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Mind the Gap – How to Make Career Gaps Sound Great!

Gaps in your work experience can make you feel self-conscious. They can be tricky to explain to a future employer. So what do you say?


Summer breaks are one thing, but what do you put on your CV when you took a whole gap year? What if you haven’t worked for ages because you’ve been bringing up a family? Maybe you were looking for another job. Or perhaps you’ve been unwell…


Gaps like these can leave your work history looking a bit suspect if left unexplained – like a career Bermuda Triangle. And that’s not a good CV look. So, this Q&A Wednesday I asked our consultants what to say when you’ve got a gappy CV.



1. So how much work experience should I share on my CV?


Showing the last ten years’ work experience on your CV is the general rule of thumb.  You can read more Angel CV advice HERE



2. What if I’ve got career gaps within the last ten years?


You will need to account for recent breaks in your work history. One way to detract attention from this is to list work in years – think: 2006 – 2009 rather than 1st June 2006 – 23rd September 2009. But, this approach only works for short career gaps.



3. But, what if it was a longer gap?


The trick here is to make your career break sound good to an employer. Now, how you go about this might depend on the reason for the gap. But it’s best CV practice to demonstrate that you were doing something an employer will find attractive in that time.


Highlight: courses or training you undertook, voluntary posts, relevant soft skills you developed.



4. What if I was fired?


If you were fired from a job in the last ten years you have a couple of options:


  • First, if it was just a short term post, say under a few months, you could just leave it out [see answer 3 for more on that].
  • Second, if you do need to account for this time, remember you don’t need to explain your reasons for leaving the role on your CV.


What you will need to do though is decide how you might talk about it later on in the recruitment process. Although being fired can be very demoralising, remember more than a few famous names have been dismissed – including Steve Jobs, for example. It isn’t necessarily the end of the world. If you’ve been fired be prepared to show what you’ve learned from the experience.



5. What about breaks due to ill health?


Often the only real way to make a long period of illness sound more ‘attractive’ to an employer is to emphasise your readiness to get back to work.


You shouldn’t need to go into detail regarding health problems which don’t directly affect how you do a job. And, there’s an easy-read piece on the Mirror’s website with some legal advice on when you do have to tell an employer about your ill health hereIf your career history is looking too patchy you could consider using a different CV format.



6. What other CV formats could I use to make a better impression?


Well, a way to deflect attention from gaps can be to showcase your strengths and skills.


You could start with your skills and experience, giving examples. And, then follow with your work and academic history. While a career change coach I know sometimes advises starting with relevant qualifications, following that with your practical experience, and then giving your work history. This way you’re given the opportunity to make a good first impression.



7. So, what if I’ve been a stay at home mum for the last five years or more?


Funnily enough Elle magazine recently wrote about a campaign, by creative agency Mother New York, which aims to take the stigma out of maternity leave. They’ve created a ‘job’ category on LinkedIn, called The Pregnancy Pause, which allows women to show use the title ‘Mum’ (or ‘Mom’) as their official job title. Potential employers who click on The Pregnancy Pause will then be directed to a page which explains why caring for children should be considered a full-time job – not a gap.


While we’re far more mum-friendly in the UK it’s a good idea to :


  • Present childcare in terms of employable skills
  • Keep abreast of your ideal sector
  • And, take advantage of any training or volunteer opportunities



8. You mean employers mostly want to see you’re up-to-date?


Yes. Employers want to see you’re work-ready and keen. A great way to demonstrate that is to keep abreast of what’s going on in your industry now. Things change quickly nowadays.


If you’re on a break:


  • Keep up-to-date by subscribing to trade magazines or sites
  • You could also set up a Google Alert to notify you of any need-to-know news



9. And, if I’ve been travelling the world?


Gap years, and the like, are usually pretty easy to deal with. Many employers see them as a positive experience where you will have gained a lot of life skills. Travelling also takes planning, time management, self reliance, possibly teamwork, research, and can show you have cultural awareness.



10. Any last thoughts?


Temping can be a great way to get back into full-time work, as employers are less likely to be so concerned about work gaps and more concerned with getting boots on the ground.


Once you’ve got some recent temp work under your belt you can use it to demonstrate your willingness and readiness to work. Speak with your consultant and tell them your concerns and they should be able to help you.


Now over to you: Want to ask about your particular career issues? If you’ve got any burning questions I’d love to hear from you!


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