Workplace Trends

Strategies for Filling a Gap in Employment

By Lee Hecht Harrison on December 14, 2012

This week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey – or JOLTS – reports that there were 3.7 million job openings at the end of October, up 128,000 from September. While the number of openings remained unchanged in most industries, increases were registered in construction, manufacturing and accommodation/food service. The number of openings also remained constant across all four regions in October. Total nonfarm openings in October were up 1.3 million since the end of the recession in June 2009.

Although the hires rate (3.2 percent) and separations rate (3.1 percent) were essentially unchanged from September, there were increases in several industries: trades, transportation and utilities; retail; professional and business services; and leisure/hospitality (with a significant hiring increase in arts, entertainment and recreation from 5.3 percent in September to 6.9 percent in October). Turnover increased in leisure/hospitality and government and decreased in manufacturing, professional and business services.

Source: BLS

As new positions slowly begin to open up, more and more of the long-term unemployed will be ramping up their dormant job searches. Long-term jobless workers who may have dropped off the unemployment rolls often face the obstacle of explaining a large gap in employment to a potential employer. Unfortunately, research shows that the longer you’re out of work, the harder it is to land a job.

Here are a few tips for minimizing the impact of an extended period of unemployment during the job search.

On the resume:

  • Show you’ve been active. Include temporary or contract assignments, pro-bono work and volunteer activities related to your profession.
  • Highlight newly mastered skills. When outlining your skills, be sure to include any you acquired or refined during your job search.
  • Try a different format. A functional resume format focuses on categories of skills and accomplishments and downplays the chronological sequence of jobs.

During the interview:

  • Be prepared. Recruiters and hiring managers aren’t going to tip toe around the gap, so have a plan for addressing the issue. Indicate that you were actively pursuing employment and using your time productively. Employers want to hire candidates who are motivated and enthusiastic.
  • Focus on the positive. Don’t dwell on the difficulty of finding a job in a tough economy. Instead, develop a brief statement discussing how you grew professionally throughout the search. Explain what you learned about networking, marketing and the job market – and what you learned about yourself (your tenacity, the importance of relationships, empathy for others, etc.). Then relate how this insight will enhance your professional life.

If you’ve been unemployed for more than six months, consider devoting some of your time to contract work, volunteering, substitute teaching, temp assignments, pro bono freelancing for non profits, taking classes, or other meaningful activities. These ventures will result in a significant return on investment: filling gaps in your employment history, helping you overcome the malaise of long-term joblessness, creating networking opportunities and opening you up to exciting new opportunities.


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