Medicine for a Spotty CV – Explaining Gaps in Employment

medicineThere can be any number of reasons behind a gap in a CV. The challenge comes, of course, in making the explanation for it palatable to a potential employer. If gaps are a problem for you, you’ll want to apply any number of fixes to address the problem in your CV, cover letter, and interview.

Solid advice abounds on how to hide employment gaps — from formatting tricks to filling the gaps with meaty volunteer experiences. However, if you focus solely on addressing problematic breaks in your employment record, you may be missing a terrific opportunity to rethink your career history and craft it into a meaningful, compelling narrative that effectively conveys the value you can offer a new employer. Here’s a three-step approach to making your resume tell a better story.

Step One: Start by holding your current CV at arm’s length (figuratively speaking). If you’re like most CV writers, you’ll have spent a lot of time finessing your recent work to the neglect of earlier positions, which you usually cut and paste into the newest version of your CV. So as Step One, you must revisit your previous jobs from the perspective of your current skills. Don’t stop there. Compare your accomplishments and how you’re presenting them as well.

Essentially you need to reassess your “back story” in light of skills and abilities you are using now (or will need in a new position). While the descriptions you’ve been using from earlier in your career may well have been appropriate or relevant when you originally included them in your CV, more than likely the activities and responsibilities that seemed important then have since outlived their usefulness. By the same token, you also need to recognise that some of the experiences and skills that might have not received much emphasis in earlier versions of your CV will take on new significance in light of new position you’re seeking. The lesson here is that you must revisit your past with an open mind if you are going to bring your job history into alignment with the storyline that your resume is presenting now.

Step Two: Once you’ve got a master list of skill sets, experiences, and outcomes, sort them by theme or category. Broad skill categories such as project management, team building, etc., are examples of the umbrella you can use to organise the proofs or examples you present in your CV. If you’re not confident about which ones will best serve, search the Internet for job descriptions for positions similar to the one you’re seeking. These announcements will contain the key skills and experience sets that you will most likely want to highlight in your own CV.

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Step Three: Now rewrite your job history, making sure that every description (even the earliest) highlights the key concepts and skills you fleshed out in Steps One and Two. Remember: Terms such as “project management” and the like are essentially claims, so it’s necessary to substantiate them with examples and success metrics. Strive for consistency in these illustrations that capture increasing levels of responsibility and accomplishment throughout your career. Here again, this effort should enable you to connect your previous jobs with your most recent ones in ways that you might previously not have thought possible.

There’s really no hiding time lost to unemployment. But you can do a lot to counter its impact on a potential employer by presenting her with a logically coherent history of your career that emphasises continuity, solid performance, and success. It’s all in how you tell your story.

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