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Dealing With Resume Gaps


There are two job markets out there: The market for those currently working, and the market for those who’ve been out of the work force for a while. The first one is tough, but functional. The second is nearly non-existent.

The prospects for those with a lengthy resume gap are terrible, as this Northwestern University study demonstrates. And a recent episode of 60 Minutes also spotlighted the ugly truth: Employers are now actively discriminating against the unemployed.

The National Employment Law Project is even naming names, publishing a list of companies known to actively screen out currently unemployed candidates.

But military spouses, especially, are forced to deal with long gaps in employment. The unemployment rate among military spouses is more than four times the national average, at 25 percent. What’s more, they must relocate to strange towns every three years, where they generally have no social or family roots to give them a leg up in the job search.

Furthermore, the economy is having a hard time absorbing recently-discharged veterans into the job market. Which means servicemembers themselves are becoming increasingly vulnerable to having a large gap in their employment histories.

So how can you avoid falling into the trap?

  • Keep working. Many people make the mistake of thinking an available job is beneath them. But even pouring coffee is better than the unemployment rolls – and when the screeners ask you if you are currently employed, you will be able to answer them “yes.”
  • Keep taking courses. You can take them via private colleges and universities, of course, or via the various avenues available to the military. 
  • Use a functional resume. This resume emphasizes your skill-set, while de-emphasizing your timeline.
  • Emphasize networking. If you’ve got a big gap, face it: Your chances of getting hired “over the transom” are slim, indeed. Your next job probably won’t come from an advertisement, but from someone you know. Your best chances comes from expanding the network of people you know well. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health confirms that people who actively network have better job-hunting success, and earn better money, than people who simply answer ads and email resumes.
  • Keep up with your industry news and trade journals. Note: If you have a history of working in the field, the cost of subscribing to professional journals and other news sources in your industry is generally tax-deductible.
  • Start a blog. Have more time than money? Are you a bona fide expert in your field? If you can start the best blog in your field – a sure stop for others in your industry looking for news, insights.
  • Keep doing PT. Employers are known to actively screen against the obese, and certainly discriminate against smokers. Many people in the military do not understand this, but employers themselves face significant costs to provide health insurance to their employees, and their premiums are based largely on that company’s claims experience. If the company’s work force is not healthy, their health insurance premiums rise. And it’s not a subtle difference: Health care costs are 56 percent higher for obese individuals than for others, according to Helen Darling of the National Business Group on Health. Some companies will not hire smokers, period, and some will not hire anyone over a specific BMI.
  • Stay active in your professional organizations. If you are a professional, but not currently working, take the lead in your area’s professional association, whatever it is. If you’re a lawyer, attend and organize Bar Association meetings and continuing education events. Just showing up and keeping your name and face front and center will soon lead to valuable allies and possible job offers. You are way ahead of the people sitting on the couch.

The bottom line is this: The resume slush pile is not your friend. This is especially true if you are an older worker, or if you have spent some time away from the work force – even as a military spouse. Anything you can do to bypass the ‘over-the-transom’ market and network your way into the next job will work to your benefit. And staying on the unemployment rolls for 99 weeks is a near death sentence for your career. Don’t fall into that trap.

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