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Looking at Work Experience Gaps on Your Resume

Among the abundance of things worrying the job seeker today is the work history gap on your resume that occurs when there is as break in the employment chronology brought on by any number of reasons- most often by having been laid off. Conventional wisdom has been and continues to be that having a period of time during which you were not employed is a detriment to finding future employment. The well-founded fear is that a hiring manager will check to see if there exists an employment gap when reading your resume, and if finding one, will instantly draw the conclusion that this indicates you are a flawed candidate. Being seen as out of work is still very much considered a stigma, which is unfortunate given how much unemployment was foisted upon so many. But this is the reality facing job searchers. Gaps in your resume’s employment experience section make finding a new job even more difficult.

Obviously avoiding gaps is recommended when rewriting or updating your resume. However, lying on your resume by stating false employment that did not really exist in order to fill in time is not recommended. So what can be done? Job and career counselors typically advise that employment down times be accounted for with some type of professionally meaningful pursuits, such as schooling/training or interning/volunteering. Furthering your education can be advantageous, but has that annoying consequence of costing money at a time when it’s in short supply. On the other hand, offering an organization or company free work in exchange for useful experience is cheaper and potentially a powerful way to approach explaining in the future how you spent your time between jobs. Let’s examine the options of interning and volunteering more carefully.

First, to clear up some semantics: By interning I mean engaging in a non-monetary exchange, whereby the intern provides a novice-level professional service and in turn receives a documented benefit from the organization, such as professional oversight or instruction. I see volunteers as providing a service which is either an organizational need or enhancement, while expecting little to nothing in return except for an emotionally satisfying feeling and/or for the opportunity to list the experience on one’s resume.

If considering interning, check to see that the organization has an established policy, and if so that you agree with its terms and conditions. If it doesn’t, either look elsewhere or get involved with the development of a new intern policy, thereby giving you a say in the arrangement. Volunteering however, can raise complications for both the volunteers and the enterprises taking them on.

In general, the considerations from both parties should be focused on whether the tasks being performed by the volunteer are compensatory or not. The rules are defined by state labor law and employment discrimination legislation and by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The latter essentially puts the kabash on volunteering with for-profit private sector companies along with federal, state, and local governments. It’s just not allowed. And with most people’s professions linked to the private sector or government it would appear to present a challenge to the volunteer looking for a place to offer services. Fortunately the FLSA does not deter you from volunteering in public, charitable, or religious facilities, so perform whatever service feels right in those cases.

When approaching any kind of organization about interning or volunteering, especially one that also hires employees ask the following questions:

  • Would your service in any way violate the FLSA or state labor laws?
  • Would you be displacing or replacing an existing paid employee?
  • Would you be performing work that is normally paid employment?
  • Will the intern or volunteer duties require a contract or be documented in some way?
  • Do you have control of your hours and level of work intensity free of coercion?
  • To yourself ask, “Is this worth it to me?”

Filling in that troublesome work history time gap on your resume is worth some effort. If the reason for the absence is elder, child, or personal care, or possibly even bereavement, then insert it in the professional experience section as a “job”. But if the gap occurs because you were let go from your previous job and it’s taking you six months or more to find another, then consider interning or volunteering. Just go into it with your eyes wide open.

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