The Perfect Candidate Has a Résumé Gap, Now What?

One of the most difficult tasks for a job applicant coming off a period of unemployment is to explain that gap in dates on their résumé. This was a common challenge for many jobseekers following the Great Recession.


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Even now, with the economy humming, some applicants—for one reason or another—have a period of unemployment that sticks out like a sore thumb to a recruiter reviewing the dates of past positions. As a recruiter, you need to be aware of how to handle résumé gaps during the screening process. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Do the Numbers Looked Fudged?

It could be tempting for an employee with a 6-month résumé gap between his or her last two jobs to fudge the numbers a bit—add an extra couple of months to the end of job one and a couple to the beginning of job two. But this is a dangerous move and a bad decision.
In a previous post, we talked about survey results showing how nearly half of respondents said finding a lie on a résumé would cause them to discount an applicant outright, and nearly all of the other half said they would at least reconsider that applicant. Filling the gaps between jobs by artificially inflating length of service is a no-no that is to be avoided.
If the numbers look questionable, ask the candidate to provide more detail about tasks he or she performed during this role. Or, another possibility is to follow-up with references and past employers to confirm the dates the candidate has listed on his or her résumé. Sometimes even if a reference or previous employers cannot verify specifics, you’ll still be able to get a gut feeling from their responses—or lack thereof.

A Positive Approach

What can applicants do to minimize the glaring reality of gaps in employment in ways that reflect on their past experiences favorably? While acknowledging that an employment gap could automatically disqualify a candidate in the eyes of some recruiters, it’s better to face—and share—the facts, than to get caught in a lie.
Encourage candidates to be as open and honest as possible about their gaps in employment before meeting with the hiring manager, to minimize the risk of getting passed over.

Finding a Better Focus

Instead of focusing on the candidate’s gap in employment, look for the following strong points to help offset the impression an employment gap can give:

  • The candidate’s skills and qualifications
  • Strong references and reference letters
  • The candidate’s achievements
  • The candidate’s relevant work experience
  • The employer’s pain points and whether or not the candidate can solve them

Let’s face it, employment gaps happen to the best of us, but unless the gap is a blatant lie, it shouldn’t be held against the candidate.