Another blog centered around the COVID-19 pandemic? You bet. Impacts from this deadly virus are far from over—many will continue for the foreseeable future and some will morph into a new norm. We all felt (and are still feeling) the weight of COVID-19 directly and indirectly, and for many, the impact consisted of multiple adverse effects. Aside from the horrific loss of life, loss of employment became a reality for many Americans who in the past had never faced life without a job. In 2020, during the height of lockdown, 22 million U.S. workers lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, by the start of 2021, several returned to work, but we are still facing 10 million fewer U.S. jobs than before the start of the pandemic.
As parts of the economy and job market gradually rebound, how are hiring managers and recruiters viewing those “gaps” in your employment history? Pre-2020, gaps in someone’s employment history were typically tied to a few common reasons such as a stay-at-home parenting, continuing education, or even traveling. These may have required an explanation. Not all resumes had gaps of employment. In fact, many did not. However, with the enormous amount of employees laid off or out of a job due to the effects of the pandemic, resumes look much different in 2021. Are you reluctant to put gaps between jobs or “unemployed” on your resume?
Let’s back up and define a gap in employment from the perspective of employment screening. If verifying past employment is part of the background screening package, which is defined by the employer, employment gaps may or may not be identified. A gap is a period of time during a person’s employment history where he/she is not employed and the time is not accounted for. While some background screening companies (aka Consumer Reporting Agencies or CRAs) will mark or flag employment gaps of as little as 30 days or as much as 6 months, most will flag gaps of 3 months or greater when conducting employment verifications. Of course this should be customizable by the employer.
In addition, CRAs often deploy candidate engagement technology to collect employment history data, along with other required information. During candidate engagement, most technologies have configuration for requirements around employment history. For example, the candidate will be required to fill out 7 years of employment history with no gaps of employment over 30 days. If this requirement is not met, the candidate cannot move forward in the background screening process. Again, these requirements are the employer’s choice and are typically dependent on the position, qualifications, and possible industry regulations.
Most CRAs offer employers alternatives on handling gaps of employment during the screening process. Employers can simply ignore them or require the CRA to handle a defined level of candidate mitigation. This may entail the CRA contacting the candidate directly to inquire about the gap(s) of employment and obtain verification for the gaps (i.e. documentation from the unemployment office).
So what can you, the candidate, do? Make sure your resume is up-to-date and accurate before you send it out (possibly a given, but I had to say it, based on the number of outdated resumes I see). There are countless blogs and self-help articles filled with great information on ways to improve your resume, but make sure you are always accurately and truthfully documenting the gaps of employment if over 60 days on your resume and as required during the background screening process. Keep it simple. It can be as easy as stating “unemployed” and providing the dates in “month, year” format. Then, make sure you are able to clearly describe the situation leading to the gap(s). You do not have to get overly detailed. Most clarifications are due to familiar situations and valid reasons (layoff, company merger, pursuing a degree, sick family member, economy, etc.), all of which people relate to. Provide a concise explanation and then pivot to the present and why you are the right candidate for the position.
In closing, don’t let employment gaps intimidate you. Employers are looking for qualified candidates with good experience but they also want an honest employee, which starts with a truthful account of their work history, including the gaps. This is for the record.
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