Accounting for an employment gap on LinkedIn can be a challenge
There are many reasons for why someone might take a career gap these days, but the thought of an employment gap on LinkedIn makes many nervous.
We still live in a world where a higher value is placed on un-interrupted, linear careers, that is work experience without any breaks. This is why many have concerns about how they present an employment gap on both LinkedIn and their CVs. As more of us are taking career gaps, how can we best explain what has been going on for us without it making a negative impact?
Being unemployed for more than six months runs into “Unemployed Bias.” You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s easier to get a job from a job.” Some employers prefer to look for candidates who are currently employed. This is based on the tenuous assumption that these individuals are more reliable and have up-to-date skills. Longer periods away from the workplace can raise doubts in an employers mind. It is for this reason that so many women are impacted when they take maternity leave. In some circumstances ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) will even skip candidates with non-continuous careers which suggest that an employment gap on LinkedIn needs a workaround.
Types of career gaps
It happens. Things have changed since 2008/2009 when millions of people were laid off overnight. It is no longer the big deal it used to be. However it is still important that you illustrate that you spent your time out of the job market constructively and you were not moping on your couch watching day time TV and eating chocs.
Be careful not to mislead about your dates with any particular employer and don’t leave your old job as your current post. Some employers check that ex-employees show an end of employment date on LinkedIn, especially if they have been fired.
This can be regarding your own health or that of a close friend or family member. I have seen CVs from people who have had cancer scares, burnout, car accidents or taken leave of absence to care for a seriously ill family member. When this has happens, it is better to list it in a short entry on your resume or application to account for the time for a sabbatical. It addresses the obvious question that would otherwise arise if it’s not listed: “What were you doing during that time period?”
When interviewed you might be asked about it, but most interviewers will approach it with empathy. This becomes sensitive in the area around mental health issues. Today everyone understands the concept of burnout. The best strategy is to focus on what you are looking for, rather than running down your last organisation. You can say that while you enjoyed your old job, you needed time to recharge. Then you can explain what you did to achieve that.
You should be ready to make it clear that the situation is very unlikely to arise again. Keep in mind this can be an unspoken concern that creeps in if not addressed—the question of “will you leave your employer again?”
In May 2017 a creative agency, Mother New York, launched a campaign called Pregnancy Pause. It is an attempt to make the difficult process of returning to work easier for mothers in the US. Pregnancy Pause found that some studies indicate that mothers who explain these career gaps clearly are less likely to be passed over for opportunities. They suggest:
- Adding your new job as a “Mom” at “The Pregnancy Pause” to your LinkedIn profile. Put it under “Experience” for the duration of your maternity leave.
- Explaining your experience during maternity leave as it applies to you under “Description.” This could be anything from “Designer of human life” to “Hands-on experience in development.”
The organisation focuses on LinkedIn because it is the first port of call for recruiters. I have mixed feelings about this: firstly I’m not a fan of the term pregnancy pause. I would prefer to use the phrase “parenting pause“. But it does address the issue of gaps on a LinkedIn profile, which is designed to penalise non-linear career progression. I do love the idea of “creating human life” as a career success story.
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Mid-career gap year
An increasing number of executives are taking grown-up gap years. They are self-aware and understand they need to re-charge their batteries. International companies are also starting to offer sabbaticals, to avoid burn out and to keep their senior leaders refreshed. These individuals travel, do a stint of voluntourism, take a course or simply sit in their gardens. Many feel they just need to get out, to stay on top.
Early career gap year
Amongst millennials a large number are taking career breaks either before they enter the workforce or in between jobs. They may delay starting a new job so that they can travel and see the world. The most important thing is to be able to leverage the experience for a resume. It really isn’t that big an achievement if the bank of Mum and Dad buys you a round the world ticket and gives you a monthly allowance to drift from one temple, beach or watering hole to another. The prospect of having to work until 70 means that this generation doesn’t buy into waiting until retirement to have the trip of their dreams.
Had enough gap
This demographic for whatever reason have simply had enough. Many have been inspired by Elisabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. They just chuck it in, sell up and take off to do something completely different. Last year I wrote about women who:
As women become more financially independent we are seeing a whole breed of women who are financially secure and less risk averse. They are willing to move out of their comfort zones to learn a few new things about themselves as part of a life and career transition.
LinkedIn and an employment gap
Here are some ways you can account for an employment gap on LinkedIn:
1. Consultant/Self Employed /Transition period
Some people create a place holder with any job title that fills the gap. It’s important to have some concrete examples of how that time was used constructively, whatever activity you are pursuing.
A good suggestion is to put the name of a position you are looking for as your current role, and put underneath that you are open for new opportunities in the body. Don’t put that in your professional headline as this is a searchable field and you need to reserve this to showcase your hard skills.
2. Interim work
Temping is another alternative where the projects are shorter, but at least there’s a company representing you. They can act as a reference to confirm all your temp jobs went well. This is important as “short-stints” on a resume can sometimes raise alarm bells with hiring managers about your “stickability” and the use of that dreaded word ‘job-hopper’.
Volunteering is another option. Look for volunteering opportunities in areas that are related to the field of work you are either in or want to target. If you are a communications expert you may want to target an NGO, school or charity with support for their communications or social media. Companies often offer unpaid internships to assess skill-set fit before a permanent hire. Take a look at how this could suit you. Very often companies which could afford to pay something are trying to get talent on the cheap. It’s up to you if you go down that path.
4. Write and/or speak
Some network contacts who are experts in their field fill their unemployment gap with guest speaker, podcast or writing engagements. This can be a valuable networking opportunity and provide some revenue. Take care because many event organisers still have a “pay to play” approach and you may find yourself out of pocket.
5. Personal development
During unemployed periods it is also advantageous to attend training courses, or classes you’ve been meaning to take. This can be especially beneficial in areas that would expand your expertise in new, but related elements for your field. Before you invest in a certification or degree, scan the job openings on job sites to see how sought after this qualification is. There are many low price online courses that can fill a gap.
If you are signed up for a period of study such as another academic qualification – MBA, or PMP certification, enter that into the employment section not just education.
Continuing to be active outside full time work, whether as a contractor, a volunteer, or a temporary employee, keeps your skills up-to-date, expands your network, and fills a gap on your resume. Remember, in this economy it is not uncommon to hit a bump in the road during your career. How you handle it is what makes the difference going forward.