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Career Gaps: How to explain time out of work

Experts suggest highlighting activities during periods of joblessness

By Andrew Johnson
Arizona Republic
November 22, 2009

Employment gaps on resumes can present obstacles for job seekers trying to present a consistent work history.

It's an issue that has become more prevalent as job losses have swelled and the time it takes to find new work has grown.

"Unfortunately it's a reality for a lot of people," said Kathy Sweeney, a resume consultant in Queen Creek who works with job seekers worldwide. "A gap of . . . six months to a year right now is not that uncommon."

The average number of weeks the unemployed have been out of work grew in October to 26.9, up from 19.8 a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, the pool of long-term unemployed workers - those who are jobless for 27 or more weeks - reached 5.6 million in October, up from 2.3 million a year earlier.

Many job seekers have taken positions unrelated to their career field to pay bills. Others have decided to go back to school or obtain special certifications.

Some job candidates question whether they should include positions on their resume that are considered less prestigious than the jobs they would normally perform. Others worry if unpaid activities, such as volunteering or schooling, are relevant.

There are ways to make such experience pertinent, Sweeney said.

The No. 1 goal is to be honest and not lie to cover up gaps, said Deborah House, managing director of the Scottsdale office of Technisource, an information-technology staffing firm.

Volunteer activities, certification programs, consulting and other activities in which you have participated "shows you have a continuing progression of investing in your skills," House said.

For positions outside your primary career field, the key is relating the functions you performed to the requirements of the new job you are seeking.

"(You) need to show a consistent track record of success in every position you've ever been in," Sweeney said. "Just because someone is working in a position that is lower than what they're used to does not mean they stop contributing."

Dividing your work history into "related experience" and "additional experience" that shows consistent employment is another way to address gaps, House said.

And don't ignore volunteering.

"Experience is experience whether it's paid or volunteer," Sweeney said.

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