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Mind the gap: don’t let missing work history damage your CV and interview

Mind the gap: don’t let missing work history damage your CV and interview

Gaps on your CV can make you a risky candidate. Clare Whitmellshares her advice on how to explain missing work experience
A man waits for a Northern Line underground train, tube, on a platform saying mind the gap
 How to get around problems like work history gaps on your CV. 

Gaps in your work history

Showing the last ten years’ experience on your CV is generally sufficient, so you don’t need to explain gaps earlier than this. However, you’ll need to account for recent gaps.

If it’s a short gap sandwiched between longer periods of employment, you can deflect attention by giving the dates of employment in years, rather than in months. For example, ‘2002 — 2006’ rather than ‘January 2002 — October 2006’. But if you were out of work for more than a few months, or your dates of employment are short, don’t try to conceal a gap. Instead, show how you used the time constructively.

As long as you can show that you’re doing something during your period of unemployment, you can appear more attractive to a potential employer. Also, doing voluntary work, researching something, learning something new are all ways to show how you are occupying your time … Given that this recession is so tough in so many sectors, employers are likely to be more ‘forgiving’ of long gaps in your work history.

Activities which bolster your CV are training courses, learning new skills or a language, volunteering, or creating your own project. Slot your activity with the dates into the appropriate section on your CV (professional experience/education for example) making it as relevant as possible to the job you’re applying for.

Make it clear at the interview that you’re up-to-date with events in your industry, so make sure you stay in touch with contacts, keep up membership of professional organisations and attend industry events.

Lack of experience

If you’re changing career and don’t have much relevant experience, go with what you’ve got. Find examples which demonstrate how your skills, accomplishments and personal qualities are relevant to the role you’re applying for. Experience isn’t always the deciding factor, so ensure your other strengths stand out in your CV, covering letter, and at the interview.

Don’t underestimate the potential of networking. Finding out about a job before it’s advertised may mean you avoid competing with more experienced candidates.

Careerenergy says in the forums: “You need to look carefully at your skills & experience and understand which organisations and jobs are best suited to your personality, working style and career needs…

“Then use your networks to get in front of people in those organisations. You need to be clear what they are looking for and why you meet their needs. And you need to communicate this effectively…

“What you do need is the drive, focus and commitment to conduct a successful job search, and a positive attitude so that you know from the start that you are going to succeed.”

Extend your network of contacts online (LinkedInTwitter for example) and offline. Take every opportunity to develop your experience, and consider internships, temporary and part-time work. Offer your skills to local groups, charities and businesses, or set up projects yourself to gain the necessary experience.

Dismissed from a job

You may not need to include a job you were dismissed from on your CV. You can omit the job it if only lasted a few months, was more than ten years ago, or is completely irrelevant to what you’re doing now. However, keep it on if it was your last job. Although you don’t need to state the reason you left on your CV, be prepared to talk about it at interview if asked.

You don’t need to lie about why you left. Frame it as a learning experience. You didn’t do as well as you’d hoped because you needed more training and mentoring as the field was new to you for example. It’s taught you to ask for regular feedback from your manager.

If you can, think about one positive thing that happened and use this — firstly on your CV — and secondly at interview, framing it again as a learning experience. For example, did you achieve goals through working in a team? Seize on a few aspects and offer these up as evidence that you have learned something that will be of value to your next employer.

If you’re worried about references from your boss, ask human resources to provide one with dates of employment.

If you don’t give references on your CV, provide them at interview.

If you have other references from previous jobs, then offer these too. The important thing is not to dwell too much on a working experience where you didn’t ‘gel’, but to put it into a wider perspective of your overall career history. Try to give the impression that the most recent experience was a bit of a ‘blip’. You have some examples of where you excelled and you made the most of it, but in the end it didn’t work out as you had hoped.

Focus on how the job you’re applying for now is your perfect match, and prepare well before you write your CV and attend the interview, so that you’re sure about what you can bring to the role. Make it clear that you’ve learned from your previous jobs (not just the last one) and that you understand the challenges and opportunities in the new role, so you are prepared for any similar ‘difficulties’.

Health problems

If you have health problems (either current or past) which don’t affect your ability to do the job, avoid mentioning them in your application, or at interview.

One of the risks in mentioning illness on a CV is that the employer might think the person isn’t back to 100% fitness and may not be up to the demands of a job.

FootStool in the forums adds: “I’ve been there, and recently enough to still have to put it on CVs and forms. I wouldn’t make a song and dance about it, just state in as brief a way as possible that you spent the period recovering from a serious illness and offer to give contact details for your consultant/gp should they want any more details.”

But if you have ongoing health problems, clarify how they might affect your work and mention possible workarounds. Only bring up health issues towards the end of an interview, after you’ve given yourself an opportunity to make a positive impression.