Gaps on your résumé and multiple jobs within a short time period can raise red flags when applying for a new job. Although we’re in a recession and have seen in the last several years an unprecedented wave of corporate and law firm consolidation, hiring managers and HR will still question résumé gaps and multiple job changes. No matter what the job market conditions are, first impressions on paper still count.
Here are some tips on how to handle these issues:
On the Resume. In my experience, people tend to go straight to the résumé and either scan or skip the cover letter entirely. Consequently, candidates should include as much explanation as possible on the actual résumé.
- Example 1 - To explain a move or job change as a result of a merger: “ABC Company was acquired in 2006 by XYZ Corp.” The candidate may or may not have joined XYZ, but the message communicates that something unrelated to performance is the reason for the change.
- Example 2 - To explain a gap as a result of maternity or parental leave: Place an asterisk or footnote next to the year or month in which the gap occurred and explain it at the bottom. “From 2000 – 2001, I took time off to care for my young children.”
Cover Letters. Although cover letters are extremely helpful to headhunters and external recruiters in that they tend to provide more information about the candidate than what is on the résumé, they are frequently discarded in the online résumé submission process, or are simply not forwarded by HR to the hiring managers. Sometimes, even hiring managers don’t read them. If you believe more explanation is necessary to explain a career gap or job change than what you can fit (or should try to fit) on a résumé, then attach your cover letter to the résumé so that it becomes page 1, and then PDF it so that it’s all in one document. It is more likely to stay intact that way, which increases the chances that a hiring manager will read it.
Dates of Employment. A way to de-emphasize multiple moves in a short period of time is to list years instead of months and years in connection with dates of employment.
Chronological vs. Skills-Based Format. A skills-based format typically highlights strengths, accomplishments and skills at the top with a summary of job positions below. Although this format is frequently recommended by career counselors, I advise against it. When I see résumés formatted this way, my initial impression is that a candidate is trying to hide something (like re-arranging the furniture to conceal a floor plan problem). Recruiters and hiring managers want to know what you did in each job.