How to seal employment gaps

Publication date: 
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Question: 

I’ve been unemployed for almost two years because I was taking care of my sick mother and then my husband lost his job and we could no longer afford daycare for our twin daughters … it’s been a hell of a ride. My husband got hired recently and things are getting back to normal, but now the kids are in junior kindergarten and I am again free to do my own thing, I am at loss as to how to explain all of that in a resumé or at a job interview. I’ve always worked as an administrative assistant in an office-type setting (I’ve done some bookkeeping too). And I’ve never had problems finding work before, but now with this long period between jobs I’m scared. Is there a way to put this on a resumé? Should I divulge into family issues when I get interviewed?

Answer: 

First of all, thank you for writing to us and, wow, what a challenging past two years you’ve had! Glad to know that that’s all behind you and good for you for having such a positive attitude.

Generally, we’d advise to not include gaps on your resumé. Leave answering all the detailed questions for the interview (we’ll get to that part in a moment). Keep things simple. Two years is a long time, but it’s not unusual, and most employers are aware of people having to take time off for family reasons.

If you feel that you really need to mention the gaps (but why?) on your resumé, try using a combination format instead of a chronological one. When you do that, do include unpaid work experience — in fact, you can even list the skills you've developed while taking care of your family such as time management, planning, etc.

The crucial thing about resumés is that you want to keep things positive — use the first part of your resumé to list what you’re best at, so, for example, list four to five highlights such as:

  • Number of years of relevant work experience
  • Related special knowledge, training or certification
  • Top job-specific skills
  • Related soft skills and transferable skills

Make sure you update your LinkedIn profile too and ask colleagues and former bosses to endorse you online. These days, most employers tend to check you out online and a good-looking LinkedIn profile is crucial in a job search.

During your job interview, again, focus on the positive. Make sure you sound confident (practise, practise, practise!) when you answer difficult questions, and keep your answers short. Don’t let the silences between questions scare you — one of the biggest mistakes an interviewee can make is to try to fill in silences. That’s when the unplanned stuff comes out.

In order to stay in control of the interview (and that’s what you always want, ultimately), focus on what you can offer instead of what happened and why. In your particular situation, you can say that difficult family circumstances had you taking care of your mother and your babies — I don’t think this is anything to be embarrassed about. Just say that part and swiftly move on to discussing what you have to offer employment-wise. In your case this would be your extensive experience as an administrative assistant. Emphasize your office experience — knowledge of computers, your organizational skills, your personal skills and, of course, bookkeeping — a valuable asset for any office. Talk about what your former bosses have said about you — how loyal you were, how professional, and so on. You can bring in a reference to back that up or, even better, point the employer to a LinkedIn recommendation.

I’m wary of advising you to try and defend your circumstances, such as by saying that you weren’t able to work because of your situation. If you don’t give people information, it might never occur to them to ask you about it — so don’t over explain, practise before you interview, and keep your answers short and focused on what you have to offer to the company.

Good luck!

Jowita

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Poss.ca is a free online magazine to help Toronto job seekers find work. An initiative of Findhelp Information Services, poss.ca is an Employment Ontario project funded in part by the Government of Canada.

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