Help Wanted: Explaining Resume Gaps and Other Advice

Friday, April 16, 2010

How do you explain a gap in your resume? Or overcome the stigma of having been laid off? IT hiring manager and Job Search Steps founder Russell B. weighs in on how to address those things you don't have much control over during a job interview, and offers other tried and true tips and tricks.

→ Check out Russell's "Best Cover Letter Sample Ever"


Russell B.

Comments [35]

Russell B.

This is for Beth.

Hi Beth, sorry it took me a while to respond. I must say that your question is a unique one and one that I've never had to consider before, so I'm going to give you my opinion as to how I'd like to see your freelance work addressed in a resume.

First of all, I'm pretty impressed that you've kept up the freelance writing even while you've been employed. To me, this indicates a hard worker and someone who doesn't give up. I know how hard freelance writing is because it was my hobby for many years, until I got to the point in my career where I simply couldn't make time for it anymore. My replacement for it is my web site!

In any event, what I would do is move the information about your freelance writing to the bottom of your resume, into a section called "Hobbies and Interests". Normally, I don't recommend this section for most people because it's possible that you may put down a hobby or interest that someone doesn't like (a good example is "hunting", which people seem to have very positive or very negative opinions about).

In your case, though, your freelance writing, particularly because you've been published in prestigious publications, is pretty impressive. Putting it here separates it from your employment history, which is what most Hiring Managers want to see first, yet gets it into an area that I personally ALWAYS read, just to see what applicants include. If some of your published items are relevant to a position you're hiring for, so much the better. Be sure to highlight that.

Hope this helps and keep up with the writing - you may be "found" and end up a famous author someday and your employment history thus becomes irrelevant!

Russell B.

Apr. 24 2010 08:45 PM

I have a question for Russell B. I thoroughly enjoyed your segment on the show. My question is sort of detailed, but I think others would also benefit from an answer.

I have been laid off twice within the last 10 years. I have secured a few contract/freelance assignments during the gaps. Also, during my periods of employment I did freelance writing, that was unpaid, but for prestigious publications, so I include it. I am wondering what is the best way to organize this information on my resume. I currently have a large "contractor/freelancer" block on my resume that spans from the beginning of my freelance life to present (i.e. it spans 10 years). Below it is my other employment, even if it overlapped in years with my freelance work. How would you feel about receiving an resume organized in this manner? I have had less freelance assignments since my last time of layoff, which is now a couple of years ago. I organized it this way so it looks like I have been working even though it's been more looking than working.

Thank you. I look forward to getting your insight on this.

Apr. 19 2010 12:40 PM
Russell B.

I agree with "JP from London". For college graduates, you should always first check with your school's graduate office. They will usually have resources you can use. Ditto for the alumni associations.

And JP is correct in that using connections to get your foot in the door, especially if one of those connections actually knows a hiring manger, is always the best thing you can do in your job search. Many college professors are well connected to industry and can help you if they know you.

Unfortunately, you won't always be able to find connections to all the positions you apply for, so you do still have to use all the other job search techniques to increase your chances of landing that elusive interview.

Apr. 17 2010 04:45 PM
JP from London, UK

For Kofi:

If you are a grad student, your school should have resources that will help you: an alumni network that you can connect with through informational interviews and events; professors with real world connections; recruiters coming to your campus.

I always do my job networking via my alumni networks and I have found this far more effective than the typical strategies suggested by the guest. Go talk to your career center if you haven't already!

Apr. 17 2010 08:26 AM

Russell B.--thanks

Apr. 16 2010 05:47 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Williamsburgh, brooklyn

Hi, I enjoyed your guest and found his suggestions very helpful. Since returning to the US, I have had difficulty finding something in my fields--translating, interpreting and writing. I try not to get discouraged, but after more than 2 years, it is very hard to stay positive. Now I am looking into other possibilities. Eugenia renskoff

Apr. 16 2010 05:39 PM
Russell B.

To Edward from NJ:

Well, I can't speak for recruiters because I'm a Hiring Manager, but I can tell you that Hiring Managers view long tenure in a position as a positive, not a negative. We don't want to hire people who change jobs every couple of years, so we LOVE it when people stay with the same employer.

Russell B.

Apr. 16 2010 01:23 PM
Russell B.

To Jonn k from SI NY (again):

In regards to your question about how to treat cover letters when applying online. Here's how I recommend you handle that.

Attach your cover letter itself, but also copy and past the body of your cover letter into your email. If you have a good strong cover letter, targeted to that specific position, this works very well.

Russell B.

Apr. 16 2010 01:19 PM
Russell B.

To hjs11211:

Well, what most employers will officially say about former applicants if you call the HR department is that they worked there, the dates they worked there, and the position they held. That's usually all, as they don't want to get into legal hot water by saying something about an ex-employee that causes them not to get another job.

But....what that that person's ex-supervisor will say, or what an ex co-worker will say, is a different story.

Here's how I handle this. If I can't say only good things about the person who used me as a reference, I simply say that company policy prevents me from saying anything but what HR will confirm.

If it's a person for whom I have nothing but good things to say, I'm pretty free with my comments and praise. I believe this is the way that most of my counterparts also handle referrals.

That's why you should ALWAYS check with someone first before listing them as a reference.

Russell B.

Apr. 16 2010 01:15 PM
Russell B.

To Jonn k from SI NY

Yes, you do always need to put your full address on your resume. If the company to whom you're applying can't reach you by phone or email, you want them to be able to contact you by mail. Also, it shows that you do have valid address and are a real person. Otherwise, it looks like you're trying to hide something.

As to your concern with sending out your address to hundreds of strangers that you'll never hear from, the risk is very small, especially if you are careful about who you apply to and make sure it's a legitimate company with a legitimate opening.

Good luck in your job search.

Russell B.

Apr. 16 2010 01:06 PM
Russell B.

To Jonn k from SI NY

Yes, you do always need to put your full address on your resume. If the company to whom you're applying can't reach you by phone or email, you want them to be able to contact you by mail. Also, it shows that you do have valid address and are a real person. Otherwise, it looks like you're trying to hide something.

As to your concern with sending out your address to hundreds of strangers that you'll never hear from, the risk is very small, especially if you are careful about who you apply to and make sure it's a legitimate company with a legitimate opening.

Good luck in your job search.

Russell B.

Apr. 16 2010 01:04 PM
Russell B.

For Jean M. - this is an excellent example of a Human Resources department running out of control. Personality tests may have their place (I personally have never used them), but for a biomedical engineering job??

As a Hiring Manger, I would vehemently object to a standardized personality test overriding my judgment. Something just doesn't sound right here. If a pass/fail on the personality test is the determining factor for hiring someone, this is a company you don't want to work for.

I'm sorry your nephew had this bad experience. It's just the sort of thing that gives companies bad names.

Russell B.

Apr. 16 2010 12:54 PM
Jean M

I am very curious about "personality tests" as part of large corporations' hiring steps. My nephew,a recent graduate in the biomedical engineering tech. field , interviewed for a part time internship with a huge corporation. The interviewer was an engineer with 200 people working under him. My nephew had an excellent interview and was offered the internship.Later that day he was contacted by the interviewer and told they would like him for a full time position and he was instructed how to apply online. Part of the application was a personality test. The instructions said to answer honestly because there are no right or wrong answers. Shortly after completing this section, he was emailed a message which said he had failed this test and would no longer be considered for a position. When my nephew called the interviewer, he(the interviewer)had no knowledge of any such test. After investigating, the interviewer said that apparently this was something new that could not be overridden. So, no full time job, no internship and no future possibilities with this company. Has personality testing now trumped competency and the expertise and intuition of interviewers? In the past months I've had many discussions with people about these personality tests. In our unscientific sample, most people failed, especially if they answered honestly..The few who passed said they lied on more than one question because they felt an honest answer would weaken their chances. A lawyer friend wonders if they are even constitutional. Will we now have to add courses on how to pass personality tests to a college curriculum?

Apr. 16 2010 12:36 PM

i was out of work for some time and was afraid that i wouldn't reenter the workforce because of the increasing amount of time i spent unemployed. it depends on the field and rarity of your skills too, but eventually i got lucky through a personal connection; thank god! working with recruiters i got some interviews but never got further than that.

Apr. 16 2010 11:31 AM
j from bklyn

for anyone in finance, i would refer you to the site, a quality control initiative organization. It's a six sigma training site, one of the country's best, and yes, the six sigma black belts here are required to use a slide ruler [no calculator allowed] for their qualifying exams.
it also has courses for the less mathematically inclined [Lean] and this too, is quite popular. They're working with Congress on the healthcare plan, for instance [Patrick Kennedy's office, for instance]. Go into the careers section to see company's that use them, for example. And luck to everyone. Really.

Apr. 16 2010 11:31 AM
jonn k from SI NY

Also, do you guys/gals put your full address down when you send your resume for a position???
I make it clear that I am in NYC and give my cell, but anyone can put up a job listing with any email address...
So, I don't feel safe in this era of identity theft in giving out my personal address to hundreds of strangers that I never even hear from.

Apr. 16 2010 11:30 AM
ny_girl from NYC

Guy with law degree - huge opportunities w/tech & law, leave it on!! That field is wide open, you could do really well by combining the law and tech.

Apr. 16 2010 11:30 AM
Suki from Williamsburg

Edward from NJ

Long tenure as a negative thing? Not likely. Long tenure = loyalty. I am an executive recruiter and the longer someone's been with a firm, the more desirable they are. Why would they go through the trouble of hiring someone who hasn't worked at any job for more than 2 years.

Apr. 16 2010 11:29 AM
jonn k from SI NY

How often do people actually get responses to job postings?? I literally apply to 15-20/week.
I usually hear back from maybe 1 in 150 places that I apply to. (This is no exaggeration)
I rarely even get automated responses back.

Apr. 16 2010 11:25 AM
mackler from new york

What is the benefit of searching out a head hunter, especially if you are changing industries?
How does one go about finding the right one?

Apr. 16 2010 11:24 AM
Suki from Williamsburg

Robert Schreiner from Brooklyn - sounds like your boyfriend needs some new friends; they sound like total d-bags.

Apr. 16 2010 11:24 AM

what can and do former employers tell future employers when they call for references?

Apr. 16 2010 11:23 AM
Suki from Williamsburg

Jon K - send both resume and cover letter as attachments. You can just copy the cover letter word for word and place it in the body of the email.

Apr. 16 2010 11:21 AM
educated and poor from Greenpoint

Why should non-profits be able to have unpaid interns? Interns for NGOs have to eat and pay rent just like interns (and employees) for for-profit companies.

I've worked FIVE internships at non-profits, worked overseas, just completed my MA, and am still told that I don't have enough experience to be hired.

Apr. 16 2010 11:21 AM
jonn k from SI NY

What is the deal w cover letters when applying to jobs online??
I treat the email with which I attached my cover letter to as the cover letter.
What does everyone else do??

Apr. 16 2010 11:19 AM
Suki from Williamsburg

I have a friend who works for a very well known consulting firm. She told me that they poach from firms rather than hire people who've been laid off - to ensure quality.

Wow. Rough.

Also, I've been semi-supporting my live-in boyfriend for the past several months. He freelances and makes money to cover his portion of the bills but I buy all the food and pay for all the entertainment and travel. I LOVE that he's home all day - cleaning, grocery shopping and doing the dishes. I kind of don't WANT him to find a job!

Apr. 16 2010 11:18 AM
Edward from NJ

I've been with the same company for 9 years doing web development. Frequently, I'll get calls from recruiters, and I get the sense that they perceive my long tenure as a negative. Any thoughts?

Apr. 16 2010 11:16 AM

what about having had your small business go down the tubes (after 10 years - 3yrs of hanging on too long) and now wanting to work for a paycheck? Oh. And - being Old - (51). No question that > 50 is an obstacle - I've seen that forever - esp in finance.

Apr. 16 2010 11:15 AM
Robert Schreiner from brooklyn

in spite of the fact that I am working at every chance and aggressively seeking more employment.

Apr. 16 2010 11:15 AM
Rick from Manhattan

Out of work for 18 months, when I have the question "What have you been doing since December 2008?" I wish I could answer "Trying to shake a nasty cocaine habit" or "What the hell does it look like I've been doing?"

Apr. 16 2010 11:15 AM
Wick from Basking Ridge, NJ

It may be a good idea to ask a friend with a small company in your industry to let you put your name on their Website as part of their team. that way you at least look as though you have a job and placeholder for your resume.

Apr. 16 2010 11:14 AM
Robert Schreiner from Brooklyn

I am self-employed and my business has stalled to almost nothing over the past year. I've had to apply for food stamps, medicaid and to accept the financial assistance of my boy friend to eat and live day-to-day. In the past several months it has become increasingly clear that his friends regard our financial relationship as unacceptable, despite the fact that my boyfriend and I have accepted it as temporarily necessary and ok between us. I find now that my situation has left me fair game for everything from comments on what I should be doing to just plain rudeness (to my face). I've definitely and palpably lost a good deal if not all of my worthiness for common decency and respect.

Apr. 16 2010 11:13 AM

Is continued employment with no gap viewed as a plus on a resume, since a gap is not viewed as a negative?

Apr. 16 2010 11:13 AM
JT from Long Island

I have a 5 year gap because I am a stay at home dad. In preparing to go back to work it seems odd to have this in my resume and I've addressed it in my cover letter. Should I have it in my resume also?

Apr. 16 2010 10:46 AM
jonn k from SI NY

I do not understand this??
WHY is there a stigma in having been laid off??
It happens. BFD!

Another thing I have been hearing about lately is how having a bad credit score could affect being hired by a company.

Credit Score companies are already a fraudulent bullsh*t scam! I never EVER consented to let multiple non-gov't companies to collect and store extremely sensitive nature about my entire life! And we can see our own information w out jumping through massive bureacratic hoops. Oh and we can only see OUR information for free ONCE a year or else we have to pay $$ to see what some more than dubious corporation is telling other people and companies about us!


Apr. 16 2010 10:40 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.