Further Questions: Are Gaps in a Resume Really a Red Flag?

This week we have the second in a set of reader questions. This person is preparing to leave work for an extended period of time, due to the incipient arrival of twin babies. I’m asking questions of people who hire librarians, and I’m also running companion posts with people who have returned to work after an extended leave. Last week I asked for advice on staying professionally relevant during a leave of absence (and the companion post is here). This week’s question is: 

Are gaps in a resume really a red flag? Have you ever hired someone who has been unemployed for an extended period of time? If so, can you provide any details about how this person discussed his/her absence on a resume or cover letter, or in an interview?

J. McRee Elrod

No.  We don’t even check for gaps in dates.
For those prospective employers who do, one might insert something, e.g., “Rearing children.” That too takes skill and provides experience.
To cover a prison term, perhaps “Volunteer work in an institutional library”?
- J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Marleah Augustine

Gaps in a resume are not necessarily a red flag, but it is nice to have some sort of explanation as to how that time spent. A simple mention in a cover letter about taking time off for family, travel, education suffices.What gets my attention more as a red flag is if an applicant has had many many jobs that were held for only a short time, and again in that case a short explanation usually takes care of any concern on my part. It’s not a dealbreaker outright.
- Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Marge Loch-Wouters

Gaps are a red flag if the applicant doesn’t address them in some way in the cover letter (out of the country; position cut during budget cuts; raising a family; unemployed due to the recession). If I don’t see anything it makes me wonder whether the candidate was fired or let go for some reason. This concern is allayed if a reference from the manager at the last place of employment is included.I have hired someone with a substantial gap – she wrote in her cover letter and discussed at her interview that she was raising a family and was now ready to come back into the job market. That person was ready and she was a great addition to our staff and has gone on to an excellent career.
- Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
Manya ShorrThe term “red flag” has a negative connotation that doesn’t express how I react when I see an extended leave on a resume. I notice it, but it doesn’t make me question whether the person is qualified. What it does it create a space to have a conversation about the leave. In other words, it would absolutely not preclude me from wanting to interview a qualified person. That said, I think the applicant should come to the interview prepared to talk about how they stayed current in the library world while they were on leave (or how they’ve caught up since they’ve been back). Best practices in public libraries seem to change frequently and the last thing an applicant should do is talk about an outdated program, policy or practice. A leave is fine but falling behind is not.
- Manya Shorr, Senior Manager, Branch Services, Omaha Public Library

Terry Ann LawlerNo.  Unless you were fired from your last job and did absolutely nothing for the last year.  I think over all experience in the fields which I need are more important than a gap in employment   I have, several times, hired people who had gaps in their resume.  People will usually explain a gap in some way, like that they started a family, went back to school, took care of an aging or sick family member, etc.

I  have seen this addressed in the cover letters, which, I think is appropriate.  I think it is not important to give too many facts about a gap, but it is important to address it in some short way.  Maybe a line or two to state why there is a gap and to state how you have kept professionally relevant during that gap. If you spend too much time explaining yourself, you take up valuable page real estate that could be used to talk about your awesome skills.
I think the same goes for a resume.  If you have a chronological based resume (although I would recommend you don’t), you could address the gap with its own date and a brief explanation.  For example:
Nov 1994- Aug 1999 – Electronic Resources Librarian, XXX State Library
Aug 1999-Feb 2000 – Long Term Relative Home Care
Mar 2000- Present – Cashier, Barnes and Noble Book Store
Again, I don’t think it is as important to explain a gap in employment as it is to highlight your skill sets and why you are the right person for the job.  Don’t lie about it, but don’t over stress something you can’t change. Focus on what is positive about you and your employment history and what you learned during that down time.
- Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library
Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.

If you’re interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

And thanks to YOU for reading! 

Alice the camel has TWO comments.

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Filed under Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Extended Leaves of Absence, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public, Topical Series, Youth Services

One response to “Further Questions: Are Gaps in a Resume Really a Red Flag?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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