THE BLOG
08/28/2015 02:34 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2016

Resume Gaps: You've Got Them. Here's What to Say About Them

By: Chaia Milstein

That empty space on your resume between 2012-2014 may not be a career-sinking problem. It's really all about what you did with yourself during that time, and how you present that to your potential employers, says Michelle Rosoff, an entertainment industry recruiter.

Rosoff -- who specializes in filling niche roles -- wants to reassure job-seekers that "resume gaps are very common, especially with this economy."

Short-term gaps

Rosoff often sees resumes with a few months of employment here and there. She states that this is a non-issue if the gaps are due to temporary or contract work. "As long as you have the word 'contract' or 'temp' on your resume, it shows you are constantly working," she says. "If you are going out for a specific job, there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting 'December through June: contract; August through December: contract assignment' on your resume." She emphasizes that you must make sure to specify that these short-term jobs are temporary in nature so that you don't look like a flight risk to a potential employer. There are employers who will ask why you're contracting so much and not getting hired; be able to tell them what you're ultimately seeking. That question is an opening for you to find out whether those employers are good matches for you.

Long-term gaps

Longer gaps do act as red flags to potential employers, Rosoff says. She typically sees 3 types of long gaps:

*Had a family emergency

*Went back to school

*Sat on couch

This is one area in which she recommends not being proactive about addressing: "It will come up, so wait for the interviewer to ask."

As long as you are keeping yourself productive during this time-out, she commented, employers will understand. Incorporate those gaps into your story. Perhaps while you were dealing with your family emergency, you were volunteering somewhere (the hospital where your father stayed?). Presumably if you took time off to study, you were looking to advance your career opportunities, so know how to speak to that. If you sat on the couch, figure out what you learned from that experience and how to spin it into an employment asset. (Mastering Legend of Zelda turned you into a games marketing savant? Make it work.) Be able to tell interviewers how that time off informed your current direction.

How to talk about resume gaps

When you are asked, Rosoff says to be honest. "You need to have a fluid movement of conversation about your resume. You need to know it inside and out. You need to be able to talk about how you got from here to there. I go through the last 3 positions [with a candidate]; I always ask 'What happened, why did you leave?' You can see when someone [switched jobs for] a better opportunity. If you start making up stories, when they do your references it's all going to come up."

Chaia Milstein is SVP of Content at Savvy. She has 10+ years of experience in journalism, copywriting, and screenwriting; she's worked as a writer/editor on Showtime and NBCUniversal properties, as well as for Viacom and various small owner-operated businesses.

This article originally appeared on Savvy.