Closing the Resume Gap

My academic background is in International Relations.  So when a career counseling client comes to me with concerns about the “gap” on her resume – the “career gap” – I always smile (to myself) thinking about the good ole days of the “missile gap” when the US thought it was behind the Soviet Union regarding the number of missiles each side had.  Common wisdom had it that the US was far behind and had the catch up.  The truth was actually closer to the opposite.

It’s a good analogy because most people believe that the gap on their resume is a gap which needs to be explained, not filled.  Problem is, if you have to explain something it is, by definition, a problem.  So the best way to deal with a resume gap – meaning that you have been unemployed for some time – is to fill it.  The question is, with what?

My approach to a job search is to always stay focused on the employer.  What does the employer want?  What does the employer care about?  Let’s answer those questions and fill the gap:

Employers want employees who leave their egos at the door.  Take on some part-time jobs to help make ends meet.  There is nothing wrong with saying to an employer, “As you can see on my resume, I leave my ego at the door.  I have bills to pay and honest work is honest work, so I’ve been stocking shelves at my local supermarket.  If nothing else, it’s a great workout and I have gained an appreciation for what “behind-the-scenes employees” go through which, I think, will make me a better supervisor.”

Employers want employees who try to better themselves.  There are plenty of free (or close to free), well-respected, on-line courses (schools, actually) that you can take.  Check out Coursera (courser.org), EDX (edxonline.org/), Minerva Project (minervaproject.com), Udacity (udacity.com), and if I may be immodest, visit my website as I will be offering webinar series on starting and running a business; and a series on conducting a successful job search and career success.  So list the courses you have taken.  In the case of Coursera you’ll be able to note that the instructors come from Ivy League colleges.

Employers want employees who keep sharp.  So take on some consulting or part-time roles in your profession and volunteer at some non-profits.  But make certain your volunteer work is related to your profession.  The added advantage is that you will be expanding your network and, as happens all too often, one of your new connections may lead you to your next job.

Finally, employers like employees who can multi-task.  So when they read on your resume, under a sub-heading “Interim Work Related/Professional Activities,” which is the section that fills the gap, everything that you have been doing, you can add, in the interview, that you have also been applying for jobs, networking and interviewing.  Most importantly, you can say, “As you can see, I don’t like to be idle.”  And as we all know, no employer likes an idle worker.

Applying for Jobs for Which You are Unqualified

You see your dream job advertised.  You immediately put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard, and send off a well-crafted cover letter, to which you attach your resume.  In the letter you explain that you have “transferable skills” and let your passion come forth from the page like boiling hot water and steam from Old Faithful.  And your reward?  Rejection.

But you have “transferable skills.”  You have passion.  So why are you being rejected?

Because you are unqualified.  “Transferable skills” means, “I don’t have the qualifications for the job, but do me a favor and interview me anyway.”  No.  Sorry.  The employer does not need to do you a favor.  The employer needs to fill the position with someone who can actually do the job.  A person with a proven track record of success.  A person who will not have a steep learning curve, if any at all (over and above learning “the company way”).

“But,” I hear you say, “people change careers all the time.  Why does it work for them and not for me?”

Simple.  They network.  They get introduced by a credible person, someone whose opinion the employer respects.  That person tells them, “I understand that you are looking for a marketing pro.  I know a woman who would be perfect for the position.  And before you ask, she is totally unqualified, except for the fact that she has a great skill-set and more passion for marketing than you’ll find in anyone else.  If I could, I’d hire her.  Give her ten minutes.”

And since I did that for one of my clients, I know it works.

Contact Information and Resumes

I used to work at a nursing home.  One day everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.  The State showed up for a surprise inspection (which we passed with flying colors).  The grandchildren of a resident who had passed away filed a suit for abuse and neglect.   (It was thrown out.  We proved that they had never visited their grandmother during the years that she had been at the home and did not know what they were talking about.)   And a grant we had applied for was rejected.

I made the comment to one of the nurses that there must be a full moon.  It was a “we should have stayed in bed” kind of day.  Her reaction was, “We don’t talk about full moons.  There is actually something to it.  Don’t mess with Mother Nature.” And she was serious.

This has been a week – and it’s only Wednesday! – when I have been thinking about full moons.  Happily, I received a number of new searches (any IT and/or finance auditors looking for work?) and a corresponding plethora of resumes.  What absolutely shocked me was that ten percent of the resumes I received and those that I had in my database, lacked basic contact information.  And, no disrespect intended, I’m talking about individuals who are well-educated.

Let’s ignore the person who sent me in his/her, I don’t know, resume without a cover letter, from a silly e-mail address, and without a name, address or phone number.  Rejected!

About half of the resumes that lacked contact information, lacked an e-mail address.  I know what you’re thinking, they were e-mailed so I obviously have the e-mail address.  Guess what, I don’t keep the e-mails, only the resumes.  So if I received the e-mail sometime ago – even yesterday – I won’t have anything but the resume.  No e-mail address on the resume, no way to e-mail the candidate.

And that can be a problem if the only phone number is a home phone and the person has moved.  So, in addition to an e-mail address, you need to have a cell phone number and a home phone number, if you have one.

You can, of course, include your office number.  But here’s the thing: If you include your office number that means I can call you at work.  Do you really want a recruiter leaving you a message at work about a possible job?  Now with me you don’t have to worry.  My message will be, “Joe. I am working on an auditing project for one of my clients and would appreciate it if you could give me a call.”  I’ll leave my name and number.  I won’t say that I’m a recruiter.  But some recruiters will leave a different type of message, “Joe.  I’m a recruiter.  I’m working on a search for an auditor and wanted to know if you might be interested in learning about the position.  Call me.”

And one more thing:  I know that many people (rightly) don’t want to give out their home address.  But an employer needs to know where you are located because they may not be interested in relocating a candidate or knowledge of the local community may be a qualification for the position.  So, at a minimum, include you city and state or residence.

Quantum Physics and a Successful Job Search

I enjoy reading books on subjects about which I readily admit ignorance.  Take quantum physics.  I sort of, kind of, more or less understand the basic concept but what I really enjoy is the way highly intelligent people explain it to the rest of us – like Stephen Hawking (who else?).

I finally now understand, or at least I think I do, the progression from Newton to Einstein to Hawking.  What Newton discovered was physics for the Earth.  Einstein discovered physics for the universe.  Hawking discovered physics for the atomic world, meaning the world of the microscopic atom and its constituent parts.

This got me thinking about how a proper job search builds on itself, one stage at a time, just as these geniuses built on each other.

Newton dealt with, among other things, gravity (which, by the way, in the quantum world does not exist – the apple does not fall to the ground, the ground rises to the apple!).

Einstein, of course, dealt with light.  Nothing can go faster than the speed of light.  And if you approach the speed of light you actually slow down.  So, to use the standard example, one identical twin leaves his sibling to take a close-to-the-speed-of-light trip to a distance galaxy.  By his watch and calendar, he returns four years later.  When he arrives back on Earth he discovers his sibling has died of old age.

And from Hawking we learn that atoms not only cannot escape the Earth – we are breathing in the atoms of dinosaurs and, to use the most quoted example, Marilyn Monroe, but they can actually be in two places at once.  That atom on the tip of your nose is also on a counter at a bank in Sydney, Australia even as you read these words.

Now I am absolutely certain you are asking the question, What in the world does any of this have to do with a job search?  Good question.  Here’s the answer:

Absolutely nothing, except as an example of what not to do in an interview.  I find this stuff fascinating.  I like to talk about it and to be corrected when I get the science wrong.  But you are on this website to get help about getting a job.  So my writing this article is the equivalent of a candidate in an interview telling a hiring manager what he wants to tell him and not what the hiring manager wants to hear.  And you don’t need to be a genius to know that the candidate who does that does not know how to listen!

When you talk about what is important to you, and not what is important to the interviewer, you lose out on the job offer – whether you are on Earth, somewhere else in the universe, or if you are simply a regular run of the mill atom of which, by the way, there are 92 different types.