How should I explain unemployment?
I read the post on explaining gaps due to a medical condition. But, what do you do about gaps in your resume unrelated to a medical condition or illness? You just couldn’t find work. – Simply Unemployed, a Workforce1 Career Blog reader
Here are 3 rules to follow when you have a period of unemployment:
1. Choose a resume format that diminishes the appearance of gaps.
Consider using a hybrid resume that emphasizes your skills, rather than dates of employment.
If the gap is less than a year, report your length of employment by year, not month. Instead of writing “worked at ABC Corp from 5/2007 to 1/2010 and XYZ LLC from 9/2010 to present,” write ”worked at ABC Corp from 2007 to 2010 and XYZ LLC from 2010 to present”
2. Even better than diminishing the appearance of gaps: FILL IN THE GAPS.
If you are currently unemployed, keep gaining skills by volunteering, interning, or continuing your education. Not only does this give you relevant experience, it also shows motivation and a strong work ethic – two traits valued by employers. Volunteer work, internships, and education should all go on your resume.
If the gap occurred in the past, think about ways to make the experiences that had relevant to your next job. For example, maybe you gained time management, communication, and budgeting skills by caring for your child, teaching your grandmother to use the computer, or helping a friend plan her wedding. During an interview, relating your everyday life experiences to a job can show thoughtfulness about the job as well as some relevant personality. Experience of this type should generally be saved for the interview and shouldn’t (unless it is highly relevant) be included in the resume.
3. Tell it like it is – especially the part about how you would a fantastic employee! If you are asked why you left a job, the formula is similar to explaining gaps due to a medical illness.
A. Briefly state what happened. Explain any circumstances that put your leaving in a more positive light. For example: “The entire department was laid off”; “I was the last one hired and the first one let go when revenues dropped”; “I was hired to cover the busy holiday season and the position was only temporary.” If the plain truth is that you were let go because of some (actual or perceived) wrongdoing on your part, keep it short and simple: ”I lost my job.” Never get into the details of a disagreement with your boss or make accusations against your previous employer. Interviewers will worry that they will be the employer that you are one day complaining about.
B. If you gained relevant experience, explain what you did while unemployed (see #2 above). If you don’t have a relevant example to give, skip this part of the answer.
C. Get back to why you are qualified.
Here are two examples:
“My entire department got laid off when the recession hit. I was glad to see this opening with your company, because it will allow me to apply my education and experience.”
“I lost my job in November of 2010. While job searching, I’ve taken the opportunity to work on my leadership skills. I have been attending workshops offered by the American Management Association. I’m looking forward to applying this learning – as well as my 4 years of experience in the industry – to my next job.”
In whatever explanation you offer: stick to the truth. Being unemployed is not uncommon. You can explain a period of unemployment; you can’t explain lack of integrity. Answer the questions honestly and then move the conversation back to why you are qualified for the job. If you are qualified, don’t let a period of unemployment shake your confidence.