Career Gap

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich
More often than not in today’s culture, we as HR professionals are running across career gaps that could span from months to years. It can be hard to put aside our bias about the candidate before evaluating them further. What on earth have they been doing for three years without a job? Did they get fired and cannot find something else? Are they just globetrotting? It is our job to ask ourselves: How do we find out about a gap without crossing a line? Based on the rest of the application, is it worth finding out at all? Keep reading for some additional career gap knowledge, tips and ways to evaluate the career gaps without bias.

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What Is a Career Gap?

Career gaps are lengths of time between jobs for any reason. They are not always “listed” on the resume, we sometimes see them while reviewing previous roles and notice that the years don’t quite add up to consecutive employment. We could have a candidate with employment from September 2019-October 2020 and nothing listed as their current employment. This is a perfect example of a career gap we face when reviewing applications.

Why to Look Out for Gaps on an Applicant’s Resume

Career gaps can tell you a lot about a candidate, both positive and negative. Below are some tangible reasons why we look out for career gaps on applicants’ resumes.

Additional Employment History Verification

Career gaps allow us the pause to probe a bit more about the candidates’ previous work history; what they liked or didn’t like about previous jobs, and why they are potentially seeking a career with our organization now. This can open up additional dialogue that may not have been present without the gap.

Avoid Resume Fraud

When verifying career gaps, candidates can feel pressure to embellish the gaps and this can lead to false credentials. Double checking and verifying these career gaps and explanations can help us all steer clear from hiring someone with a robust, yet false, history.

Hire Candidates Who Are Qualified and Trustworthy

In some cases, career gaps can show a candidate’s dedication to their profession as they pursue additional education or accreditations. The honesty we receive when interviewing these candidates and learning more about their career gaps can speak to their character in ways we may not have found without digging into the history behind the gaps.

Should You Hire Someone with a Career Gap?

While career gaps can present initial red flags when reviewing a candidate, it’s important to not let that sway your decision. Let’s put on our detective hat and dive into the reasons behind the gap to either qualify it to fit within our company standards or perhaps rule out the candidate completely. Let’s put that into practice while we look through some career gap reasons.

Reasons for Career Gaps

Career gap reasons can seem endless, but in reality there are just a handful of reasons a candidate would have a career gap. Let’s look at them below:

Caring for a Young Child

Often when a new baby is born the primary caregiver will take some time off, causing a career gap for a period of time that could be longer than the traditional 12 weeks.

Medical or Health Issues

Any medical or health issues are often out of the control of the candidate, so this could be a valid reason for a career gap. We do not want to probe into “what” the medical issues are specifically. If the candidate freely offers this information, we simply want to acknowledge and move along without any further discussion. Diving further into medical or health issues could be perceived as discriminatory, we never want a candidate to feel as though we did not hire them due to any medically related information they provided which is why we just want to make them feel heard and move along to our next topic!

Relocating

Career gaps can arise from a candidate moving to accept another position outside of their current state and taking some time off to allow for the move. It’s not uncommon for candidates to take two to three months to move, especially if the move is far. They need time to find an acceptable living situation and feel set up prior to starting their new role.

Going Back to School/Developmental Training

School, training and additional credentialing can lead to career gaps for the candidate to further their career and climb that corporate ladder.

Travel

This is popping up on resumes these days from our globetrotting friends who take some time off to see the world. Travel, broadening one’s horizon, is yet another reason for a career gap.

Attempting To Start a Business

Startups can be fruitful for some, but others may not work out. If a candidate took time off to start a business but was unsuccessful it could speak to the career gap and explain why they are back in the workforce.

Layoffs or Furloughs

In today’s climate, these are becoming more and more prevalent. A career gap could present itself simply due to company mandated reduced hours or layoffs.

Trouble Finding a Position, but Actively Searching

Job seeking has become increasingly more difficult, but actively searching for a job can be a great reason for a career gap. With a few specific questions we would be able to note that the candidate is searching and simply not finding the right fit.

How To Evaluate Candidates With Career Gaps on Their Resume

It is critical for candidates to be evaluated fairly, equally and without bias. When reviewing candidates with a career gap, we should check our bias at the door and evaluate the following:

How Long Is the Career Gap?

Note whether the gap is a few months or years when evaluating candidates for employment. We have reviewed the “why” candidates could have these gaps, but noting the length for any one of the reasons listed above is beneficial to our evaluation. While this should not be a determining factor in our decision, it’s something we should evaluate each time a career gap presents itself from a candidate.

Will This Be the First Job Since the Career Gap?

When a candidate has had some time off, for any reason, and they re-enter the workforce again, we should actively take note if this will be their first role after the gap. We will need to think about our specific onboarding process, training and day-to-day workload and evaluate, with the career gap in mind, if this is something we believe the candidate could effectively manage after being out of work. We traditionally do this for each candidate while we evaluate their previous employment, but we are simply adding another layer to review when we have a career gap in the mix.

Is There Any Explanation From the Candidate Directly Regarding the Career Gap?

It is always helpful when reviewing a candidate with a career gap if the information on the gap is provided with the application. If the information cannot be detailed on the resume, perhaps a cover letter explaining why the gap took place is beneficial when reviewing the application from the beginning. This information could assist while reviewing the rest of the candidates’ information and remove any questions without pause. If this information is not provided on the resume, that means we put on our detective hat and investigate the candidate accordingly.

Items To Avoid When Asking About Career Gaps

When evaluating career gaps, be sure to avoid any questions or follow-up questions about the following:

  • Age
  • Protected classes
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Veteran status

Should a candidate freely offer up any of this information, as we would in any other interview, there’s no need to notate it in our documentation or use any of this information in our hiring decision. The candidate is simply having a conversation with us about their life and that in no way affects our hiring decision.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Career Gaps on Resumes

Can you legally ask about gaps in employment?
While it is currently not illegal to ask about career gaps, it can be viewed as discriminatory if not asked and approached appropriately. This is why we have spent the time to detail some information to utilize when evaluating candidates with career gaps. We want to hire the right candidate the first time, if at all possible, so approaching these gaps the right way will help us do just that!
How long is too long of an employment gap?
As we have seen, career gaps can happen for any reason and for any length of time. We should be looking at the “why” behind the gap versus the duration. A candidate could have three years off while completing volunteer work that could be applicable in their role with our organization. Therefore, that career gap, while long, could be beneficial. We should refer back to the “why” versus the “how long” when it comes to career gaps and hiring the best talent for the job.
Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department “of one”, working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!

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