Gaps in resumes used to be taboo, but today it seems to be more of a norm than the exception due to layoffs and hiring freezes over the last 24 months. Instead of feeling shame or embarrassment, job seekers and hiring managers can create a space to share life experiences, personal and professional growth during those gaps in jobs.

By Wendy Wilsker
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Before “The Great Resignation”, there was “the Great Hiring Freeze” and before that, “the Great Layoff”. Today, it seems that hiring managers, job seekers, and recruiters can’t talk enough about the “why’s” and “who’s” and “what’s next” due to the impact of thousands of professionals leaving their jobs.

Every day I talk to at least one senior executive who has a story to tell about losing or leaving a job in 2019 and the dearth of opportunities in 2020 and early 2021. Today, many people I talk with now find themselves with a 12-18 month gap in their resume.

When I was an executive recruiter in the early 2010s, “resume gaps” were bad. Like really bad. Hiring managers wouldn’t even look at a resume with a gap.

I’d like to think that we have evolved over time and that everything that has been written about managing with greater empathy, kindness, and caring is more than just words but are now actions that will inform hiring decisions.

So here are my thoughts for both job seekers and hiring managers.

For job seekers:

  1. If you made the difficult decision to leave a job due to family obligations, consider sharing that on your resume. Yes, you can put “caregiver” on your resume! There is no greater act of selflessness, love, empathy, kindness, and responsibility than caring for a loved one. Being a caregiver is a 24/7 job. As a caregiver, you become an advocate, a nurse, an aide, or you may also have had to settle an estate and deal with taxes and legal issues. You have taken on more than most people ever will so in this regard, you are the unsung hero.
  2. If you started a “side gig” or even took a job as a barista or a substitute teacher, share that. Your lived experiences, exploration, and your hustle have likely given you more skills than you ever imagined.
  3. Many people I know who were laid off were able to volunteer more.  Maybe you were a contact tracer or volunteered at a vaccination clinic. Maybe you learned how to crochet and made dozens of hats for babies or socks for people living in shelters. Maybe you helped a local non-profit with marketing or data or finances. Don’t bury those experiences at the bottom of your resume with only one line. Share how you gave back and made an impact with your support.
  4. Maybe you accepted a new job in 2019 or early 2020 and were then laid off soon after. It’s ok – so were thousands of other people. List that job, no matter how short your tenure was.

For hiring managers:

  1. We all know the saying about “assuming”, so don’t. Ask questions, and listen with an open mind, and yes, with an open heart.
  2. Consider the value of lived experiences. What someone does during the 9 to 5 work shift does not make the whole person. Often volunteer experiences and side gigs are honing existing skills and teaching new ones. Give value to those experiences.
  3. One question I’ve started asking is “what’s important now". When you ask someone that question, you will learn more about what someone is looking for beyond the tasks and responsibilities and what someone is seeking in mission and culture. You are hiring someone not only to do their job but to also advance the organization in a myriad of ways. Remember, you are not hiring a robot, you are hiring an interesting living being whose life has taken on so many unexpected twists and turns over the last two years.
  4. If someone has gaps on their resume, they probably feel pretty insecure and likely their self-esteem has taken a hit. Don’t make it worse! The questions you ask and the way you ask questions shouldn’t make someone feel like they have to defend themselves.  An interview shouldn’t feel like someone is being interrogated by an intimidating prosecutor. Create a space for someone to shine and to share their accomplishments and goals.
  5. We should all take a page out of one of Simon Sinek’s many books – I love asking people, “what’s your why” for an organization. If you are hiring for a fundraiser, that individual needs to be an inspiring storyteller and an ambassador. Sharing their “why” along with their technical abilities will allow you to evaluate both their presence and performance.

I’m eager to stop talking about “the great resignation”. Today we are living in a time of “great opportunity” and many people have had a “great awakening”.  We are eager to find deeper meaning in the mission and culture of the organizations they serve.  We will, I hope, find people with greater job satisfaction, longer tenures, and greater reward, if we can focus on the “great experiences” candidates bring to job interviews.

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