An unexplained gap in employment is a red flag for employers and can get your resume weeded out in a heartbeat. Don't fall victim to this job search pitfall.
If you have gaps in your employment history, how can you neutralize them, and even turn them into strengths? Here are five tips for administrative professionals reentering the workforce after the dreaded lengthy gap in employment:
1. Freshen up your skills for free
Free training to update your skills is now available everywhere, from the thousands of courses on iTunes U to our own OfficeTeam resources providing career advice, online training and recertification specifically for administrative professionals. This way you get current skills and training, which can boost your confidence and provide fresh information for your resume – and ultimately help you land a job.
2. Choose your resume format wisely
Decide whether you’ll follow the chronological, functional or hybrid resume format. Be aware that the chronological resume highlights employment gaps, whereas the functional resume format (which leads with a list of skills and specific experience) can be useful in drawing attention away from employment gaps. The downside to the functional resume, though, is that it's increasingly becoming known as the "what-is-he-trying-to-hide" format.
The hybrid resume — a combination of a chronological and functional resume — is the way to go when you have an employment gap. Start with a summary of your administrative skills, followed by a list of strengths, which should include keywords from the job ad that will help your resume appear higher in searches. Then, underneath, list your recent positions in reverse chronological order. The hybrid resume allows you to get your potential employer’s attention right off the bat since he can focus on what you can bring to the position instead of being immediately faced with gaps in your work history.
3. Fill the resume gaps
It’s also key to fill your gaps when possible. If you helped anyone with administrative tasks, or worked any short-term or contract jobs, you can list the experience like this:
XYZ Local Charity
Annual Fundraiser – Volunteer
2011 – 2014
Provided administrative support to a non-profit each year during its largest fundraising event. Responsibilities included scheduling other volunteers, and providing event planning assistance, correspondence, marketing support and office support. Used the Microsoft Office suite of applications to successfully complete all tasks.
Organizations might include churches, schools, colleges, family businesses or even friends. Did you plan a wedding or help build a website? It's all relevant. For instance, in planning a friend’s wedding, you displayed organization and time management skills, which are valuable in all administrative roles. These activities also show you’re keeping your skills current.
Don’t underestimate the power of the cover letter in explaining an employment gap. Make sure not to come across as defensive or apologetic; simply mention the gap along with what you did to remain active during the time.
4. Consider a staffing firm
When you’re trying to figure out how to land a job while reentering the workforce, one strategy is to sign up with a staffing firm. You gain access to training resources, while dipping your toe back into the work world, re-acclimating to office life, and getting some valuable, relevant experience to use on your resume.
5. Just do it
If you haven't done any of the above, start now. Go out and volunteer your administrative skills to a school, church, nursing home or charity. Sign up for training programs if your expertise is dated. Then, include these actions on your resume. If you literally cannot list anything relevant, include a brief note: "2010 - 2015: Temporary leave from workforce for family reasons." Just don’t leave that area of your resume blank.
Gaps in employment are not uncommon, but resume readers still tend to think the worst if it's unexplained. So invest the time to pack your gap with training, volunteering and the resources offered by staffing firms to avoid this pitfall.