By George P. Linke, Jr., Psy.D.

One of the most frequent questions I get from those preparing to look for a new job involves how to best handle dreaded resume gaps and excessive jumping from position to position. Many candidates are extremely concerned about these situations, and with good reason. For a prospective employer, unexplained gaps and job hopping raise a red flag that can indicate future problems.

There are a few tricks that can be used to minimize the damage, and I’ll discuss some of them later in this article, but first I’d like to address the cause of these problems and how they can be avoided in the first place.

Resume gaps most often occur after one of the following situations takes place:

  • Corporate restructuring resulting in a layoff
  • Poor performance in previous position resulting in a termination of employment
  • Taking time off to care for a family member
  • Unable to work because of sickness or disability

It’s important to realize that none of the above necessitates a problematic employment gap, if proactive steps are taken, but far too often that is not the case. When one loses a job, whether because of a restructuring or other reasons, it is important to be prepared to conduct an effective job search without unnecessary delay. This requires a well-prepared resume and cover letter that describe the contributions you made at each of your past positions, rather than simply listing your responsibilities. Employers want to know what you did well, how you did it, and how it affected the bottom line. They want to be able to picture what you’ll do for them.

The effective job search will also be greatly enhanced if you’ve kept your network up to date, and can produce strong references when needed. A strong network will also be invaluable as you attempt to find positions for which to apply. The best time to cultivate your network is every day of your career, not just after you find yourself looking for a job. While employed, be sure to keep track of your successful projects, and build a list of people (LinkedIn is a great tool for this) who can provide strong references. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your network—this is the time you most need to be putting those valuable connections to use. This is not the time to retreat into a hole.

Some of the same principles apply for those who are forced to leave a job for other reasons, including caring for a sick or disabled family member, or because of their own sickness or disability. These are legitimate reasons for being out of work, but it will be important to use your network and present yourself well when you are ready to return. It will also be important for you to assure a potential employer, to the best of your ability, that the cause of your absence will not affect your ability to work in the future.

As you look for your next position, it is important that you are thoughtful about what makes the most sense for the next chapter of your career. Acting impulsively, or failing to think out the consequences of this important decision is likely to result in another gap or job-hop. Drawbacks to job-hopping include a perceived lack of loyalty. Many potential employers will be less likely to extend an offer if they perceive that you won’t stay in a position for long.

So what if you do have gaps or instances of job-hopping on your resume? What can be done to minimize the effect?

First, realize that most employers understand that situations occur in everyone’s life that are beyond one’s control, so don’t overreact to a single instance. Be prepared to answer questions about these situations in an honest, comfortable manner, and focus on providing examples that shows the experience you’ve gained in the process and how that has made you a more valuable candidate.

Use your cover letter to explain your work history and put a positive spin on your circumstances. Also, be sure to make clear your interest in a long-term position. Waiting for an interview to explain negative aspects of your work history is risky, because many employers are unlikely to extend an interview to someone about whom they have reservations.

If you were out of the workforce to care for a sick or disabled family member, for example, a simple explanation on the resume can avoid negative perceptions by the employer. “I left my position in August, 2015 to provide care for my elderly mother,” is a perfectly acceptable explanation.

Focus on the things you can control. A weakness or two in your resume can be offset by an outstanding cover letter that demonstrates why you would be an asset to the hiring organization.

George Linke is the Founder and President of Linke Resources. He is an executive & professional search consultant specializing in healthcare and human services. He has a demonstrated track record of placing well qualified professionals that advance the clinical and programmatic needs critical to an organization’s mission and financial health. He has extensive experience serving individuals with behavioral health needs, intellectual disabilities, autism and other developmental disabilities. To learn more about how Linke Resources can make the hiring process efficient, successful and stress-free, call 610-873-4813.