Tech & Work

Explaining gaps in work history

Thanks to the economy's slippery slope, many IT pros are finding their resumes weakened by employment gaps. Ignore the lack of benefits and track down freelance work to beef up your battered work history.


No matter what shape the economy is in, businesses occasionally cut costs by eliminating jobs, including IT positions. If you're not lucky enough to find a new job right away, how do you represent off time in your work history on your resume? I've posed that question to several technical recruiters, and they all agree: Fill in the gaps.

Declare independence
Having your position eliminated for "business reasons" is an unpleasant experience, but it doesn't mean the end of your IT career. Sometimes, however, your career gets put on hold while you search for the just the right new job.

If your search for a new job takes more than a month or so, potential employers may ask you what you've been doing in the meantime, besides sending out resumes and interviewing for new positions. Recently, I submitted my resume to an IT recruiter who asked me what I'd been doing since I was laid off. "I've been doing a lot of consulting work," I said, "but I wasn't sure if I should list that work on my resume."

"Put that experience on there," a technical recruiter advised me. "If you've been doing paid work, I'd rather see that listed than to assume you haven't been doing anything since you were laid off." I bounced that idea off two other recruiting professionals, and they concurred. I heeded that advice and added a new entry, independent contractor, to my resume:

Independent contractor: August 2001 to present
  • Systems analyst/developer: Currently fulfilling contract to convert paper system of tracking donors and donations to an Access 2000 solution for nonprofit organization.
  • Online columnist: Write weekly column for www.TechRepublic.com.
  • Technical writer: Wrote user-level guide for teachers using custom school administration application. Contracted to write documentation for system administrator for same application.

To be honest, I never even considered putting those part-time gigs on my resume until I talked to those recruiters. However, based on several interviews with potential employers, I'm convinced that updating my resume to include independent contractor work was a good idea. When asked why I left my last permanent employer, I say, "I was laid off for business reasons," and the discussion then turns to what I'm doing on a contract basis.

For those who don't freelance
What do you do if you don't have any freelance or contract work to list on your resume? In that case, the recruiters I know recommend taking one of two courses of action:
  1. Leave the gap and explain it in the interview. If you've been laid off, you aren't the only one. If you have no freelance work to list, don't make it up! List your work experience without embellishments. When an interviewer asks, "So what have you been doing since you were laid off?" you can say, "I've been sending out resumes and going on interviews."
  2. Find some freelance work. Even if you have the safety net of severance pay to keep you from being a starving IT professional, I recommend going out and finding some freelance work—just so you can list it on your resume. Even if you volunteer your time for a nonprofit agency, list that work under the independent contractor heading and be proud that you've stayed active while you're looking for a full-time position.

Finding a good job is hard work. A resume with gaps in employment doesn't automatically disqualify you from getting a new job. However, if you can find just one customer for whom you can consult while you're looking, go ahead and put that reference at the top of your resume.

Share your job-search tips
Are there gaps in your work history? We'd like to hear how you explain those gaps on your resume and in interviews. Please post a note below or write to Jeff.

 

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