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Ask the Experts: How to explain to an employer a resume gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted December 15, 2020 by

Question:

I’ve been out of work for months due to the COVID pandemic. I’ve been job searching the entire time but not attending school, volunteering, etc. so I’ve got a pretty big gap on my resume starting in the spring. When I’m applying to jobs and interviewing for them, how do I explain the gap on my resume?

First Answer:

Despite not working, attending school or being able to volunteer due to COVID-19, this may be a good time to focus on free self-paced training courses that complement some of your existing skills OR can begin to serve as a pivot to a new field/industry.  Several online learning providers are offering free courses to those impacted and can serve as a nice addition to any resume.

Bruce Soltys, 2nd Vice President of Talent Acquisition, Travelers

Second Answer:

This year has certainly been like no other, and employers have to set aside any preconceived notions they may have held in the past about gaps in employment. Covid-19 related layoffs were not only in numbers like we’ve never seen, they happened in industries that have historically been viewed as “recession-proof”. Employers need to understand many talented people were impacted by reductions in force through no fault of their own, and the opportunities that would have normally been available for those workers to take often no longer existed. If an employer sees a gap in someone’s employment from this year, don’t discount them- if this person looks to be an otherwise great candidate, then a conversation about their situation is the best way to assess if they’re a great fit for your organization.

If you were caught up in a layoff and have had the means to do some ongoing professional development, that’s great! There have been lots of online opportunities this year, and several platforms released free content specifically to help people who’ve been impacted by covid-19 related layoffs or furloughs. There have also been lots of chances to volunteer and help others this year, and those are also great things to showcase. Highlighting them in your resume or cover letter can be really beneficial if you want to showcase what you’ve been doing. But frankly, many people have just been trying to keep their heads above water. Between trying to stay healthy during a global pandemic, virtual schooling, the biggest civil rights movement in history, and sometimes food, housing, and income insecurity, professional growth and development has been a luxury many people haven’t the time, financial means, or capacity to take on. Employers who expect people to fill any employment gap with training, learning, or volunteering have to reset that mindset this year.

Candace Nicolls, Senior Vice President of People and Workplace at Snagajob

Third Answer:

The best thing you can do is be truthful and transparent about how the coronavirus led to your layoff, so the hiring leader doesn’t jump to the conclusion that it was due to poor performance or another factor that would raise a red flag. If your resume has an intro summary, insert a short sentence at the end explaining that your unemployment is related to the virus. Or, it can naturally fit at the end of the field where you list the details of your most recent position. 

If you’ve taken any sort of professional development while unemployed, such as an online seminar or class, find a way to plug that into your resume. For instance, “While furloughed due to Covid-19, I completed a course on search engine marketing to expand my skillset and make me an even more valuable team member.” Think outside of the box here. Even if you didn’t take a formal class, did you pick up new skills or learn through new experiences that you can highlight, such as reading business books or taking on a side project? 

When discussing your skills or accomplishments on your resume, take care to emphasize the long-term positions you’ve held to show that you’re a committed employee. If you’ve stuck with a previous employer when they faltered, call that out as well because it demonstrates your loyalty. 

Hari Kolam, CEO of Findem, a people intelligence firm that helps HR leaders find and recruit employees. 

Fourth Answer:

Explain the gap by using the time in a worthwhile way. For example:

  • Volunteer somewhere in a meaningful way.
  • Educate yourself and add a new skill set
  • Get an unpaid internship 

John Crossman, CEO of Crossman Career Builders

Fifth Answer:

The best thing a job seeker can do during a pandemic is think about doing informational interviews and expanding their network.

Thousands of people have been unemployed since the pandemic started, so ensuring that you continue to tailor your resume to highlight your relevant and transferable skills for the opportunities you are applying to is very important.

When interviewing don’t focus on the gap, focus on what you bring to the organization, companies know a lot of people have been unemployed since March 2020.

Remain positive, and keep a job contact log to help keep track of who you have contacted, and so you know when to follow up with someone will lead to job search success.

Beka Crocket, Assistant Director, Employer Relations Middle Tennessee State University Career Development Center

Sixth Answer:

  1. Be upfront:

For many, resume gaps can be a deterrent from pursuing an opportunity for fear of being perceived in the wrong way. While it might seem like a better option to omit the truth as a way of explaining the gaps in your resume, it is in your best interest to be 100 percent honest. It is also important to note your date of separation and the reason for it, especially if it is directly related to COVID. Employers are very aware that it has been an extremely challenging time for both candidates and businesses. Case and point, candidates should expect to be asked about why there is a gap in their resume because it will be addressed in an interview, so it’s best to be upfront about it from the beginning. 

Even if your resume doesn’t look “perfect” at this point in time, you always want to remain truthful and authentic. We have all been living through unusual circumstances during this time, and businesses understand that. There is no need to overcompensate. As a TA leader, I am unaware of what your life has been like during the pandemic. I have no idea who lives with you or what your financial situation is. In fact, working jobs that haven’t exactly aligned with your chosen career path might have been more economically beneficial for you and that is okay to share during your interview.

2. Remain mindful and understanding:

These last several months we have been dealing with inhumane acts of racial injustice as we’ve continued to endure a global health crisis. Rightly so, these circumstances have taken an emotional toll on people, especially those who have just graduated or are about to and are on the hunt for a job. Recruiters must be more aware that there are a number of factors contributing to resume gaps, and should be empathetic towards candidates who have experienced a gap in their career.

From a TA perspective, now is not a time for judgment as far as assuming candidates were being lazy or not taking advantage of opportunities. I make sure to review resumes while being understanding and mindful of the overarching situation that presents itself.

Ilysa Raphael, Vice President and Senior Talent Acquisition Leader at Power Home Remodeling

Seventh Answer:

In 2016 after finishing my master’s degree I was unlucky enough to endure 7 months of job searching. While many recruiters or hirers may question any gaps on a resume, it ultimately did not impact my ability to get hired as I was able to reflect on the experiences and highlight the skills I gained from each to apply to the future role. The hardship of enduring 7 months of unemployment allowed me to gain empathy with job seekers, identify positive recruitment paths and structures and how to implement them at my current company, refine my Linkedin presence and network, and manage my time while working remotely (as that is essentially what job searching is, self-motivated remote work). 

If you are worried about how to respond to inquiries about the gap on your resume, be first and foremost, direct and honest, “Due to COVID-19 my role was reduced in April 2020, and the gap on my resume reflects the time spent applying to new roles and navigating the challenges of applying to roles during a pandemic.” Then ensure that you are able to reflect on the experience and skills learned, especially if they can be applied to the role you are applying to. Did you treat applying to jobs as a long project, creating a project plan, KPIs, and tracking outcomes? Were you able to manage your time and motivation despite hardship? Did you take any online courses to enhance your job search skills or to gain practical skills for future roles?

I recently spoke to a candidate who had been out of work for the past few months, and while they didn’t take any courses or volunteer they did take a moment to try and improve the job search process building process to find aligned opportunities better, as well as streamline the application steps. This allowed me to see that as a candidate they were solutions-focused, proactive, and technically savvy, allowing me not to dwell a moment on the resume gap. Simply put take time to reflect on what you did gain from the job search process and not the time it took to get there, ensuring that any answer shows growth.

Jillian Low, Director of University Partnerships for CRCC Asia, which specializes in connecting students with applied work experience in dynamic international settings.

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