Handling Gaps in your Work History

How prepared are you to respond to questions regarding a Gap in your work history? Being laid off or fired is infuriating, especially if you are dumped by an organization that you were thinking of leaving anyway.

Maybe the timing is terrible, but consider yourself rescued and liberated, PLUS you get to keep your “I am not a quitter badge”!

Is there is a plus side? Yes indeed!

You are being forced to reconsider your career options and proactively restructure the next phase of your career. If you got a decent severance package – HURRAH! You are being paid while you make this career upgrade.

Here are some recommendations for processing and handling the work gap in the initial phone call with a recruiter or hiring manager:

1)   Develop a concise non-emotional explanation for the gap. Was there a company-wide layoff, did your department fold, was there a personal health issue, or did you move to a new city?

2)   Do not fudge the truth. Do not change a full-time tenure at the company to a contract or temp role. Lying about your employment can be damaging. The wise among us realize that being dumped can be a good thing. So, evaluate what you have gained from working at the company that set you free.  

3)   One of the funnier moments in my coaching history is a candidate explaining that she was fired, but not really.

In response to my quizzical: Say What? She said that she was the only one laid off in her division, so she felt she was fired. Too much info…. Was the severance reasonable? I asked, she said yes. I suggested that we will call it a “dissociation.” It is incredible what language can do to improve one’s view of things!

4)   Explain what you were doing during gaps between jobs. Think hard. Did you volunteer, take classes to upgrade your skills, travel, or use the time to take care of a relative. Did you attend webinars take online courses etc.? In short, were you productive?

5)   Unless you are good at disassociation, try to subdue your maverick go-it-alone approach. Consider engaging a professional to help you sophisticate your resume and prepare for this and other tricky interview questions.

6)   Invest in yourself and your career, and above all, do not wait until you are at the interview itself to craft a response to what you have been doing the last three or six months. Above all, do not slime the people at your previous employer; they can be excellent sources for referrals.

Being laid off or fired can be a shock.

For some people, being laid off or fired leaves them feeling angry, ashamed, or resentful. For others, the response could be, “Well, that was interesting. Time to move on. NEXT!”

But remember how quickly you bounce back and begin to represent yourself and your expertise as valuable to another company is always going to be your choice. 

A fast recovery depends on how quickly you accept that while you have had done interesting work, it is time to move on to better things. So, give yourself space to work through your feelings. Don’t let this setback diminish your pride in your otherwise successful career.

Put your redundancy package in perspective. Does it allow you to survive in the near future, or are you stranded? When your career game is interrupted, middle inning, it helps to remember that the sun is shining elsewhere, it is not raining everywhere, and you should remember to let that sink in.

Here are some other survival tips:

1.  Although a quick bounce-back might be a struggle, you will need to project a positive image to persuade your friends and potential employers that you are still in one piece. Focus on the highlights and achievements in your career. That helps to minimize the emotional fallout.

2. A layoff might free you up to explore a new career path or reassess your strengths, values, or where your career interests truly lie. Layoffs affect everyone in the department. Those who remain with the company quite often feel like they have just won the booby prize.

3.  Focus on your achievements in your former role. Use short and factual explanations. Too much detail can sound defensive rather than accepting of the situation.

4.  Laid off due to a merger, restructure, or downsizing? Use a broad brushstroke: Use all-encompassing language. “Unfortunately, I was laid off along with other colleagues.”

6.  Management change or a shift in direction: My skills and expertise are no longer aligned with the projects or the new manager’s priorities.

7.  Fired for performance reasons? Briefly explain the circumstances and what the experience has taught you. Then move on to what makes you a good match for the current position.

8.  Try to stay steady? Avoid responding to a deluge of jobs in a desperate attempt to get any new job. Instead, update your resume and shift your focus towards what you can offer.

Finally, accelerate your networking. The more active you are in your professional communities, the easier it will be to ask for and get help.

Thanks

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Why over-using Buzz Phrases in your Resume is a bad idea!

In one resume I read this recently, the candidate described herself as an “extremely qualified team player,” a “self-starter,” and a “proactive worker” who will to “take it to the next level” with her “ability to multitask and prioritize.”

She did not explain what she was going to prioritize.

Very few of us can exercise distance and restraint when creating a career portrait, that highlights details of our skills and achievements. There is some pride in writing one’s resume and seeing our career history documented in word.

It can be exhausting work.

Now, I am not rubbishing the effort candidates put into creating a professional narrative of their work history and achievements. But (and I am struggling to be generous here), if the use case for your resume begins and ends, at you being the only person meant to read it, I would say go for it. Otherwise – Don’t do it!

Work with a professional resume writer whose job it is to make you look good, qualified, and hirable in two pages or less.

The problem often starts with the job description. If companies stopped using buzz phrases in job descriptions, perhaps candidates will stop cutting and pasting them into their resumes. Competencies and attributes that are not related to or referenced to achievements in the resume’s body may dissuade a reader from inviting you to an interview.

1. Perennial winners in the resume writing useless phrase derby include – “a demonstrated ability.”

2. Or the even worse phrase, “a demonstrated history.” How do you demonstrate your work history?

3. Battling for third place are the cringe-worthy twins “forward-thinking” and “drill down.” It appears that “forward-thinking” people tend to “drill down,” too.

Candidates add buzz phrases to their resumes hoping to increase interview invites. But it has the opposite effect. The professionals reading your resume are real people, and there is no benefit to adding nonsense jargon to your resume.

Finally, be wary of others who tell you that investing in a quality resume does not matter, because other important things do not matter to these folks either, like referring you and rooting for you at THEIR place of employment.

But I digress.