Why career gaps are not so bad these days

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A CV with several career gaps and short stays in roles is often a red flag to employers.

Their biggest concern is job-hoppers, as opposed to people who’ve taken breaks, even long ones of 2+ years.

Yet it’s becoming more common for people to make several changes in direction throughout their career or to successfully navigate a path that takes in various positions at different companies or, increasingly, to work on a contract basis or as a freelancer.

‘Gone are the days of having a job for thirty years then putting your feet up and retiring,’ says Nimita Shah, director at The Career Psychologist. ‘A lot more people now are having not just one but several transitions throughout their working lives. What goes along with that is taking time out to study and get to that next transition or having that time out to really reflect on their careers.’

And while reflection may seem an unaffordable luxury, with job-hopping often caused less by choice than by circumstance, for example the volatile macroeconomic situation over the last decade, taking time to evaluate your skills, experience and life can allow you to better approach your next role and choose the industry correctly.

For example, redundancy can be a sensitive issue, because a lot of the time people aren’t ready to leave, says Shah. ‘In this situation people can be resistant to change and unable to proactively deal with the change, but then there are those who take it as an opportunity to have a career break and take stock of their situation and determine a new path.’

Furthermore, there’s much less stability in the job market and company-employee loyalty is no longer the norm in work culture, so moving around can now actually work as a good strategy for a successful and progressive career, says Simon Broomer, MD and senior career coach at CareerBalance. ‘It’s a positive – I can say I’ve worked in some large multinationals and some very small businesses and each of those experiences has given a lot to me in knowledge and experience and I’m therefore bringing much more value to you, the employer.’

How to impress employers

‘Primarily, always be honest,’ says Jon Carey, operations director at Morgan McKinley. ‘If you explain gaps in your employment history on your CV, it shows the hiring manager that you see continuity in your career, that you’re focused on the long term, and most of all that you’re still in charge of your career path and able to proactively respond to challenges.’

Such proactivity and positivity is a must. ‘Always keep it positive, making sure you explain the reasons for your gaps in detail,’ says Carey. ‘For example, if you were made redundant, don’t just tell the employer that you lost your job. You should emphasise why it was that you were let go from your previous job, indicating the restructuring or downsizing that took place.’

It’s also a good idea to emphasise any activities you undertook during your gaps to improve your professional standing, says Carey. ‘You can mention any certifications or courses you’ve done during the gap; any consulting, freelance or contract work or any other valuable experiences, for example volunteering or major personal projects.’

Crucially, always be prepared in an interview for a question to come up whereby some will challenge you about not staying with them, about being a job hopper. It’s not something that would come out in a cover letter or CV, so you need to be ready to give a robust answer when someone asks you why you’ve moved jobs in the last five years.

‘You’ve got to be able to look people in the eye when you’ve made lots of job moves,’ says Broomer. ‘Don’t try to make excuses or to justify yourself, but come out with a response that sells you, that shows that you’ve gained something from your experiences, or that there was a positive, very deliberate move by you.’

Simon Broomer’s success stories

Job-hopping or unique career strategy?

I have a client whose first job lasted about five years, but subsequently he’s been moving about once every year to 18 months, which is going to cause some concern, as employers will worry that he’s not going to stay, that he’s a job hopper. Having said that, looking back at my career, I started working in 1984, which is 30-odd years ago, I’ve had 19 different jobs during that time, including setting up my own business. It was never an issue for me, I was still employable on my 18th job.

A valuable experience

My first job was six months in an NHS trust, but I knew I was going to head off travelling for about 7-8 months. When I got back, I started interviewing and at one the interviewer said: ‘You’ve been bumming around the world for a year, why should we give you the job?’ I was able top look him in the eye and say: ‘That was one of the hardest things I’ve done, to travel around India, often on third class trains, to places I hadn’t been before, at the same time as having quite a serious illness, which debilitated me.’ He eventually offered me the job.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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