What’s Wrong With Having Career Gaps?

Looking for a Job

Employers are notorious for having a bias against candidates with breaks in their career history, and I admit I’ve been guilty of that same sin. In fact, whenever I saw a long break on a resume, I jumped straight to one or more of the following assumptions about the candidate.

  • Well, you obviously don’t need money since you can afford such a long break, so you won’t be a motivated employee.
  • You must be an impulsive/irresponsible employee who will quit at the drop of a hat.
  • There must be something wrong with you. If not you should have been able to find another job while still employed. Like everybody else.
  • If you’ve been out of the workforce for so long, your knowledge and experience are likely to be obsolete already.

Then, I would wait to see what “excuses” the candidate made to explain away the breaks. My list of acceptable reasons included retrenchment, end of contract, illness, taking care of family, and relocation. Yep, that was it. Any other reason was, well, “unreasonable”. But after I took a few breaks myself, I now know the error of my ways and want employers to keep an open mind.

So employers, please consider the following.

  1. Stop thinking: Career gap = Time that the candidate has used to do non work-related things. Start thinking: Career gap = Opportunity the candidate took to focus on other facets of life, making him a better person overall.
  2. Nobody’s life is smooth-sailing. We all need a break every now and then. If a candidate can afford not to work for a period of time, instead of immediately assuming he’s an irresponsible adult, maybe you should admire him for saving up and planning for the break.
  3. Recency of experience is necessary for < 10% of jobs out there. Unless the role specifically requires working knowledge of the newest technology and algorithms, focus on the candidate’s transferable skills. Remember that someone with a great attitude could probably learn on the job quickly enough to make up for their not knowing the latest at the interview.
  4. If a candidate hasn’t had a career break ever, even after 30 years on the job, it might reflect a wonderful work ethic, but could also indicate a pending work burnout. Or even a sense of complacency.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, give the candidate the benefit of the doubt, or you might miss out on a gem.

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