How to Navigate and Overcome Unemployment Gaps

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, searching for a new job followed a strict and specific set of rules. One rule that seemed to be written in stone was that significant employment gaps — say six months or longer — were a red flag for recruiters.

As with so many other things in our society, COVID-19 has changed that perception.

Employers have become much more understanding about employment gaps. They understand that these have increased due to a variety of reasons. Downsizing, illness, taking care of family, and childcare are just some of the contributing factors to employment gaps. If this has happened to you, what should you do?

First, keep up with your industry. If it is not economically feasible to invest in your professional development, the least you can do is stay abreast of trends in your industry. Seek online sources that provide updates, set up Google alerts and keep in touch with contacts.

Second, create a simple — and brief — explanation for the gap. This is something you would want to include in your cover letter and be prepared to explain in an interview. Meet this situation head on, because your potential employer will ask you about it.

Third, update everything. Make sure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume. Any inconsistencies can be seen as red flags. The perception could be that you are covering up something or you lack attention to detail.

Once you get in the door — or on a virtual call — a job interview is a two-way process. While the recruiter is trying to determine your fit within the organization, you are also trying to decide if the organization is a good fit for you. How an interviewer handles your employment gap will give you insight into their thought process.

Do they approach it with skepticism? This could signal a trust issue. On the other hand, do they seem empathetic? This shows they care and are interested.

Of course, how they react depends in large part on your complete honesty.

One other point to consider is your emotional state. Are you returning to the workforce because you want to do that? Was your gap a personal decision? Or, were you downsized and need a job to pay the bills?

The first situation has you in control. You can pick the right spot and approach the process with a sense of calm.

The second situation can be gut wrenching. Finding yourself out of work without making that choice and being in absolute need of another job is frightening. I’ve been there. It is difficult to harness the fears and desperation you feel while putting on a bright “hire me” face. A potential employer will be wary of this. Are you looking to join the organization because you want to or because you need to? The latter reason would be a huge red flag.

The best policy in either situation is to approach it with honesty.

Address it in your cover letter.

Be prepared to give a solid answer when the question is posed in the interview.

Focus on why you want this job — for all the right reasons. You’re not just looking for a paycheck — you want a future.

There are a lot of pressures that come with seeking a new job, especially if you are currently unemployed. Fortunately, and ironically thanks to the pandemic, employers have become much more understanding about employment gaps.

Use that to your advantage.

The post originally appeared in the Goodwill of Greater Washington Working Capital blog. Read more.

This article was written by:
Steve Allan

For additional job search and career advice, consider reaching out to a career coach at your local Goodwill.