Let me start by saying that my title is tongue in cheek. While Madonna arguably has the world's most famous gap in her smile, this article actually addresses gaps in your resume. During this recession, people are remaining unemployed longer than ever. Sometimes they start a new job only to lose it six months later through no fault of their own (due to downsizing, perhaps). Others have given their companies decades of service only to be shown a pink slip now that times are tough. What can you do about those dreaded gaps that now seem to steal the spotlight on your resume?
No matter how "noble" or understandable the reason behind the gap(s) on your resume, you worry that when it comes down to it, it looks like you've been sitting on your ass for six months or a year or more. And you're concerned that people will think you are lazy, unemployable, or a loser, right?
Well, consider Madonna, Lauren Hutton, and Terry Thomas. They all had gaps....in their teeth! Often, the gaps on your resume seem just as glaring. However, much like the "gap in your teeth" metaphor, the gaps in your resume are much more glaring to you than to employers. Today's employers aren't surprised when they see time lapses on a resume. Stars like Madonna may have gaps, but they aren't losers - they're real.
That is exactly how you should view the gaps on your resume. Explain them as "real" and be honest. Don't blend them into other jobs. You will be eventually caught when and if a company does a background check on you.
I am also not a big believer in the "consultant" title. That's when you decide you're an expert in your field even though you're unemployed. Worse than that is disguising your unemployment by instead calling yourself "President" or "Principal" of a company that bears your name or initials. That's the real joke.
This type of false job also screws up your chances at being retrieved by a search engine, a job search site, or even company's in-house HR search engine. Come on, you went from sales rep in one job to president the next?
Nevertheless, gaps on a resume are a legitimate concern. In my years as a headhunter for major companies, I had many clients wonder about these gaps and the "independent consulting assignments" on candidates' resumes.
The solution? Simply call these in-between jobs "temping." That seems to win.
And remember, your resume should be a "template" that you change every time you use it. So tweak your gap periods too when you send your resume out.
Try this advice from my new book Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins): just be straightforward and make looking for your new job the most recent job on your resume. Yep, you read that right. I call it the "Viscusi 2009 tactic": just tell it like it is. You have nothing to lose. Try it like this:
June 2008 - Present: Actively Seeking New Employment
With the economic downturn, I have been interviewing for various positions and have taken some part-time "per project" assignments in my field. The search has been longer than I expected, yet I am optimistic that the right opportunity will come along. I am ambitious and hate being out of work, and did not want to fill this part of my resume with some silly consulting nonsense, especially because looking for a job is really a full-time job on its own. I hope you appreciate my candor.
So, I encourage you to try the "Viscusi 2009" technique if you need a gap filler. It's fresh, real, and different. See what kind of response you get to it...and if it doesn't work for you, you can always change it. I think you will be happily surprised.
Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and the founder of BulletproofYourResume.com, a service that creates personalized resumes. Friend him on Facebook and LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter (@workplaceguru)! Stephen can be reached at Stephen@viscusi.com.