How to handle COVID-19 gaps in your resume

Having unexplained periods of unemployment in your work record has often been seen as a red flag to potential employers. Many recruiters have been reluctant to hire candidates with gaps in their resume.

This bias against the unemployed was confirmed in a recent study that examined response rates for fictitious resumes that were used to apply for real job postings. The results showed that employers strongly discounted the resumes of applicants who had been out of work six months or more.

While there are many reasons why someone could be out of work for a period of time, hiring professionals sometimes worry that it could be an indication of a candidate’s employability or professionalism, their motivation, or their skillset.

COVID-19 could be changing all that right now. It’s the unexplained resume gaps that create concern for employees – causing them to surmise the negative potential scenarios for why a candidate has been between jobs. The pandemic and resulting shutdowns have caused numerous people to lose employment and struggle for longer periods of time to secure new opportunities.

So, explain your work situation. Almost everyone changes jobs many times throughout their working life, and sometimes there are lapses between ending employment at one place and beginning at the next. Even before the pandemic, the key to mitigating any potential red flags from resume gaps was to be upfront about what you were doing with that time.

Whether it was taking some much needed time off, dealing with family issues, or retraining to acquire new skills and change career paths, making your story relatable to potential employers could set their worries at ease.

COVID-19 has provided a very relatable situation for explaining periods of unemployment. We’re all in this together.

When applying for jobs, focus your application on the positive while minimizing emphasis on the gap between jobs. Begin your resume with a summary paragraph highlighting your top qualifications for the job. What are your best selling points? Use your elevator pitch.

One of the worries about candidates with gaps in their resume is that they could lack competencies or that their skills could become out of date. Tackle this head on with an essential skills bullet list in your resume. Highlight particularly those abilities that are required in the job description – along with any others you have that can bring added value to the role.

If you were let go from your most recent job due to the pandemic, you can list that in your work history. For example:

    2017 – COVID-19 Shutdown
    Sales Director – ACME Products Co.
    Hired, trained, and managed 25+ field and telephone sales representatives and account managers for an industry-leading outdoor equipment provider.

In this way, the experience listing speaks for itself. You were working professionally in your field until the pandemic struck.

Most employers will understand such employment setbacks caused by COVID-19 and won’t consider it as a negative about your professionalism that you were impacted by global events beyond your control.

Focus on the things you can control. Stay active, maintain contact with your network, and keep your skills up to date. If you are between jobs, you can volunteer in your community or even use the time to acquire new skills. (See: Online courses to upskill during the pandemic.)

This way, when opportunities come along, you will be ready to make a positive impression with how you dealt with adversity and are ready to get back in the game.

Just be sure not to use the time off to render yourself unemployable in the future.

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