Resume Dilemma: Employment Gaps and Job-Hopping
If we had one word to define what a job interviewer desires in their recruit it would be – Perfection!
And of course, a perfect resume to showcase these accomplishments.
Unfortunately, life isn’t perfect and there may be setbacks that you’ve encountered causing your resume to have an employment gap. Or perhaps, you’ve jumped between too many jobs in a small span of time.
Don’t panic! allow Cleverism to take you on a crash course on how to explain the red flags in your resume.
EMPLOYMENT GAPS: AN EMPLOYEE’S GREATEST THREAT TO THEIR RESUME
You almost missed your bus on the way to your interview. But you made it just in time to the waiting room.
Your name is called and you’re nervously hiding your smile while your heartbeat races.
The interview begins.
The interviewer glances menacingly through your resume as you nervously bite your nails.
As their eyes fixate at a point in the resume, your heart skips a beat.
Have they found my Achilles heel?
The dreaded question is heard – “So [Title] [Your Name Here], I can see that between 2014-2015, you haven’t listed an employer, am I to understand that you were unemployed during this period?
The sweat begins to trickle over your eyebrows. You’ve been caught.
The stigma of an unemployment phase is forever marked on your resume for the rest of your life. A blot to guilt you.
After all, it wasn’t your fault that a life experience occurred and you had to discontinue your professional life to address it.
Life experiences vary from –
- A depressive phase
- A tragic life-changing event
- A medical condition
- Business pursuits
- Professional learning
- Unable to find a job
- Debt or bankruptcy
Whatever your reasons are, a black mark is forever etched on your resume for future interviewers to see in its full glory.
Does this mean you’ll never redeem yourself or land a dream career?
Far from it.
An employment gap on your resume certainly draws the attention of your hiring manager. That’s why it’s critical to utilize creative techniques to provide a satisfactory response and land yourself a job.
Here are 5 techniques to help alleviate the employment gap on your resume.
1. Don’t Lie
The most important technique is to remain truthful to your interviewer. Even if the subject is uncomfortable, realize that we are all human at the end of the day. Life happens and your hiring manager may empathize with you.
Take, for example, you were fired from your last job for a misdemeanour, it’s important to take responsibility and explain the situation and how you’ve learned from it and that you’ve transformed your behavior.
However, if you choose to lie, the hiring manager simply has to call your previous employer and enquire about you. This reveals the edgy hidden details which now stand exposed.
The end result is being rejected from ever applying to the company again.
2. Focus on your Skills
Your resume is primarily a display of your talent and abilities. What can you do for the company and so forth. Without confusion, let your interviewer sense your worth within the first few sections and the value you bring to the company.
Once you’re highly recognized by the interviewer, your employment gap becomes a thing of the past and a simple explanation should suffice.
Describe your projects in artistic detail and how your expertise led to the completion of it. The idea is to draw attention away from your employment gap and to your skillset.
That’s why it’s incredibly valuable to invest time and effort to create a personalized resume.
3. Don’t Adopt an Apologetic Tone
Do you often begin your statements with “Sorry, I was….”?
Well, this perspective of a repentant attitude must change if you wish to land a job.
When you start your statement with a ‘Sorry’, you imply you are guilty and are responsible for the employment gap.
An apology is a desperate man’s last plea. Avoid it at all costs and be confident instead.
Use statements such as
- ‘Thank you for understanding my plight’,
- ‘I am grateful to have been given a second chance’.
Gratitude overshadows apology and demonstrates that you’ve learned from your mistakes and moved on.
4. Explain the Gap
Easier said than done but a detailed overview of what transpired is the best way forward.
Maybe you wanted to acquire knowledge before joining a job or upgrade your skills, or you enlisted in a certification course or took care of a sick family member, etc.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear you didn’t lose your current set of skills and it was a temporary phase that lead to an employment gap.
List down all the necessary skills that you acquired during your time away from employment on your resume.
The interviewer can appreciate your desire to succeed and understand your point of view if your story verifies.
5. Positive Body Signals
Nothing screams fear like nervousness and edgy behavior. Even if you’ve got the world’s most perfect resume, you’ll require positive body signals to compliment it.
Right from the time you step into the chambers of your hiring manager, the judgmental eyes are all over you. The more jittery you are, the fewer the chances of making a positive impact on your interviewer.
Train your body and mind prior to the interview about how an employment gap is normal. Everyone goes through a bad phase and when you understand it isn’t the end of the world, you accept yourself and live with it.
Positive body language is extremely important when dealing with uncomfortable questions.
- Sit up straight and have your hands placed on your knees firmly.
- Ensure you maintain eye contact with your interviewer
- Rehearse the answer to the ‘Employment Gap’ questions beforehand to keep your flow of words fluid
- Compose yourself and create a laid-back demeanor by smiling often
- Impressing your interviewer with positive body language is an effective way to draw attention away
3 SAMPLE RESPONSES EXPLAINING YOUR EMPLOYMENT GAP ON YOUR RESUME
Let’s begin with a little roleplay to get you acquainted with your employment gap. The following 3 scenarios provide suitable responses to your interviewer without causing panic throughout your interview.
Explanation 1 – Unhealthy or Caring for the Sick
“It’s difficult to put into words the experience I’ve had the past year but I’ll do my best. I had an excellent work-life with my past employers and things were exceptional. Life, unfortunately, had other plans for me. I had a road accident the previous year rendering me with multiple fractures.
Moments began to drift past me as I waited for the day to recover. Finally, despite the expensive medical bills and the fierce spirits of my family, I made it through this difficult phase. It’s a new start, but I am here to tell you that I would be most grateful if I was employed again”
The first thing that comes to mind from this explanation is a never die attitude. The interviewer will sympathize but also understand that you didn’t have any other choice.
If you took time off to nurse your health or had to care for a sick member, be sure to customize the above conversation to your story.
Don’t apologize to express your weakness but instead, allow the appreciation of others to restore your self-respect.
Explanation 2 – A Career Change
“Photography was a fascination of mine since the age of 5. I quit my job to pursue my interests and even secured certification in professional photography.
While completely unrelated, here’s my portfolio of photographs that I took in the year-long gap away from my professional conquest.
It’s been an enlightening experience but I’ve decided that my dream career isn’t as exciting as my professional one. So here I am, back on the road to continue my journey where I left off.”
The conversation is extremely confident. Many of us decide to pursue other hobbies and have a career change in between. Sometimes, the change doesn’t seem as exciting as we imagined it.
A simple explanation for your interview on why you switched careers and why you’re back on the market again is usually enough to get hired.
Additionally, showing the portfolio of your previous career convinces your interviewer that you’re indeed telling the truth.
Explanation 3 – Freelancing Move or Business Pursuit
“On the behest of my family, I leaned towards a freelance career. I quit my job and spent months searching for a mentor and way to gain clients. In this time I realized my career advancements in freelancing weren’t taking off.
The perks of being employed are many and I’ve decided that the road of freelancing wasn’t for me. I wish to be employed again as I miss the social environment of a company versus the lonely life of a freelancer. Being employed provides me with several mentors along the way.”
Maybe you quit your job to start a business or start a freelancing career.
Things weren’t looking great in your new pursuit. Explain subtly on why employment is such a joy to you and why you enjoy being a social butterfly and you’ll sweet-talk your way into a job.
WHY JOB HOPPING CAN REFLECT POORLY ON YOUR RESUME
Job hopping is a controversial topic. You’ll receive various responses from different perspectives.
From a recruit’s perspective –
“Job hopping is a successful path to career advancement and prevents knowledge decay. I get to learn more within 2-3 companies than if I stayed in one company for a long time.”
Companies see it a little differently.
“Recruits that job hop often are seen as volatile employees and are flagged as such. During recruitment, preference is given to long-term employees over job hoppers. Loyalty is a core value we desire.”
Here are the ground rules that define a serial job hopper.
- A recruit that switches between many jobs in under a year
- Never worked for a company for longer than 2 years in your entire employment history
- No big accomplishments to show during your recruitment period
- A track record that shows you’ve been job hopping purely for small increments in overall salary
- Poor recommendation reviews from your past employers
If any of the above sounds like you, you’re defined as an aggressive job hopper.
Every graduate or fresher is usually allowed their free pass to job hop when starting out. Once you’re in your 3rd professional year, things start to get hot around the edges of your interview table.
Your work history is a record of every employer you’ve worked with.
Having fewer employers with a long period of employment duration boosts your chances of being hired.
If not, be prepared to explain why you’ve been job-hopping and prepare a reasonable explanation to convince your hiring manager.
Here are 4 ways to shake the malicious tag of an aggressive job-hopper.
1. Convert the Negatives into Positives
Have you ever observed a bee hard at work? It jumps from one flower to the next pollinating as it goes.
A job hopper is like a bee that doesn’t stay too long in one job before hopping to the next.
But this doesn’t necessarily reflect a poor employee when you highlight the positive points behind job-hopping.
- Ability to handle strange new situations. Yes, if it’s one thing job hoppers hold an advantage over their nested counterparts, it’s that they are extremely adaptable. All the time spent switching between companies comes with its perks. Demonstrate how you’ve learned new skills in the time you’ve worked with other organizations.
- Large Network. Working with numerous companies means a larger network. Reveal all the high profile clients you’ve worked with and what they had to say about you. Showcase testimonials on how you delivered various projects for several bosses with satisfactory deadlines.
- Smart Employees. Sure, you don’t possess loyalty but demonstrating to your new company how you’ve acquired a rich flow of experience and knowledge through different companies is a positive. Surely, you can get things done in a year what a long-time employee takes a few years to learn.
The term – Adaptability is a job hopper’s best friend. It’s important to focus your skillset on your adaptiveness. When you convert your negatives to your positives, you’ll hold the upper hand in the interview.
2. Exclude Minor Jobs
There’s nothing worse for your resume than listing jobs that you’ve only worked for a few months. It’s easier to explain to the hiring manager about an employment gap than about a short-term job.
While keeping your previous work history a secret isn’t recommended, omit any short-term work that isn’t relevant.
Older jobs are especially true to this rule of exclusion. Most interviewers conduct a background check on recent work history and don’t have the time for complete verification.
However, if a short-term job has provided you with a new skillset or incredible experience, it’s best to include it in your resume.
Another way to bypass a short-term job is to label it as “Contract Work”. This way you don’t have to hide any work history.
3. Provide a Strong Reason for Hopping
The bills came, your salary wasn’t enough. Hence, the only way to make ends meet was to job hop your way to build your income stream.
Be willing to state that you’re open to signing a long-term contract. This way it encourages the interviewer that you’re truly committed to staying.
If your previous employer changed their work culture or restructured their company, it’s acceptable to job hop as a worst-case scenario.
Layoffs and bankruptcy are often reasons for employees to jump ship. If you belong to this category, it’s completely alright to discuss with your interviewer on your job-hopping history.
Likewise, if you prove that your previous employers offered grand offers to tempt you to switch your job, it’s understandable why you were moving jobs.
4. Hit a Career Ceiling
This explanation especially works if you’re a long-term employee. Professionally, job-hopping isn’t necessarily seen as a bad tactic. However, it’s a red flag if you’ve received negative feedback from your past employers.
If you’ve received positive feedback from a majority of your employers, explain to your interviewer that you switched between jobs as you hit a ‘career ceiling’.
Demonstrate there was little to no growth and that’s why you switched between jobs to enhance your skills.
Make sure to highlight your skillsets on your resume to impress your interviewer. It’s necessary to take responsibility and assure your interviewer that your job-hopping days have ceased. Sound confident and the job may be yours.
3 SAMPLE RESPONSES TO YOUR INTERVIEWER EXPLAINING THE FREQUENT JOB HOPS ON YOUR RESUME
Jack-of-all-trades doesn’t sound too good on your resume when applying for a job. However, job hoppers are often seen as volatile employees. Employers see a job hopper as a self-centered individual that hops around for the occasional increase in salary.
An interviewer views a job hopper as someone that severs bonds at the mention of a higher pay package.
Are you sending out these signals in an interview?
The 3 sample responses demonstrate how to prepare your answer for the interview.
Explanation 1 – “I’m Guilty as Charged”
“Yes! I am a job hopper and a serial one at that. At first, I found switching jobs as an opportunity to get to my preferred job role and hence, did everything it took to get there including job-hopping. But here I am, in my preferred job role, and my desires are sated. This may come as a blessing in disguise for your company as I am completely in it for the long haul.”
Sometimes coming clean is the ideal way forward. Demonstrate your past intensity to job hop was to acquire the desired job role. Now that you’ve earned the job role, there’s no reason to continue with it.
Your interviewer may see this as a golden opportunity to make use of your experience while also obtaining a long-term employee for the company.
Explanation 2 – “Tempted by Opportunities”
“A string of opportunities led me from one company to the next. I was first tempted to accept a team leader role and I immediately accepted it. Things looked great for the first 3 months, only to realize that my company kept laying off employees due to a lack of funds, I decided to jump ship rather than take a risk.
Due to the rush of landing a job, I secured a job in a company I wasn’t comfortable working for, and so here I am, hoping for an opportunity to see my bad streak of employment end.”
Whoever said lightning doesn’t strike twice hasn’t met you. When you pour out your heart and display that you’ve been misled by fate, your interviewer may see the unfortunate chain of events and give you a shot.
Explanation 3 – “Long Commute”
“So there I was, completely satisfied with my job and getting along with my team. When all of a sudden, my business decided to move to another location. At first, I managed to make the long journey, but soon I found that that I lost over 5 hours of productivity to traveling.
Unfortunately, it made a negative impact on my resume as a job hopper, when really I am not.”
Circumstances are not in your control and if your past employer made a hasty exit to an inconvenient location, your interviewer may understand.
However, make sure your story checks out or a quick background check puts you on a blacklist.
Ultimately, a robust resume does 50% of the job in explaining on your behalf.
Gaps and job hops shouldn’t hold you back from applying to jobs. All it takes is one good explanation and you’re hired again.
Somethings aren’t in your control – like the interviewer’s mood. But it definitely helps to strategize before you take an interview to ensure your stories aren’t muddled up.
Did you experience a recent employment gap? Were you a serial job hopper? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Professors and researchers have been warning about the practice of resume whitening for a while now! …