Dealing with the aftermath of a layoff, having a baby, caring for a sick family member, and going back to school — these are all good reasons to be on hiatus from your career. However, recruiters may be understandably concerned that you haven't kept your work skills finely honed if you've been away from the business world for a while. Put their concerns to rest by highlighting alternate work or training you've done to stay active, while also being upfront about the gap in your resume.
Explain the gap upfront: Spell out why you took a break from your career. If you don't mention it, hiring managers will assume you have something to hide — better to bring it up first so you can move on to talking about your talents and why you're a good match for the job.
In a weak economy, recruiters expect to hear from candidates who have been laid off from their jobs — so don't treat your downtime as something to be ashamed of. If it's relevant, discuss consulting work you may have done for your employer after being laid off, or offer references who can confirm that the company needed to eliminate jobs.
Showcase unpaid experience: Volunteering or mentoring activities are more valuable than you may think in minimizing resume gaps. Don't just talk about what you did — connect the activities to marketable skills. For instance, if you served on a nonprofit board, detail your experience managing budgets or hiring executives. Add this information to LinkedIn under the Volunteer Experience & Causes section of your profile.
Focus on training and education: If you spent your hiatus taking classes and attending conferences, place this information on your resume in the same way you would have highlighted a job — and play up training and conferences in your cover letter. Emphasize how classes and conferences have helped you develop certain skills. On LinkedIn, add training under the Courses or Certifications sections of your profile.
Experiment with different formats: Arrange your resume according to skill sets, instead of a chronological list of jobs. This highlights the skills you bring to the table, rather than the timeline in which you developed those skills. In addition, you can omit the months in which you started employment, stating only the years of employment to divert attention from a gap.
On your LinkedIn profile, use the Summary section to provide a description of your talents without relying on a chronological list of jobs. The Summary section is your opportunity to tell the high-level story about your career and your work strengths, which will de-emphasize any gaps in your work history.
Get recommendations: LinkedIn recommendations from colleagues and supervisors encourage hiring managers to consider you for a job, but they can also help balance out a resume with gaps in work history. Strong recommendations will demonstrate your value to a company in spite of time spent off the career track.
Add sections to your LinkedIn profile: There's more to your career path than just the jobs you've held — there are also the professional organizations you belong to, articles you've contributed, and special skills you have like languages. As mentioned above, you can add sections to your LinkedIn profile highlighting training and volunteering, but you can also create sections on projects, awards, and organization membership. A well-rounded profile will showcase the time you've spent advancing your career, not the time you spent away from work.
Candidates often fear that a work gap will reflect badly on their resume. But if you use the tips above, your skills and key work experience will have a chance to shine.