting your resume and job hunt up to speed.

Gaps of Up to One Year

With longer employment gaps of, say, up to 11 months (you left one job in January and didn’t get the next one until December) by consistently using annual employment dates throughout your resume, you can similarly downplay the employment gap on your resume:

IBM   2010 – Present
Oracle   2006 – 2010

While being ready to address the dates and details without hesitation in conversation. You explain the gap as time spent getting your resume and job hunt up to speed, painting the house and taking an unscheduled but welcome sabbatical after X years on the job (smile).

Gaps of Up to Two Years

In this example, you left one job at the beginning of the last recession (2008) and got the next job almost two years later at the end of 2010:

IBM   2010 – Present
Oracle   2006 – 2009

In using annual dates to minimize employment gaps you are not being dis-honest, you have a right to present yourself in the best possible light, just as every company does.

With Gaps Longer Than Two Years

With gaps longer than two years, if you have done temp work, consulting assignments, odd jobs for a friend in business, this can all be used. Rather than using the term “self-employed,” give your business entity a name.

Mary's Consulting   2013 – Present
Microsoft   2010 – 2012

If you worked for a temp company say so:

TempSlaves Inc.   2013 – Present
Microsoft   2010 – 2012

Include assignments described in words most closely relevant to your mainstream professional experience.

Packaging Employment Gaps

I am not suggesting that you should lie about your work history. What we are discussing is a formatting strategy to get you into conversation with a potential employer, remember the daily job search mantra of, “To land a new job I must get into conversation with the people who can hire me as quickly and frequently as possible.”

At job interviews you must be prepared to answer honestly and without hesitation about employment dates and any work gaps they might reveal. Learn more about handling employment gaps in job interviews.

[MORE: Sample Resume: Handling Employment Gaps.]

More About Beating Unemployment:


About the author...

Successful careers don't happen by accident. Professional resume writing expert Martin Yate CPC is a New York Times best-seller and the author of 17 Knock Em Dead career management books. As Dun & Bradstreet says, "He's about the best in the business." For FREE resume-building advice and to view Martin's resume samples, visit the Knock Em Dead website. Join Martin on Twitter at @KnockEmDead and also on Google+.


2017 Knock Em Dead
Includes: 385 pages, 4 hours of video, and a free resume review

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