July 6, 2022

Don’t Sweat Your Pandemic Résumé Gap

Looking to get back to work after a pandemic break? That gap on your résumé might not be the obstacle you think it is.

The stigma around career pauses, already beginning to ebb in recent years, has eased further amid Covid, according to recruiters, job seekers and human resources executives. The past year has left hiring managers with a new awareness of all the ways a career can suddenly go sideways: child-care pressures, layoffs from battered industries, illness. A survey by jobs site Monster last fall found that 49% of 400 U.S. recruiters believed résumé gaps had shifted from being a red flag to acceptable.

Now the job market is heating up and companies need talent. Employers are willing to forgive periods of unemployment stretching back about two years, says Darrell James, an executive recruiter based in Sugar Land, Texas, who’s counseled those laid off from the oil and gas industry. Even if you stopped working before March 2020, there’s an understanding that your break likely stretched on because many companies held off on hiring for much of last year.

“They’re not holding that against you,” he says.

Will employers’ patience and openness run out at some point? And how much should you share about your pandemic break, especially if it’s related to family responsibilities?

“People are starting to think, ‘Could we normalize not having to account for every single minute of your life and your career from the day you graduate from college until the day you die?’ ” says Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people re-enter the workforce after time off for caregiving. “Whether or not that permanently changes attitudes about being out of the workforce I think remains to be seen.”

Bias is still real, she notes. Especially before Covid, résumé gaps might have tempted hiring managers to jump to conclusions about candidates’ work ethic and ambition. Even now, Ms. Forman doesn’t recommend job seekers offer extensive explanations of their time off the job.

“The less said, the better,” she advises. “You say it without an apology and without a lot of detail.”

Pamela Sousa, a mother of three in Boulder, Colo., doesn’t highlight the remote-schooling pressures that pushed her to leave her operations job last March, or include her previous time as a stay-at-home parent as a line item on her résumé.

“If you put it front and center it becomes the main focus,” she says, “Why spend time on that? Let’s just get right down to what I can do for you.”

Still, what if you want to share more? Many offices are more open to discussing personal topics, from fertility to mental health, than they used to be. The pandemic brought down many of the walls that separated our work from our lives, with kids stumbling into Zoom calls and executives embracing empathy. LinkedIn recently created a formal option for users to identify themselves as stay-at-home parents, and a campaign launched last month by HeyMama, a social and professional network for working moms, encourages them to add skills gained at home to their CVs.

“If PowerPoint and

HubSpot

are on there, why would motherhood not be on there?” asks HeyMama co-founder and CEO Katya Libin. To her, potty-training builds problem-solving capacity; navigating temper tantrums is a form of crisis management. “We really want to shatter the stigma.”

In the first few months after Michael Holder, an accountant in High Springs, Fla., left his job because of virus concerns, he worried about what the gap might do to his career prospects.

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“I was thinking, ‘Well geez, this is not going to look good on my résumé. I just disappeared off the working grid. Do I put that I was a stay-at-home dad?’ ” says Mr. Holder, who’s cared full-time for his children, 3 and 1, since October.

Michael Holder, pictured here with wife, Cassie Holder, has been caring full-time for 1-year-old Valerie and 3-year-old Desmond since October.



Photo:

Michael Holder

But he says he felt reassured and empowered by LinkedIn’s addition of “Stay-at-Home Dad” as a job title. When he starts job hunting—likely when his kids can be vaccinated—he plans to ask pointed questions about work flexibility and virus safety, and make clear he gives priority to his family.

“I’m going to wear that stay-at-home-dad badge proudly,” he says. “If an employer has a problem with it, so be it. That’s not who I want to work for.”

Part of it comes down to how picky you want, and can afford, to be in your job search. If you have the luxury of prioritizing the perfect fit, as opposed to needing a job right away, speaking up can be a good litmus test, Ms. Forman says.

Sometimes it can even help form a connection. Nolan Reis leaned into new parenthood after Covid hurt his consulting business. He became a stay-at-home dad to baby Mara, born in September. The Seattle resident recently reached out to an electric boat company he’s interested in working for, mentioning he’d been out of the workforce since becoming a father. It turned out his contact there had also stayed home for a year with his son.

“We bonded over that,” Mr. Reis says. Originally aiming to transition back to work in the fall, he was surprised to find the company wanted to consider him for a more immediate opportunity.

Employers say that where a gap may have elicited a question before, the past year basically serves as an automatic answer. At Waltham, Mass.-based IT services firm NWN Carousel, about a quarter of applications in the past six months have featured stops and starts in employment, according to human resources director Erin Jordan. Hiring managers “don’t need your whole life story on a piece of paper,” she says. But the breaks don’t phase them.

“They don’t even blink, quite honestly,” she says. “It’s been a crazy year for anybody.”

Tips for landing that post-break job

* Use your gap well: Human resources director Erin Jordan says she likes to see folks earn new professional certifications during breaks. “We’re just looking to see: What have you done? Have you made good use, whether it be professionally or personally, during your time off?”

* Don’t overexplain: Experts say you don’t need to apologize or offer up infinite details about your time off, especially in this moment. The pandemic provides a natural back story.

* Have a concise narrative ready: If you were caregiving during your time away, note that you were honored to stay home for a stretch with your family and are now excited to come back to work, says Tami Forman, who helps people re-enter the workforce. Then dive right into the skills you can offer.

* Don’t wait too long: Two years out of the workforce is traditionally the tipping point where Ms. Forman tends to see workers get penalized for their absences. If you’ve been unemployed since the pandemic started, this fall will mark 18 months—not a bad time to try to transition back, Ms. Forman says. “The longer that gap extends, the harder it is.”

* Take the time: Remember that getting a job is a job in and of itself. Give yourself permission to spend the hours you’ll need networking, applying and interviewing.

Write to Rachel Feintzeig at [email protected]

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