How To Successfully Spin A Pandemic Gap On Your Resume

The Covid-19 outbreak was brutal and impacted more than our health. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs since the outbreak started over a year and a half ago. Fortunately, some found new positions. There are millions of long-term unemployed who can’t seem to find a new role. There are a lot of folks who are underemployed, working at jobs far below their prior positions. 

As the U.S. quickly rolled out the vaccines and states reopened, the economy and job market picked up steam. A recent report by the Department of Labor announced that there are over 9.3 million jobs available, nearly matching the amount of people looking for a new opportunity.

In certain sectors there is a war for talent. The turnaround from doom to boom was so fast that businesses have not been able to keep up with demand. The areas that were hardest hit, restaurants, bars, airlines, hotels and travel now boast the largest number of job openings.

There have been a sizable number of people that have kept their heads down, sheltering in their jobs during the last year, waiting for better times. Now it’s here. They are poking their heads out, looking to see how the market is faring for new jobs. Interviews are taking place. 

Although everyone knows how bad things were, companies have short memories. You’d like to believe that hiring personnel would have empathy. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Many employers are digging into what people have been doing during the pandemic.

If they were out of work, or still in-between positions, managers, recruiters and interviewers grill the interviewees. There is a not-so-subtle inference that something  may be wrong with the applicant. They feel that the person may be of less quality because they haven’t been hired already. It’s a repugnant practice, but it’s all too common.

Recruiting for twenty plus years, I know that this type of victim-blaming is a travesty. It’s not as simple ast hiring managers pretend it is. I’ve seen so many instances of fantastic, brilliant, experienced people with amazing work experiences not being able to catch a break. Other times, a person with less credentials is in the right place at the right time and easily gets the job. The locations of the role, type of work, hotness or coldness of the sector, salary requirements and luck all factor into a person finding a job or still searching.

We can’t ignore reality. Not all recruiters, human resources professionals and hiring managers look askance at gaps in employment. Since there are enough who do hold biases against the unemployed, it’s important that you are prepared for the tough questions, cold treatment and skepticism.

I’ve asked three smart experienced career coaches and resume writers to offer their sage advice on how to help you position your resume and yourself when asked about pandemic related gaps in employment. Here is what they suggest you do now.

Virginia Franco, Executive Career Storyteller, LinkedIn and Resume Writer says “Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to addressing a career gap — and losing a job due to COVID is no different.”  There is always the temptation to fudge the blanks in your resume. Franco adamantly advises against this “Changing dates or making up a non-existent job is unethical and if you’re busted there’s no turning back.”

If there is a big gap she advises those embarked on a job search to “Be sure to show your job loss is not related to an individual performance issue, but rather a corporate decision impacting many by saying something like “member of  20-person division eliminated during COVID downsizing.”

Even if you are interviewing with a compassionate and understanding person, they will want to know what you’ve been doing during the lockdown. It’s best to have a prepared narrative to tell. You want to highlight what you’ve done, offers Franco “If you’ve picked up any skills or certifications or volunteered your skills in any way during your time off, be sure to highlight them.”

On the flip side, Franco feels that companies should share what actions they’ve taken to look after their employees during the outbreak. “I am making sure to ask my clients about how they supported their customers, employees and company during COVID. Companies want to know that you react during good times and bad.”

Lisa Rangel  is the head of Chameleon Resumes and is an Executive Resume Writing Services and Job Landing Consulting expert. Rangel was a recruiter before she started her own company helping job seekers. She witnessed previous shocks to the system which caused massive layoffs.

During the last twenty years there have been some serious downturns in the economy and job market. Most notably the aftermath of the  9/11 terrorist attack and the 2008 financial crisis. While very different, the two major events led to massive downsizings and fear over what would happen in the future. 

Rangel recalled “When I recruited during the last two down turns (2001/2008), job seekers having a gap was not unexpected” as the 9/11 catastrophe, which particularly harshly impacted New York City-based workers, and the financial crisis caused job losses across the country and world.  

Although the two events were tragic and harrowing for workers, companies still asked why an applicant was unemployed. She learned at those times, job seekers had better luck procuring a new job through experienced “recruiters who could go to bat for candidates.” Rangel maintains that recruiters ‘get it’ and know the real deal. They’ve seen this movie before and understand that bad things happen to good people. Experienced recruiters know that talented people get caught up in downsizing that have nothing to do with the quality of their work.

She said “Good recruiters don’t need to spend time on what will probably be the same answers for having a gap during a pandemic as most other people with a gap. So most good recruiters won’t spend much time on it. But you should still be prepared for it.” 

When you are in an interview setting, and the “whatcha been doing during the gap” question comes up, Rangel says you should “focus on the positive you did and what you learned during the difficult moments.”  Recruiters want to help place you in a job and are “interested in you, so share interesting perspectives you learned and experiences you had during the gap.”

Sweta Regmi, is a highly sought-after Career Consultant based in Canada. Regmi calls for  putting a positive spin on the situation “The first step of the pandemic-related gap is to fully own the gap without hiding it anywhere. Nip it in the Bud earlier on!” This way you get it over with quickly instead of nervously waiting for the interview to ask the dreaded question.

People on the job hunt should first “heal” as it’s been a challenging time. Then, when you’re mentally and emotionally ready,  prepare “a marketing plan which is a foundation of bouncing back to the workforce.”  

For those who haven’t been on the job market in a long time, you should be “Be receptive” to new trends as “Recruiters and hiring managers can smell outdated resumes within 10 seconds.” Stylistically, Regmi suggests  “declare the gap on the resume strategically” by adding “laid-off due to pandemic right beside the last title.” 

“Own the gap” by adding “courses, certification, board membership, volunteering, projects, freelance as a recent work experience” to show that you’ve been busy and productive. “Adding a cover letter with a story of what you have been doing in the gap helps mitigate the risk of not getting the interview.”

When it comes to networking, be prepared that “laid-off career professionals” go through emotional stress and may feel like they “are nobody without a title and nobody wants them with a gap.” To fight back “Identifying the niche recruiters and agencies who are recruiting for your type of niche industry helps.”  She points out that “Explaining the gap will be much easier as they have worked within your industry. They know the ins and out of your industry in local areas. Let them be an advocate on behalf of you to win that interview.”

If it remains hard to find a new position, “take short-term projects with new startups, companies or non-profit sectors in your industry where you could lend your expertise. Add the experience and use them as a reference to overcome the gap.”

When the question of “Tell me about yourself” arises, “own the gap right away, don’t wait for them to ask about it.” Immediately “Tell them you were laid off and what you have learned. Stay under one minute when explaining the gap before you start opening the can of worms. Avoid bad-mouthing ex-employer, this is where healing comes in. Highlight the upgraded skills, volunteering, certificates, freelancing work on these questions and sneak it strategically.”

Regmi advises that you tell the interviewer “quality matters to you” and rather than filling the gap with the wrong employers. Then you pitch yourself by adding “I wanted to wait for the right employers and based on the research I saw the fit” with your organization and share the reasons why this position was worth holding out for. Regmi offers a cool way to spin the gap in your favor by saying “I waited for the right match, and here I am” and smile!

She tells her job seeking clients that it’s important for people to know that you are on the job hunt so they can help you. If you haven’t done so already, start branding yourself on social media and showcase the new you. Not having a social media presence is considered a weakness, especially if you are in senior roles. Create a new title for yourself and the sky’s the limit. Take action to garner attention. Write blogs, articles, get your own website or podcasts, Youtube and add that new title on the resume!  “Being confident to explain the gap works wonders!”

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