Significant gaps in employment on a résumé are seen as a red flag by many recruiters.
While a steady work history is linked to dependability and integrity, unemployment has a bad connotation. Those with gaps in their employment history risk being perceived as lazy or distracted in their careers, and not as an in-demand asset in the eyes of future employers,” said Peter Yang, CEO and co-founder of ResumeGo, a resume-writing business based in New York City.
Recruiters, on the other hand, may make a mistake if they dismiss potentially quality and qualified individuals without providing them the opportunity to explain themselves.
“Making assumptions without first asking questions and gaining information could result in poor recruiting selections,” said one agency owner. “Do we have proof that this person is untrustworthy? Is it certain that this person cannot keep their job for an extended period of time? There is no proof of that.”
With unemployment as low as it is in much of the US, it’s critical for recruiters and hiring managers to be prepared to consider those who haven’t had the easiest time of their careers or who have taken non-linear career paths.
After all, recruiters, whether corporate or third-party, try to find and hire the best people. Believing there’s something wrong with individuals without pristine resumes is problematic in any market, but in a candidate-short market, it is biting off your nose to spite your face.
Not long ago, ResumeGo ran a study to understand how companies react to job gaps and how they affect someone’s chance of being interviewed. Using fictitious applications, they applied to over 36,500 job postings on popular employment sites.
These are the most important findings:
Individuals with gaps in their employment had a 45 percent lower likelihood of getting a job interview than those who did not.
Interviews for people with a three-year or longer job gap were considerably reduced.
Applicants with two-year and three-year job gaps had the most decline in interviews (a decrease from 9.8 percent to 4.6 percent).
Applicants who explained why they had a hiatus in employment received nearly 60% more interviews than those who did not. “Those who stated they acquired extra training or education ended up with the greatest callback rate among respondents who offered a reason for their employment gap,” Yang added.
Examine Your Bias
One of the most persistent recruiting biases is the belief that job hunters with gaps in their resumes are unstable and will be difficult to hold on to. Hiring managers are often more comfortable if someone stayed in a job because it shows loyalty and trust. When recruiters submit a resume or cv with gaps, they usually get a lot of questions wanting to know why the frequent turnover or gaps in their background. Hiring managers should evaluate each individual and their circumstances and not simply reject people with gaps.
When recruiters observe a break in an employment history, their first thought is typically what were they doing or what’s wrong with them While some people have difficulty holding jobs for various reasons, the majority have a legitimate reason, such as a medical issue. You’ll only find that out if you go past your personal bias to ask.
If you can imagine this person doing the job based on their abilities and experience and temporarily remove the gap from the equation, contact them and evaluate them. While gaps are signals that should be investigated, providing candidates the opportunity to explain themselves will show if your concerns are valid.
Have a Discussion
Handle employment gaps on a case-by-case basis. “A five-year-old employment gap is irrelevant. However, a multiyear hiatus if someone is currently in one is different.
Ask questions to understand, not judge. Don’t ask, ‘What did you do for the last three years?’ Instead, have them walk you through their background by asking about their reasons for leaving a job and what motivated them to pursue the next position. Listen to their story and what motivated their desire to change. Can your firm or opportunity provide that to them?
Notice whether the decision to quit a position was motivated by internal considerations (ie. a desire for advancement), or external factors (ie. a poor boss or manager). Blaming the company, supervisors, or coworkers may show a poor work ethic, especially if the same reason is used over and over.
Let the conversation flow while gathering information regarding job history, and then sharing it in an unbiased manner.
Recruiters wield tremendous power because w hen presenting candidate someone to their client, they can explain a gap such as “the person was out of work for 18 months caring for an aging parent.
Remember, asking someone about any pauses in employment should be done carefully. After all, they may bring up their criminal history, health and family concerns, veteran status, mental illness, disability, or age in response to your questions that may introduce their protected status under federal, state and/or local law.
In summary, although we may want people who have that perfect job history, frequently, we have to go outside the simple paradigm of looking at job histories and people as having nice simple career progressions and understand the person, the environment in which they operated in and their lives.
After all, would you want to hire someone who would not take care of an ill parent, wife, husband, partner or child? How comfortable would we feel if Mom “popped out a baby and went back to work next week?
Knowing how someone conducts their life gives us a unique perspective that might help us attract and keep exceptional human beings who can do great work.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2022
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2300 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, and Amazon, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smart sets.
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