How to Evaluate Resume Gaps in Your Hiring Process
By Practice Growth March 30, 2021
Resume employment gaps, or long periods with no work history, are problematic for both employers and applicants. Unless the applicant stepped into a Twilight Zone void for a few years or decades, there are usually explanations for gaps in employment. Unfortunately, employers have no way to ascertain if the explanation is a good one. With no information about a period of unemployment, the applicant could just as easily have been serving time as taking a year off to care for a new addition to the family.
These intermissions in employment often have negative repercussions for job seekers. According to a 2019 quantitative study, job hunters with resume gaps were 45% less likely to gain an interview than applicants without gaps. The longer the duration between jobs correlates with even lower chances of interviewing for open positions. The study also revealed a potential to mitigate the risks associated with resume gaps. Simply providing an explanation for employment gaps greatly increased the likelihood of applicants being interviewed. Of those people, individuals who took time off for education or other job training were viewed most favorably.
Employers may also be on the losing end when resume employment gaps are not properly evaluated in recruitment. Often stemming from personal bias, recruiters may pass overqualified applicants due to an unconsciously held belief that employment gaps indicate instability that would reflect in job performance. To make the best hiring decisions, employers should consider all applicants and strive to fill in resume employment gaps when an applicant otherwise appears to have the skills and experience to succeed in a position.
How to Evaluate Gaps as an Employer
There are some principles to best evaluate gaps when recruiting for a position in your practice. When narrowing the resume pool, turn a blind eye to employment breaks in the initial stages. Instead, look for applicants who have the required skill sets, experience, and education to perform the job. With the resumes that make that initial cut, then begin the process of evaluating resume employment gaps with the following steps:
Take recent gaps more seriously than older ones. If an applicant had a year break in employment over a decade ago and has been in the same job since, it has far less bearing than just coming off a year break, for instance. When young, people are more likely to pursue educational goals or may simply have omitted non-relevant work experience. What should matter to an employer is what on the resume reflects how likely the applicant is to succeed in a role now instead of what might have happened in the past.
Do due diligence with proper reference checks. The importance of actually checking references cannot be stressed enough. Applicants usually choose people who know them well or at least have first-hand knowledge of work performance. Speak to each provided reference from a resume with gaps, and the reasons for those gaps may even emerge in conversation. If you do not first make contact with a reference, follow up and try again to prevent missing out on valuable insights about a potential hire.
Ask about gaps in a judicious manner. In an interview, a lot of information can be gleaned about an applicant’s priorities and character – along with reasons for employment gaps – simply by asking about what prompted them to leave the position preceding the gap. This provides applicants an opportunity to identify why there was a break in work while also revealing what things they most value. This method of inquiry also avoids the pitfall of crossing employment law lines and incurring a discrimination suit by not directly asking about personal characteristics like age, disability, or family status.
Consider the potential perks and drawbacks of hiring an individual with job gaps. With a better understanding of what prompted and occurred during a break, an employer is better equipped to envision the outcome of a hiring decision. That greater knowledge might impact an applicant’s chances positively or negatively. An individual who took two years to pursue an advanced degree may benefit while an individual who didn’t clearly address a gap or blame unemployment on others might throw up a red flag.
Strive for uniformity in assessing all hiring prospects, regardless of gaps. When assessing prospective hires, apply the same standards to all job seekers. That way, if personal characteristics like disability or sexual orientation were revealed in interviews, an employer can justify who was chosen (and not chosen) for the role based on relevant skills, qualities, training, and experience.
Ultimately, employers must use their best powers of discernment in evaluating resume employment gaps. That discernment, however, isn’t possible without an attempt to fill in those gaps. While it may be tempting to pass on applicants with unknowns, the ideal candidate’s resume might end up in the proverbial slush pile. To prevent such an issue, it really is as simple as seeking information from references and the applicants themselves.