Career Gaps: Do They Still Matter After the Great Resignation?
Let’s talk about career gaps. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Great Resignation that followed, have changed the face of the workforce, potentially forever. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
While every shift brings positives and negatives, you can always learn how to maximize your opportunities in any situation. This is true of job seeking amid the Great Resignation—especially if you are returning to the workforce after a career gap. Amid this time of ongoing change, you have an opportunity to recalibrate your approach to the job search process.
Whether you’ve spent time as a stay at home mom, had to take time off due to illness, or simply quit your last job out of frustration with your employer, if you’re trying to reenter the workforce after a career gap, the Great Resignation may actually herald good news.
You’re likely concerned about how your career gap will impact your chances of getting hired, but the truth is that career gaps may matter less than ever.
What Is the Great Resignation?
At the outset of 2021, record numbers of people began quitting their jobs. As the trend picked up speed, it became known as the Great Resignation. Though some people claimed this was just a fluke, people are still walking away a full year later.
- Almost 48 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021.
- A full 4.3 million people quit their jobs in January of 2022 alone.
- Quit rates remain very high continuing into this year.
The Great Resignation doesn’t mean that people are quitting their jobs to exit the workforce entirely. Quite the contrary. Fed up with low pay, few benefits, and poor treatment during the pandemic, workers are walking away from their current employers and looking for jobs where they will be better compensated and more fairly treated.
To say this movement has prompted change would be an understatement.
Companies are paying higher wages, offering signing bonuses, and adjusting schedules to attract and retain talent. A growing number of companies now pay student debt benefits, hoping to keep good workers from hopping to other employers. (CNN)
If you’re reentering the workforce after a career gap, this is the environment into which you’ll be stepping. It’s one that comes with both challenges and opportunities for job seekers.
Your trick is to figure out how to make it work for you—particularly if you’re returning with a career gap.
Do Career Gaps Still Matter Post-Great Resignation?
The short answer to this question? Yes and no.
In one sense, career gaps will always be a cause for concern. While an employment gap may not be a sign of any serious flaw on your part, employers will still have questions when they see a gap on your resume.
Employers may wonder:
- Why were you out of the workforce for so long? Perhaps you have no internal drive, or there’s something wrong with your work ethic. A gap could signal that you’re not that serious about your field.
- Have you kept current on industry developments? Being out of the employment loop means you may not have kept up with innovations within the industry. Do you know how the current systems and tech work? Hiring you could mean extra training, which most employers wouldn’t appreciate.
- Is there something lacking in your qualities or skills? Maybe you’ve remained unemployed not for lack of trying to get a job but because you’re not very qualified or skilled.
These are the sorts of concerns employers will have when they see an employment gap. Then again, amid the Great Resignation, career gaps have taken on a decreased cause for concern.
Amid a labor shortage, employers are not only motivated to fill empty positions in their companies, but they also understand that during the turbulence and upheaval of the last few years, people have acquired career gaps for reasons unrelated to the questions listed above.
According to Ian Sells, founder and CEO of RebateKey, the pandemic has forced many people to stop and look for other opportunities.
Employers are aware of this, and as a result, they’re less likely to take a hard line when it comes to career gaps.
Career gaps are not that important. There are many acceptable reasons for career gaps, and it is important for employers to be open-minded about them. What is important is that the potential applicant has the necessary skills to perform the job and demonstrates important soft skills. This is why many companies offer short paid assessments and probationary periods—to see whether a person is fit for the job. Solely basing [employment] on career gaps is unfair, especially if a person has a legitimate reason for it.
This is important to bear in mind if you’re job seeking.
In essence, the question isn’t so much whether you have a career gap. The question is whether you know how to frame that gap to potential employers when you’re applying for jobs.
Framing Your Career Gap
If you do have a career gap, the key is to know how best to frame it to potential employers, both on your resume and in your job interviews.
Addressing Career Gaps on Your Resume
An employment gap on your resume is not necessarily the end of the world.
But here’s the important part: you can’t let the gap speak for itself. You need to have a careful approach in place to frame the narrative surrounding your gap for potential employers.
Best practices for handling a career gap on your resume include the following:
- Provide context: Address the gap directly in your cover letter and be honest about the reason behind it. Were you ill? Caring for a sick family member? Going back to school to prepare for a career change? Directly explaining the reason behind your career gap will keep hiring managers and potential employers from letting their imaginations run amok and assuming the worst.
- Fill in the blanks: Demonstrate to your potential employer that you’ve used the gap well by gaining new skills and experience, working on yourself, etc. Did you take classes? Learn new languages? Travel the world? Spell out exactly how you spent your time and why the gap has enriched your life.
- Lead with confidence: Rather than apologizing for your career gap and acting as if you’re ashamed or embarrassed, focus on the unique skills, abilities, and experiences that you bring to the table. Don’t let your career gap draw focus away from you and the fact that you’re the best person for the job, hands down.
According to career expert Brian Vander Waal, “Traditional wisdom says that it is easier to get a job if you have one, and if you have a gap in employment, you become undesirable as a candidate. There is still some truth in this, as psychologically managers often prefer to hire people in work, as there seems to be less risk. The person is seen as more reliable, trustworthy and up to date in their field. However, since the Great Resignation it is less of a problem, and even prior to it, it was not necessarily an issue.”
Especially amid the Great Resignation, career gaps and employment breaks are not the deal-breakers they may have been in the past.
Don’t treat them as such on your resume.
Addressing Career Gaps During an Interview
When you land a job interview post-career gap, the same advice we give for writing your resume applies. Don’t walk into your interview with a defeatist mindset, assuming that it’s your job to explain yourself or make apologies. Instead, walk in with your head held high.
Use your interview to make a good impression. Provide context for your employment gap, show how you used the time to make yourself an even stronger candidate for the job, and lead with confidence.
According to Su Roberts, Company Director at UK company Beliebes, career gaps are not the end of the road for job seekers. In fact, Roberts calls career gaps a “great perhaps.”
Discussing how the Great Resignation has affected the hiring process, Roberts says the gravity of career gaps is no longer as heavy as it was before the pandemic. She believes that reasons for taking time off are considered valid if they’re deemed genuine within the context of someone’s life story.
As we hire people, we do not just hire their skills, knowledge, and expertise. We also hire their stories and every bit of them. We hire people, not machines.
This is a powerful mindset shift that will prove helpful for both employers and employees alike.
You are a whole person—one with a life and a history and a rich backstory. A backstory that might involve a career gap.
And that’s okay.
Particularly amid the Great Resignation.
Closing Your Career Gap
The bottom line: if you’re looking to find a job after taking time away, there’s likely never been a better time to step back into the workforce. From investment jobs to remote gigs, open positions are ready and waiting for you to close the gap.