A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to answer this question in the Bio Careers discussion forum on LinkedIn. I thought the subject would be a good blog topic.
By the way, if you haven’t joined the groups on Linkedin and Facebook, please do so. They are a great resource for you.
In my time as a coach, there are always two big stumbling blocks when jobseekers sit down to write their CV. First is the agonizing over what to say first and how to say it...you’ll notice that overcoming that issue is a consistent theme with me...the SECOND biggest hurdle is this:
“How do I explain the fact that I’ve been out of work for one year…or longer?”
The bad thing about this is the agonizing it produces…we will ponder this question, and stare at the computer screen for hours, imagining the worst possible outcome...thoughts like - ”whatever I say, it won’t be what they want to hear, they’ll just hire someone else”... or we begin to imagine ourselves as defective in a world pressuring us to be perfect... and then we go back to playing games on the computer or indulge in some other mindless escapism…
Coach Tom’s First Rule about these things: You can’t hide it, so don’t try.
However long your employment gap is, and for whatever reason, it happened. Get over it. Life doesn’t have a rewind button, much as we would like it to have one. You still need a job. Facing life and living in “what is” is the hallmark of an adult, so quit gazing at your shoetops, wishing things were different...they aren’t. So now you must go forward.
I advocate telling the truth for a variety of reasons:
1) It’s the right thing to do.
2) If you lie or omit, and you are found out, you’ll be out of a job anyway.
3) If you were out for medical reasons, they’ll find out your condition when you apply for medical insurance...again, if you are found to have omitted or lied, that is grounds for them not to hire you.
Now that I’ve said my piece about WHY you should address this head on, let’s tackle the HOW.
First, don’t mention this in a cover letter...the cover letter is a marketing piece that has a very specific function... the cover letter is where you present yourself as qualified for the position, so they want to talk to you...that’s it.
The place to put this information is in the CV, but it must be worded professionally. For example, here is one way to do it:
2008-2010: Two year employment hiatus due to market conditions. While diligently looking for employment in my field, I kept up on trends and stayed “plugged in” so that this time would be used productively.
Of course, it helps if you actually did things to keep current on your industry, so be prepared to explain in detail how you spent your time.
If you were out for medical reasons or family reasons, say so... but there’s no need to provide details on the CV... Save that for when you are talking with people face to face.
The important point is this – You must first earn the right to talk about the position, and how you fit in their world... so lead off with that, and don’t put roadblocks in front of yourself by burdening people with your life story right away... they don’t care...they are trying to fill a position, and all they want to know is, “are you the right person to fill it?”
Here’s a tip from the trenches of job search – If they like you, and think you’ll fit, they’ll keep talking to you until it’s offer time...unless you give them a reason to pull the plug... Same goes for independent recruiters... they operate under a mindset called “if in doubt, send them out”...that means that if they think you even remotely fit one of their positions, your CV is getting submitted.
Having gaps in your work history, or even several jobs in a short time is not the deal breaker it once was...it comes down to this...if you are pertinent and interesting to the hiring authority, the things you think are roadblocks don’t matter. It’s when you don’t fit, or you can’t communicate, or you act like god’s gift, that the roadblocks become reasons not to hire.
All the best,
Thomas Patrick Chuna is a certified Five O’Clock Club job search coach. The Five O’Clock Club is a nationally recognized outplacement firm with a proven job search methodology that helps job seekers get better jobs faster.
Tom is also an experienced independent recruiter specializing in molecular oncology research scientists & MD’s.