Human resources and hiring managers like to see resumes where employment dates blend together and job duration reflects commitment to prior employers. Employment gaps and short-term experiences tend to be viewed as “red flags.” Questions such as “what caused this?”, “is there an issue of which we need to be aware?”, “why was there no job during this time?” become real concerns.
However, life happens. Sometimes circumstances beyond our control are at work. We may find out that the job previewed at an interview was very inaccurate and turned out to be in a toxic work environment. Family or health issues may have outweighed financial and career aspirations for a while. Many times there are legitimate, reasonable explanations for gaps and short-term employment. The challenge becomes how to prevent these situations from negatively impacting the resume reader’s first impression.
Note that it’s important to stress honesty (with discretion) when questioned about an issue from the resume. This should be done in a straight-forward way without elaborative detail, excuses, or blaming. Employers are forbidden by law to inquire about health conditions or family leaves, but we can briefly mention the condition to explain an absence, while assuring the employer that this is no longer an issue.
There are a couple of strategies resume writers use to address employment gaps. When the gap is a year or less, consider identifying dates from “year-to-year” instead of “month/year-to-month/year”. For longer gaps, identify the time as a “Professional Sabbatical”. Take no more than one line to explain what you were doing during this gap, whether it be to continue education, perform volunteer work, or to care for a sick relative (in this case, always add “no longer needed”).
Effectively addressing short-term employment depends upon the circumstance. One short-term experience on a resume is usually not much of a concern as many of us have had an unpleasant work experience. Just keep the description of this type of position very light. A series of short-term jobs can be seen as a serious problem. This can also become an applicant tracking system issue, as some of these systems give more weight to keywords found in the two most recent jobs. If more relevant and successful employment came earlier in your career, this definitely becomes an issue. To remedy this, consider bundling the positions together, such as in this example:
ABC COMPANY (2015 – 2019)
Administrative Support Roles Through Various Staffing Agencies
Employment duration and gap issues do not need to harm careers if addressed wisely, discreetly, and honestly. Although many of us experience special situations that disrupt employment, it is always important to follow each event with introspection to avoid establishing a long-term pattern, which becomes harder to address.