Traditionally, employment gaps on resumes have been a source of concern to hiring managers. Some recruiters assumed that people with resume gaps might be bad employees or undesirable — and therefore unhireable — for some other reason. Even for women who took time off to raise children, employment gaps could spell trouble during a job search.
The pandemic may have turned this old thinking on its head. With millions of people — the majority of them being women — leaving the workforce for various reasons, there is some recognition among recruiters and hiring managers that there may be more factors to consider when they encounter an employment gap on an applicant's resume.
"If a woman has a gap in her resume due to raising a child or maternity leave, it does not mean that she forgot how to work or lost any of her skills," writes Jeff Martin, a career coaching and talent recruiting company CEO.
But not all hiring managers think this way. A ResumeGo study finds that when it used fictitious applicants for 36,510 jobs, callbacks dropped with longer employment gaps, and "once job seekers have been unemployed for over two years, their value in the eyes of hiring employers falls sharply."
The findings also reveal that job seekers should disclose their reasons for the gaps in a resume or cover letter, such as taking time to raise a family. "Work gaps are usually looked down upon by employers because they can mean that applicants are lazy and not prioritizing their careers. By providing a valid excuse for having a work gap, applicants may deter employers from assuming the worst," ResumeGo reports.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 2.5 million women left the workforce during the pandemic, partly because they could not find childcare or they needed to supervise remote schooling for their children.
As a result, LinkedIn now offers its users some new job titles, including "stay-at-home-mom" to allow parents and caretakers "to more accurately display their roles," writes Bef Ayenew, LinkedIn director of engineering.
In addition, LinkedIn plans to also offer "self-employed" as an employment type instead of asking for a specific company or employer.
"The stigma of employment gaps is already starting to fade. While 72% of job seekers believe there's a stigma associated with having a career gap, 79% of hiring managers today would hire a candidate with a career gap on their resume," Ayenew writes.
Whether you were laid off or have been a stay-at-home mom, if you are ready to re-enter the workforce, here are some things to consider when writing a resume and cover letter:
- Relevant experience. Pro bono work, consulting projects or volunteer experiences can be listed on a resume, as well as the skills you used as a mom, such as multitasking, communication and organization. If you have little or no work experience, you might consider leading with your education.
- Applicant tracking systems. Some companies use software to look for "keywords" in your resume, and without them, your resume may not get through to a hiring manager. To avoid such a fate, look for desired skills or abilities in the job posting such as "teamwork" or "collaboration," and use those terms in your resume and cover letter. (But never lie about your abilities.)
- Format. Some recruiters may be wary of functional resumes if they highlight your abilities and skills and employment history — but omit dates of employment. "Doing this actually screams that you are trying to hide something, and this is a sure way to get your resume overlooked both by the applicant tracking system and by an actual recruiter," says Chris Chancey, a professional recruiter and owner of Amplio Recruiting. If you've only worked in one industry and want to continue working in that industry, then a chronological resume (listing your last job first) may be the best choice.
- Transferable skills. Always consider whether you have transferable skills (communication, customer service, project management) that can be used in a variety of positions and will be desirable to an employer.
- Utilize your cover letter. While your resume will highlight your skills and experience, a well-written cover letter is a great place to explain an employment gap. You don't have to go into great detail but if you were laid off or have taken an extended break to raise your kids or care for a family member, dedicate a few sentences in your letter to add context for a potential employer.
While gaps in a resume can cause concern for some employers, explaining that you took time away from your career to care for your family can help ease their minds. With the pandemic upending so many lives in the last year, more women may discover hiring managers are more understanding of gaps in resumes.