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  1. #1
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    Don't Let a Resume Gap Keep You Jobless

    Don't Let A Resume Gap Keep You Jobless
    by Laura Rowley, Yahoo Finance
    July 29, 2010

    Last week President Obama signed a six-month emergency extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. The measure provides checks to 3 million people who lost aid when the program expired in June. While that will ease things temporarily for workers facing tough times, longer term they face the challenge of explaining a sizeable gap in their work histories.

    Between June 2007 and June 2010, the number of people who were unemployed for 27 weeks or more grew more than five-fold, to 6.8 million from 1.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The long-term jobless now make up 45 percent of the unemployed. Legions of job seekers are burdened with a window of unemployment that could lessen their appeal to potential employers. But there are multiple strategies to help plug the gap.

    Some career coaches say the longer the gap, the bigger the liability. "The gap is death for a resume," says Cynthia Shapiro, career strategist and author of several books. "Six months is the magic time period where a resume will go right in the trash, even if it's a fantastic candidate."

    Others strongly disagree. "There's a general understanding of the landscape, and it's not your fault that the landscape is what it is," says career consultant and author Andrea Kay. "Don't buy into the belief that this is a liability that is going to hurt you because you've been out so long. If you sit there and say, 'this is making me look bad,' that just adds to your woe."

    Here are six tips to either minimize a period of unemployment or turn it into a positive selling point:

    1. Say you spent the gap upgrading your skills.

    "Self-improvement is the best reason for a gap," says Shapiro. "Is there a certification that people at your level need to move up? Is there a class that will make you more marketable? Say you always wanted to improve your skills in this area, and now you're done and ready to start job searching. Make it sound as if you just started looking."
    In the difficult job market, many new college graduates have been forced to patch together work unrelated to their career goals. They are good candidates for part-time education, Shapiro says: "You'll look like a go-getter, and it puts the jobs in the context of 'I just had to pay the bills while in school.'"

    2. Cover the time with consulting or volunteer projects.

    Whether you've found side jobs in information technology or are just giving friends accounting advice, put it on the resume as consulting or freelance work, Shapiro suggests. "The bullet points can be things you advised them on," she says. "The key is to present it with pride and make it sound as positive as possible."

    Patrick Knisley, a former advertising executive who teaches business writing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, used this approach. "Instead of saying I didn't have a job, I put down 'consultant.' I got two or three big jobs," he says. "Was I fully employed as consultant? Not really, but if I was asked about it I could talk about some of the clients I worked for. (Prospective employers) don't need to know how long a consulting job lasted. They're just interested in what you did when you got that assignment."

    Just make sure your "clients" will back up your description of the experience, says Paul Bernard, president of Paul Bernard & Associates, an executive coaching firm in New York. "Because more and more reference checks are very thorough, an employer may ask about the nature of the assignment and the scope of work," he says.

    Another angle: You chose to test the entrepreneurial waters but missed the office environment. "Don't say you started a business and it failed so you went back to work," Shapiro advises. "Say you always wanted to try running your own business, you really enjoyed the experience, but it was kind of lonely and you realize you love working with a team."

    If you do freelance work outside your field, find a way to integrate the experience. "I had one client who wanted to fill a gap with flipping houses," says Shapiro. "We were able to make it work because we pulled out the 2 percent of things he was doing in flipping houses that related back to his resume in a way that made sense."

    Another option is to focus on a career-related volunteer gig. Shapiro helped an attorney plug a year-long gap with a stint at a legal aid clinic. "Did she get paid? No, but she doesn't have to disclose that on the resume," she says. "There's nothing that says the things on a resume have to be paid (jobs)."

    3. Say you took a sabbatical.

    This can be a mix of activities -- travel, time with family, hobbies, giving lectures or writing articles -- "anything that will put something in that gap that makes it sound like a choice," Shapiro says. "You can say, 'I never took vacations when I was working so I took the opportunity to travel with family' -- so you appear fresh and not burned out and ready to go. Anything but 'I can't find a job, and I've been looking this whole time.'"

    Knisley, who also teaches resume and cover letter writing skills, argues that sabbaticals spent on hobbies should not be on a resume. "I discourage that because you risk sounding frivolous," he explains. "I don't think hobbies belong on a resume at all unless you're applying to work for a snowboard company in marketing and you snowboard.

    "You could say you always wanted to learn to cook like an Italian so you went to Tuscany and took a cooking class," he continues. "But unless it's directly relevant to what you want to do, you risk diverting attention on your resume. If you're a food writer and you went to Tuscany that makes sense, but if you're an accountant, it's out of context."

    Shapiro agrees. "When you get into non-sequitur land, you can make people think you'd rather be doing something else," she says. Spin the event as a one-time affair. "You could say while working you were very dedicated and never had time for your cooking hobby. It was fun, and you got it out of your system. You have to close it down. You don't want them to think you'd rather be over there, cooking."

    4. Say you spent the time on a relocation.

    If you are able to do national job search, focus on a place in the country you've always wanted to move, and even a year-long gap can be plugged with a relocation, Shapiro argues. "You can say you always wanted to live in Miami, so you decided to research and go out there. I had a client in finance in New York who was really struggling. We repackaged him for San Francisco, and he was able to use the address for a family member who lived there. It made it look like he was already living there. He flew out for a couple interviews and got hired."

    5. If the gap is due to personal reasons, keep explanations simple and to the point.

    "I had a middle-aged student who had taken a couple years to care for both parents who passed away," recalls Knisley. "He put it as an entry on his resume -- as medical caregiver." Knisley discouraged the idea because the work involved didn't qualify him for anything in his field. Leave personal gaps off a resume and explain them in person, Knisley says.

    But keep the story short and sweet, says Kay. "Don't give so much information that it puts you into situation where eyebrows get raised or you're putting questions in the employer's mind that don't need to be there."

    Shapiro agrees. "I had a client who quit his job to take care of wife who had cancer and was out of work for two years," she says. "He really felt strongly he needed to disclose the reason and would go great detail" -- and no offers were forthcoming. His story needed closure, she says. "You need to end with, 'I was really happy I was able to do that for her, and she has thankfully recovered and I'm excited about going back to work.'"

    6. If you crawled under the covers and did nothing after a devastating job loss, keep your cool.

    "Don't say things like, 'I was so depressed I couldn't get out of bed and had to see my therapist four times a week for months,'" says Kay. "Say, 'when my company downsized it was a disappointing and difficult time. Because I had been working 30 years without a break, I decided to take some time to think about what I really wanted to do next.'"

    Avoid language or dark humor that exposes your anger or resentment. "People think they'll just be funny or tell it like it is, but you need to think through your responses in a careful way so you're not dropping seeds of doubt about your judgment," Kay adds. "Don't dwell on the bad stuff."

    Finally, if someone is doing a job search the most effective way -- by meeting and talking with other people -- then the gap should not be a stumbling block, Kay argues. "It's a part of the conversation, but it isn't where the conversation begins, and doesn't determine where it goes. It's just one piece of history. It doesn't define you."

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    Re: Don't Let a Resume Gap Keep You Jobless

    Experts give tips to college grads seeking first job - USATODAY.com

    ...Even if you don't have much of a job history to include, you can mention summer jobs, internships, leadership in extracurricular activities and anything that highlights strengths...

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    Re: Don't Let a Resume Gap Keep You Jobless

    Job seekers: No need to highlight that work gap

    ...The best way to mitigate an employment gap is to not need to address it, says Zuanich. Volunteer work, part-time employment, contract work and community service can be used to fill gaps (and stay connected, and keep one's sanity). Since her toddler was about a month old, Zuanich says, she has been doing per diem counseling and resume writing to stay active. When her son was 3 months old, she began serving as a volunteer/mentor for an organization. "This is absolutely on my resume," she says. "In this case, the work I performed is clearly in line with my career path/passion."

    Organizations such as...Idealist can assist in finding outlets for your skills. Zuanich and McIntyre also cautiously suggest considering a functional resume (which highlights experience over history) rather than a chronological one.

    Bottom line: It's not necessary to highlight your employment gap in a cover letter. Do not feel the need to explain a self-imposed parenting sabbatical or take the weight of the unemployment economy guiltily on your shoulders. And do not label yourself "Domestic CEO of the Singer Household, January 2006-March 2011," no matter how good you think that sounds.

    Do make use of your time out of the workforce by maintaining your skills, volunteering your time, assisting an organization, freelancing -- and presenting those efforts to prospective employers.

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