Ask The Work Buzz! Handling Employment Gaps

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helpFrom Jill-
After position was eliminated in August last year, I am still searching for a job. Because of the economy and the area I am in it has been slim pickings. How can I explain this lack of employment in an interview now…?

Well, Jill, this might be one of the few times the recession has a silver lining! Everyone is having more difficulty finding work now than they did in previous years. Employers know this and few will hold this gap in your employment history against you. In fact, if you’re interviewing and an employer is overly critical of this period of unemployment, you have to wonder if that’s the kind of place you want to work at.

Whether they bring it up or you do (which you could acknowledge in a cover letter or in the interview), be direct. “Unfortunately, I was unable to find the right opportunity for a period of twelve months. The recession’s impact on the construction industry, especially here, was severe.” That might be all that needs to be said; maybe it will have follow-up questions.

However, this doesn’t mean you have an excuse to sulk around your house and do nothing for months on end. Employers understand that the ratio of job openings to job seekers is lopsided–they are probably interviewing a ton of people for each open position. What they won’t understand is if you don’t take any steps to take in touch with your industry and improve your skill set during those months.

Here’s what you should do during this period of unemployment:

  • Keep in touch.
    I don’t know what industry you’re working in, but I bet that there are people who will talk to you about what’s going on. It behooves you to keep in touch with people who know what companies are merging, who’s getting promoted and what big deals are happening, even though you’re technically not working in that industry right now. Go to lunch with former colleagues, reach out to potential mentors or just find groups of industry people to discuss things with. Look at sites like BrightFuse, Facebook and LinkedIn for online communities of like-minded individuals who can share information with you and give you tips on where there might be job opportunities.
  • Volunteer
    Even without a job, you can fill that empty space on your resume. Find a volunteer opportunity that either makes use of your skills or teaches you new ones–or both! For example, if you work in customer service, you’re probably comfortable dealing with people on an individual basis. However, are you as comfortable talking to a large group of people? If you’re docent at an art gallery, you’ll help out a local museum, educate people on art and get comfortable guiding a dozen or more patrons through the museum. This shows an employer you are involved in the community, eager to improve your skills and proactive.
  • Take a class
    I know what you’re thinking: “I’m unemployed, you want me to give away my talents for free and then fork over money for tuition?” Yeah, I know. Not everyone is financially capable of this, but it’s not impossible, either. A one-time course or seminar at a community center, community college or industry event can be affordable. But if it’s just not financially feasible, at the very least read the latest books and journals in your industry. The idea is to stay on top of what’s going on in much the same way networking with colleagues is. If you can reference some of the latest studies or major events in your interview, you show that you still view yourself as part of the community and are ready to jump back in with no delay.

You know the whole, “Bring me solutions, not problems” adage? That’s the gist of what you should be thinking because employers don’t want to hear, “I couldn’t find a job for XX amount of time, so I’m out of touch.” They understand unemployment can be beyond your control, but they want someone who isn’t defeated by it.

If you’ve been in this position, how did you handle the employment gap? Did it work well for you?

5 Comments
  1. I am looking for regular full time employment.

    My current employment is seasonal full time where I am on board with my present employer from 6 months up to 11 months per year.

    How can I explain to an employer that my employment is seasonal full time and that I am on board with my employer for up to 6 months to 11 months per year?

    How would I explain the unemployment gaps when applying for employment while I am placed in nonpay status or furlough?

    Thank you for your assistance.

  2. We are a public, Fortune 500 company engaged in steel making, a basic industry. The following was a comment from an interview candidate after missing an interview. ” I drove by the place over the weekend and you do not have any curb appeal”.

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  4. I left work to take care of a sick parent. I have been unemployed for approximately 1 1/2 years starting Jan 2008. My credit has suffered as I am not getting umemployment, how do I handle this as nearly every employer will check credit as part of your hiring. I think this has lost me atleast 2 positions. Please help.

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