A resume client came to us today and brought up an interesting dilemma that I am sure many job seekers can relate to. She is returning to the workforce after a 4-year absence, leaving her with no recent experience. How should she handle this issue?
At first glance, a recruiter will notice that she has not been working for some time, thinking “Oh, this candidate was fired or laid off 4 years ago and must not be very good or else she would have a job by now.” Unfortunately, in this market and with the amount of resumes recruiters are seeing, such a resume will likely be tossed aside.
There is something you can do to help yourself. Explaining the reason for the career interruption at the beginning of your cover letter will get the recruiter’s or manager’s attention for a more in-depth review. There will be recruiters and managers that can relate to the situation in some way and will give the resume the attention it deserves, especially since taking time off work to be a primary caregiver for young children or aging parents has become fairly common.
A trickier situation arises if you have been out of the workforce for an extended period due to inability to find a job. Recruiters are likely to think that someone who has gone 9+ months without finding a job may not be a good catch. You can overcome this negative perception by working in a contract or temporary position, taking a class, earning a certification, working in another field or volunteering to keep your experience current. Positive steps like these show motivation, resourcefulness, tenacity and resilience—personality traits that every employer values.
Explaining gaps in your work history is essential for keeping your marketability intact. Be ready to answer the question, “Why have you not been working?” in a positive way. If you’ve been diligent in your job search efforts and the right opportunity has not presented itself, take heart. Recruiters know that sometimes even the best candidates have difficulty finding a suitable position because so much depends on factors beyond your control. Keeping a positive attitude and showing enthusiasm in an interview may be difficult when you’ve experienced many months of disappointment, but they are critical in influencing a positive hiring decision.
Ellie Vargo, MRW, CCMC