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Fixing The Résumé Gaps

You're HiredRecently, the well-know economist and columnist for the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote an article, “The Jobless Trap.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/opinion/krugman-the-jobless-trap.html?_r=0)  In it he explained that we are creating a class of permanently unemployed and unemployable Americans.

He mentioned studies which demonstrate that those whose résumés show they’ve been unemployed for six months or more are seldom considered to fill available positions, no matter how great their qualifications.

Actually, that’s been pretty well-known to employment specialists for a long time.  But it’s always nice to have studies to back up observations in the field.  Just think about it, though.  If an employer looks at a work history and sees a big recent gap, he’s going to be suspicious that there’s something wrong with an employee that others keep rejecting.  Not to mention how out-of-date his experience and skills must be.  Regardless of his own experience with the candidate.  Regardless of his awareness of current economic conditions that make it extremely difficult to get jobs.

Krugman’s article was on the point of how joblessness, rather than national debt, is the greatest danger to our economy.  Please read his article, it’s a critical part of the social and economic picture we all need to think about.  However, what I want to talk about is some of the techniques that folks have used successfully to plug up those holes in the résumés that he talked about.

Think about it this way: there are millions of people who are “jobless” but still working.  And their work will show up on their résumés (or whatever work history they use, if they don’t use a resume.)

They call themselves self-employed, freelancers, consultants.  Or perhaps they call themselves students.  Maybe they call their time away from the job a sabbatical.  Or they might take temporary or contract work while “training for a new line of work” or “updating their skill-set.”

Here’s how that method works:

1. Education/Training/Skills Development

Time-out for learning new skills and professional techniques is historically honored as much as — sometimes more than — having a job to get the experience.  Find a way to show on your résumé that you purposely chose to spend your between jobs time studying to become better in your field or to qualify for a different field.

Of course, make sure that you have actually acquired the new knowledge or skills and can prove it. If you’re developing technical skills, you can learn quickly at lynda.com or udemy.com.  And don’t forget there are great classes available for free through iTunes University.

This is an especially good technique for the “older” unemployed.  Even if your technical skills were just fine before you became unemployed, it always looks great on a resume to be able to say you have some new expertise in the latest fads.  If you’re looking for management work, it’s helpful to say you’ve just acquired a certification in whatever big technique is being pushed by the “expert” consultants to corporations currently.

2. Self-employment/Consulting/Freelancing

People often opt to try self-employment as an alternative to finding a new job.  Many succeed and do better than they would if employed by others.  You many not have started it until six months after you were laid off,  but that doesn’t make your business, consulting practice or freelance portfolio any less real than the guys who decided to do it right away.  Everything you did up until that time was preparing you for it as surely as if you intended to do it immediately.  So, it’s perfectly legitimate to date your self-employment from the beginning — or near the beginning — of your unemployment..

These days, it’s simple.  Just design some business cards on your computer.  Make a blog.  Perhaps a newsletter.  Arbitrarily set the time of the start of your business for the purposes of your résumé as about two weeks after you left your last job.  That’s about the time most folks start seriously thinking about what they’ll do if they can’t find a job.

If the work you’ve decided to list as your self-employment requires licenses or permits, get them. In most places, you don’t have to publish a DBA if you simply use your own name as your business name.  But check to be sure.  There are so many books and articles online that tell you how to structure and start a business while complying with local regulations that I can’t begin to list them here.

It’s just so much more acceptable to say you’re looking for a job after being self-employed as a consultant or freelancer than saying you’ve been unemployed for six months or a year … or more.  But you can’t just say it.  You have to make it true.

And don’t forget that you might actually make an income as a self-employed person while still looking for a job.

3. Sabbaticals.

As an alternative to self-employment, consulting or freelancing, you may have used the time as a sabbatical to research and write a book.  Be sure to finish writing that book.  Just research how to publish on Kindle and CreateSpace and get that book out there.  You might make some money at it as well.  Even if your book is a flop, however, you’ve filled in that gap on your résumé where you might otherwise have been considered unemployed.

And, don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be a book.  It could be painting.  Or historical research.  Or travel for research.  Just make sure you have visible results to show for your time.

4. Temp agencies/Contract Employment

If you’ve been unemployed for three months, it’s time to make sure the gap doesn’t get larger.  Temporary agencies and contract employment are a quick fix for getting some money and some provable work time on your résumé.  Furthermore, working temp or contract gives you exposure to and time to make contacts in various companies that might hire you full time.

This is also a great way to combine with the other techniques above to say that you would have liked to work only on your own business or project during that time, but you needed extra income to fully support your start-up or your project.

There are a number of other possibilities, but the above are the more well-known and acceptable.