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Dealing with Gaps in Work History

Sometimes people with disabilities have significant periods of unemployment or gaps in their work history. Unfortunately, these gaps are often a red flag to employers. If a job seeker has had periods of unemployment, she/he and One-Stop system staff need to develop strategies to address these gaps. Simply hoping the employer wont notice is not likely to be effective!

When To Address Work History Gaps

The first question that must be answered is when to address this issue. Should it be addressed in the resume or cover letter? Or should the job seeker wait until the interview? There is no right or wrong answer. As with many issues, it ultimately comes down to what the job seeker is comfortable with.

  • The plus of addressing it early is that the employer will be fully aware of the situation prior to the interview, thus reducing the negative impact on the interview situation itself. However, revealing gaps at this stage can potentially reduce the chances of even getting an interview.
  • The plus of waiting until the interview is that the job seeker will have the opportunity to explain the situation in person, and answer any concerns the employer has. However, since the employer is not aware of the situation ahead of time, this could potentially have a negative impact on the outcome of the interview.

Designing a Resume to Reduce Attention to Work History Gaps

The traditional resume (organized chronologically) can call attention to such issues as gaps in work history or limited work experience. Consider using creative methods to downplay gaps in experience and work history:

  • a functional resume that highlights the skills rather than the work experience of the individual
  • using only years, not months, for work dates
  • not distinguishing between paid and unpaid work
  • briefly summarizing (in positive terms) what the job seeker did when they werent working.

Another alternative is to totally abandon the standard resume format, and instead use a personal profile of the individual, pinpointing his/her abilities, skills, and interests. This type of format can be particularly useful for individuals who have limited work experience.

  • Using a non-traditional resume format possibly implies that something is awry, but it at least allows the applicant to spotlight strengths, not deficits. Remember, the purpose of a resume is to be a marketing tool. It should not tell a persons life story. Think of a resume as an advertisement for a person intended to get the employers attention and move the job search forward. A personal profile can help the employer see past the disability and view the job seeker as an individual with various interests and abilities.

Developing a Reasonable Explanation

Although strategies can be used to diminish the visibility of gaps in work history, if the individual has not been employed for significant amounts of time (a year or more), One-Stop staff should work with the job seeker to develop some type of reasonable explanation, because in all likelihood the employer will ask. The explanation should

  • minimize the potential negative impact on employment prospects
  • feel comfortable to the job seeker.

The idea is not to mislead the employer, but to create as positive a perception as possible with the facts of what the person did when they werent working. Remember, the employer does not have a right to the job seekers complete life history, only to that information which is relevant to the individuals ability to perform the essential functions of a position. Possible explanations might include:

  • I had some health problems which are now taken care of.
  • There was an illness in the family.
  • I was taking care of my children or a family member.
  • I was doing volunteer work with a community organization.
  • I had the opportunity to pursue some non-work interests.
  • I took a few years off to travel.

As with any disclosure issue, job seekers vary significantly in their comfort level concerning providing information on work history gaps. However, even in cases where the job seeker decides to be fairly open, he/she should only provide the information that is truly necessary. There is no reason to provide extensive details; in fact, giving too much information could even make the employer uncomfortable.

Emphasize the Present, Not the Past

Ultimately, the most important strategy is to emphasize current activities. The job seeker needs to demonstrate that:

  • whatever problems or issues they have had in the past are resolved or have been addressed
  • they are now fully capable of handling the tasks of a job

This is also where having done some temporary work assignments, short-term job tryouts, internships, etc., can be helpful, as they can help diminish any concerns the employer may have, and demonstrate an individuals current capabilities.

Written by:

David Hoff