Attitudes to career gaps are changing
One of the biggest worries for applicants during the pandemic is how a career gap might affect their long-term job prospects. On the one hand, there is some truth behind the worry- COVID certainly impacted worldwide employment, and women have been disproportionately affected. Not only have more women lost their jobs, but PwC’s annual Women in Work Index reveals that progress for women in work could be back to 2017 levels by the end of 2021. Of course, COVID isn’t the only reason people have career gaps - family crises, illness, having a child, or just plain bad luck can pop up anytime in life.
But on the other hand, attitudes to career gaps are changing. Acceptance of family leave, sabbaticals, and increasing support for mental wellness in workplace culture all point toward an understanding by employers that life can be disruptive. And as the freelancer economy increases, so do career gaps. Whatever the reason for your career gap, you don’t have to worry. This article will take you through the best way to fill the gap and then explain a career gap to any future employers to overcome any queries.
Here are 6 ways to negotiate the career gap and increase your chances of employability.
1. See the Gap As An Opportunity
Career gaps might appear stress-filled on the surface, but they provide a great opportunity to gain more skills and experience, network, and increase your profile. There’s an ongoing skills shortage giving even more of an incentive to learn as many speciliased skills as possible to really increase employability. There are a huge range of free online courses available online.
On top of the new skills, it’s good to increase your visibility by staying in the know. Share blogs on social media, keep up-to-date with industry trends and seek out people to chat about it with, listen to the latest podcasts and get in touch with the producers of your favourites. You might be asked to be a guest. Above all, grow your HR networking groups to not only stretch professional development but to announce to the world who you are and what new skills you have to offer.
TIP: Ask friends or trusted colleagues who you may have helped during your gap to write testimonials for you on LinkedIn and for your website.
2. Consider Temping, Freelancing, consulting or Volunteering
If you are concerned about the bias against longer career gaps, why not consider a stopgap? There’s a huge variety of jobs that are available on a temporary basis, and hundreds of recruiters looking to fill them on your behalf.
Freelancing, including consulting, offers a short-term solution but allows you the freedom to still pursue that longer-term career move. Freelancing also increases your network, while consulting marks you as an industry expert.
With volunteering, it is probably that bit easier to find somewhere that is a good fit for your career. Because charities and other organisations that need volunteers are often understaffed or under-resourced, they can be a tremendous opportunity to push past your comfort zone to try skills and responsibilities that you may not have been able to try before.
TIP: A strong web presence, especially for freelance and consulting work, can really help. This includes your own website that links up to your social media. Plenty of websites offer free build-your-own-website tools.
3. Teach or Coach Online
It’s a good bet you probably have skills and knowledge that other people would love to have. You can share your knowledge with others, and gain a reputation as an expert. Online learning has exploded with three of the largest educational websites growing from 27 to 70 million users in just the first five months of the pandemic.
In fact, many people all over the world have turned to teaching others, whether through Zoom sessions, blogging and guest blogging, writing articles for websites like Medium, creating online courses, tutoring online, and even writing e-books.
Bigger audiences are out there too. Because of those skill shortages, many companies like to teach their employees in-house. If you have skills to share (including teaching compliance, HR changes, mental health, diversity, digital marketing, IT security, social media, Health & Safety, or anything else).
TIP: Why not reach out to companies and offer to teach them as a group? Not only do you grow your experience, network and reputation, but you can use these skills in your next job to benefit the company.
4. Be objective with your Social Media
70% of employers peek at an applicant’s social media profiles as part of the screening process. This is understandable, as it’s good to get a fuller picture of who a person is before hiring them. But, if you are a recruiter or employer, now might be the time to ease up on how much you rely on the social media angle.
It’s easy to judge, but the pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives and mental health, and this Healthline article mentions that it might get worse before it gets better. It explains Neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart’s take on how the pandemic has emotionally affected us:
“Stress and change always bring a ‘roller coaster of shock to the system’: irritability or an inability to regulate emotions such as anger; looping negative thoughts; bargaining with yourself and others; and anxiety, depression, and then acceptance and responsibility.”
And these emotions might be reflected in people’s social media as they process what they’re experiencing. Try to focus on your achievements, positivity when you run through your social media.
TIP FOR EMPLOYERS: Losing a job is often processed as grief, so be aware that the job candidate might still be processing losing their previous job.
5. How to Bring it Up in a Cover Letter/email
Andrew LaCivita, one of the world’s most expert recruiters, believes that a cover letter or email is an ideal place to mention the career gap. He gives an example of how to mention this using a family-based career gap:
“I am re-entering the workforce after an x-year layoff. I’m a stay-at-home Mom/Dad/took care of my elderly parent which required ____.”
His point is that life happens, and these gaps happen much more than you think. Reasonable recruiters and employers will understand that circumstances get in the way. If they refuse to be understanding, they may not be the best fit as a company for you.
6. How to Talk About the Career Gap in An Interview
It’s best to be prepared for answering questions about the career gap, regardless of whether you’ve signposted it in the application process. It’s important to keep that positive attitude about the career gap and to avoid negativity such as bad-mouthing past employers. Honesty is always the best policy- embrace the gap and showcase how you built your skills, experience, and resilience throughout - a positive outlook will come through in the interview.
Indeed explains further, “Mention anything you read to keep up on the industry, how you stayed in touch with colleagues, or what you’ve done to prepare for your re-entry.” Focus on what you’ve experienced and learned during the gap that makes you a good fit for the company. And be certain you show how you are familiar with where the company is now and their vision going forward.
Ready to get back into the world of work?
Many people have at least one career gap on their CV, and the longer they’ve worked, the more gaps are possible. Life’s unpredictable that way. Remind yourself as Alex Trembath points out, there are positives to just about any type of career gap. For example, that illness may have given you ‘perspective and prioritisation’ which would be very useful at any job! Learning about the ways to maximise that career gap, not just for you, but for your future employer, will help you negotiate through it.
Whatever the reason for your career gap, the important thing to remember is that companies don’t hire you for your continued working mode. They hire you because they see you as a good fit for their future.