If there’s one thing that job candidates may fear even more than being tossed a challenging brain teaser to solve during an interview, it’s having to account for gaps in their resume. That’s probably because this “negative space” potentially has the same power to tell a revealing story about you as your past employment experiences do. Unfortunately, that power can be turned against you if you don’t harness it first. Don’t let awkwardness creep into an otherwise jaunty interview simply because you once quit a job you just couldn’t stand; or because you spent a year abroad chasing spiritual enlightenment; or because you gave yourself some time off to consider your options before charging back into the workforce. Nowadays, employers are much more receptive to “non-traditional” experiences forming part of the employment package that is you, so long as you’re comfortable putting those experiences into a meaningful context. Here are some tips on how to turn gaps in your resume to your advantage in an interview:
Mind the Gaps.
The first and, for some, the hardest step in addressing gaps in your resume is simple enough: face them. If it’s been a while since you closely examined your resume, you may have to cast your mind back quite a ways to those ghostly periods of time wedged between jobs–or between school and your first job. No matter, this is work that will pay off many times over, provided you can rescue a compelling story from those tantalizing gaps. As you engage in some quiet recollecting, don’t be afraid to ask yourself why you hated that job or that boss; or why you thought it was a good idea to elope to Las Vegas and spend a year dealing blackjack at Caesar’s Palace. Seriously, though, while employers will rather dully expect you to rattle off the whys and wherefores of your employment history, watch them perk up when you talk about very personal experiences. Just be aware that they will use these anecdotes to make judgments about your character, so try to put a positive spin on each one.
Tell a Story.
It’s one thing to get in touch with the personal decisions and experiences that led to gaps in your resume. It’s quite another to transform them into compelling talking points, anecdotes, or full-blown narratives. This will require some imagination and maybe even some rehearsing on your part. After all, as powerful as it can be to relate a personal narrative, you must keep in mind that not only is the interview a professional setting, but you want your narrative to achieve a very specific end: to help get you a job! If storytelling isn’t your forte, don’t worry: just remember what makes a good story (a beginning, a middle, and an end), and apply that principle to the account you’ll give you interviewers of the gap. For example, if you were downsized from a large, very corporate company, followed by a gap, followed by a job at, say, a startup, you could tell the story of that gap any number of ways. If you’re speaking to a large company, you could say that during your gap you decided you might find a better fit at a startup, only to discover that once you were there, you yearned for the structure and security of a well-established business (hence, your interview with another large company). Just don’t stretch the truth too far. Remember, your stories will still have to be attune to the rest of your employment history and the image you project as a candidate.
Draw a Lesson.
Most stories contain or end with a lesson or “moral.” The story of your gap or gaps should as well. Jumping off from the example above, about shifts from large to small companies, you might offer the insight to your interviewers that you learned that you fit best in a small (or large) company. In other words, during your gap, you didn’t just sit around watching re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210; rather, you reflected long and deep on your previous experience, realized something key about yourself, then projected yourself into the next position based on your realization. Only to begin the whole process over again! The point to make is, that resume gap was not a useless fallow blemish on your employment history; rather, it was an opportunity to learn something about yourself, and to grow as a person. Indeed, the more personal and profound the lessons you offer are, the more thoughtful and intelligent you are bound to appear to your interviewers.
For more information on interviewing and other employment-related issues, please contact the experienced recruiting team at Masiello Employment Services today.