How to Deal with Resume Gaps

Whether it be the “Tube” in London or the subway in New York, the space between the station waiting area and the train can be deadly.  Figuratively speaking, the same is true for a gap in one’s resume.

Recently a nice bloke (keeping with the British theme – although I’ll keep to American spellings of the Queen’s English) came to my office to interview for a counseling position with a social service agency.  He was more than qualified and, to the best of my knowledge, is still a viable candidate for the position.  There was a two year gap on his resume.  When I asked him about it, he explained the situation:

Apparently, his sister had died.  After the funeral he went to her house.  Her son, his nephew, was there.  Some gang members showed up with a gun.  He took the gun away and tried to calm things between his nephew at the gang members.  As he was mediating, the Police arrived.  He threw the gun over a fence.  They saw him and arrested him.  He plead guilty to possession of a weapon and served two years in jail.

For the record, it is illegal to discriminate against convicts.  The philosophy is, once  you have done your time, you have done your time.  Once you have paid your debt to society, you have paid your debt to society.  You should now be able to get on with your life.

Of course, theory and practice are not always identical.  To the best of my knowledge, my candidate can never work in healthcare or finance.  No nursing homes.  No banks.  Of course, sex offenders can’t live where they may like, as with pedophiles.

For the record, again, I have no sympathy for felons.  None whatsoever.  If there were mitigating circumstances then the judge, jury, governor and president should have, would have, taken them into account.  I’ve served on two juries, both criminal cases, and I know that the system works.  We found a black man guilty of possession of stolen property.  He was caught by the Police with the jewels literally dangling from his pockets and assorted appliances at his feet, in a neighborhood that one witness described as “white.”  We all knew that his partner had thrown the loot to him from a back window.  We found him not guilty of breaking and entering.  The judge told us that the only way we could find him guilty of that charge was if the State had proven that he had been inside the house.  They hadn’t; we didn’t.  And the “we” were “12 good men and true” consisting, of men and women of every race, creed, color, religion and level of education.

The second jury was similarly composed.  And it took us two days to reach our verdict because there were a few jurors who had to be convinced.  The crime was car jacking, at gun point.  Half of us were convinced of his guilt on all 20-something counts.  Our only regret was that we could not sentence him.  Most of the others just needed to hear our logic.  But there was one woman, like the defendant Hispanic, who was willing to find him guilty on some of the lesser charges but not on the main ones.  No one of us, not even for a minute, brought race into the deliberations.  She raised legitimate points.  In turn we addressed them.  Finally she said, “But the gun was not loaded!”  Apparently, as was explained to us by a witness, when a gun is cocked there is one “click” if a bullet goes into the chamber, and two if the chamber is empty.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  I don’t remember and, just as 10 of my fellow jurors at the time, I didn’t care then and I don’t care now!

We all responded in the same way.  So what?  Who cares?  And how could she know?  And what would it matter?  Even if the gun was empty he could have used it to beat her.  I was the last to speak.  On the table was the gun.  It had been dismantled.  There was no firing pin.  There was no bullet in it.  There was a plastic tag around the trigger.  It could not be fired.  And the County Marshals were 15 feet away in the next room.  I picked up the gun and put the barrel up against her shoulder.  (We were sitting beside each other.)  She moved away.  I put the gun back against her shoulder.  I then asked her, “You’re nervous.  You know the gun cannot be used as a weapon.  And you know the Marshals are right outside the door.  You know perfectly well that I am not going to hurt you.  And you’re nervous.  So how do you think the victim felt and what does it matter if there was one click or two?”  She was convinced and he was found guilty on all counts.

I believe in our system of justice.  Which also means that once a sentence has been served the criminal is entitled to another chance.  But how to raise the subject?

My candidate took the view that silence was, so to speak, golden.  He made no mention of it.  If I hadn’t noticed the gap he would not have said a word.  Foolish on his part.  Since he was employed at a social service agency, he should have known that the likelihood was that, prior to being offered a job the agency would require a background check.  Busted!

As the saying goes, it’s not the crime but the cover-up.  My philosophy is to tell the truth.  Just admit it.

The admission can either be in a cover letter, on a resume, or both.  I suggest both.  Go to Google images (images.google.com) and do a search for “marijuana smuggler ad toronto financial times.”  The first image shows one approach.  It’s humorous.  And he got a job.  (If I remember correctly, he also was invited on The Tonight Show!)  He hid nothing.  He was honest, so to speak.  But don’t use humor.  Use honesty.  It’s more appropriate for a cover letter or resume.  I would suggest the following:

From 2002 to 2004 I served a prison sentence for possession of a weapon.  I had taken the gun from a gang member in an effort to breakup what could have become a violent situation with my nephew following his mother’s funeral.  When the police arrived I foolishly threw the gun over a fence.  I plead guilty.  This was, if nothing else, a learning experience.  By hiring me you will be getting not only a reformed criminal but, more importantly, someone who can relate to your clients.

Granted, this would not be appropriate for someone applying for a job at a place other than a social service agency.  But the theory is still valid.  Admit what happened.  Explain it briefly (no whining).  Say what you learned and how it can benefit the employer.

Of course, the same is true for caregivers.  If you were raising children or caring for an elderly parent and were therefore out of the job market, say so, and say what you learned.  Explain what skills you developed.  Scheduling.  Multi-tasking.  Patience.  Financial oversight.  Crisis management.  All immediately come to mind and all are assets which any employer would be happy to have in a new hire.

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