Ali Gordon | 20 April, 2021

Over the last decade, traditional workforce trends have shifted dramatically. This has changed both hiring practices and resume patterns, such as gaps that appear in professional work. Where gaps on a resume may have historically indicated red flags to employers, the rise of the gig economy may challenge that traditional assumption.

In fact, CNBC reports that, “In total, there are 6 million more gig workers today than a decade ago. Half, or 3 million, of that growth reflects the shift of the labor force toward this type of work and away from more traditional employment.” This shift is only growing, and it indicates for recruiting firms and companies the importance of updating an understanding of employment gaps. What is reasonable...and what’s still a red flag?

Traditional Gaps

Traditionally, employers consider a 3-month gap in employment to be reasonable. Many hiring committees and staffing firms are taught to identify longer gaps and flag them as weakness or even concerns in an applicant’s profile. At 3-months, however, a gap is traditionally thought to be a standard time frame for transitioning to new employment, or sometimes employees use such space between positions to attend to personal needs. Many recruiters and employers also frown upon repeated gaps, such as multiple gaps within a few years’ time or within the same year. It’s possible to follow this more traditional model, but it also presents limitations as workforce trends evolve.

Cyclical Work That Creates Gaps

So many types of employment now rely on cyclical work that naturally creates resume gaps. This could be at regular, repeated intervals throughout different months, such as seasonal work that shifts throughout a year. Alternatively, these kinds of gaps could also be explained by freelance work that shifts between years. Independent contractors who work in political election cycles, for instance, may work excessively during part of a year or between years. While this may give these kinds of contractors irregular or non-traditional gap patterns in between roles, their experience may still prove beneficial to different kinds of employers. 

Personal reference checks can help confirm employment history, often clarify why these gaps exist, and will paint a better picture of candidates with these kinds of unique work histories. Such candidates should not be overlooked since nontraditional backgrounds can give them valuable skills like strong self management or the ability to navigate entrepreneurial environments.

Gaps with Strong Explanations

One of the best ways to frame your understanding of reasonable resume gaps is to move away from basing red flags on the actual time spent between positions and more on the substance and story of how that time was spent. How time is spent--whether 3 months or 12 months--could demonstrate the kind of value a prospective hire brings to the company. It may sound radical, but factors ranging from economic depressions to changing travel trends for Millennial workers indicate that using a specific number of months as the only factor for a valid employment gap is an outdated concept. 

For example, prospective employees that have spent gaps between formal positions volunteering, starting a family, going back to school or certification programs, traveling for religious or personal reasons, or trying to launch a business says something about potential candidates. These ways of using gaps may indicate a commitment to community, ongoing desire to learn, and creative thinking or problem solving skills. A one-size-fits-all approach to hiring could cause a company to miss out on incredible employees who have strong explanations for gaps, but just don’t fit a more typical work trajectory. 

Facebook’s Head of Global Recruiting, Miranda Kalinowski, affirms that candidates should not feel pressured to apologize for or cover up gaps. Instead, prospective hires should have space to explain their narrative and how it contributes to their growth and value: “[If an employee] spent time at home tutoring, or did some community development, or learned a new set of virtual skills, these are all things that [they] want to shine a light on as [they’re] explaining a gap…[Applicants] should never be ashamed to discuss it because the “skills and knowledge [they] amassed over time” can still make [them] a standout candidate.”

What about Stigmatized Gaps?

If a background check and employment process uncovers gaps in a resume that do not have such strong explanations that are generally viewed favorably, what should you do? Many types of gaps--like unemployment, homelessness, incarceration or criminal history--could create gaps that are stigmatized in many workplaces. For some recruiters and employers, these kinds of gaps may be reason to dismiss a candidate altogether. But this concept is also outdated--and could set your company up for EEO violations. 

A similar rule applies for applicants with these kinds of resume gaps: creating space for humanity in a recruiting process is a great way to identify candidates who will bring genuine value to your team culture, clients, and company. Always create opportunities for explanation, and ensure your internal processes support the growth of employees into roles--regardless of if their stories reflect stigmatized experiences, nontraditional employment backgrounds, or more generally accepted types of employment gaps. 

eKnowID uses the philosophy of “screening in” to hire successfully--not just checking backgrounds to rule out candidates. This approach has enabled us to cultivate expertise identifying the value in all kinds of traditional and nontraditional prospective employees. Our screening processes offer varied layers of depth with a high-tech, high-touch model designed to give businesses confidence in every employee they hire.

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