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Addressing the elephant in the room

“Many people have gaps in their resume because their employer went out of business or they themselves had health issues, and being clear in that explanation is really important,” says Mark Franklin, president of CareerCycles, a Toronto-based career counselling company.

When discussing a lapse in employment Franklin suggests the “sandwich approach,” where you acknowledge it and follow up with a positive example of what you’ve learned from the experience.

The advantage of this approach is that you can simultaneously address the gap and turn it into a positive. What you’ve learned then becomes the main focus.

Talk about the tasks that you accomplished with your time off, such as taking an online course, can be important conversation pieces and demonstrate that you have used your time effectively. Showing a desire to continuously improve will make you a great investment for any employer, Ince says.

Those who have taken time off to care for family can showcase important values such as empathy and caring. These qualities are highly valued by many employers and can set you apart from other candidates, Franklin says.

“Don’t miss the personal learning you did while you had that time off,” Franklin says.

While confronting the work gap is important, Franklin suggests not spending too much time on the subject if you can. Instead, discuss your current skills and qualifications. That way, the conversation focuses more on what you’ve accomplished.

The gap can be disheartening but it doesn’t need to be detrimental to your career and mental health. Seeking out a career coach or other professional can be a valuable tool and experience for sorting out your future.

“I personally would rather hire somebody who had that strength of character and confidence to be able to do that,” Ince says.

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How to re-enter the workforce

When working with people who want to re-enter the workforce, Ince begins with a discovery session, which typically lasts for two hours. She uses the session to assess her clients’ strengths and get an understanding of their career goals.

People may have all the necessary information on their previous job titles, but they sometimes don’t do a good enough job selling themselves. Representing yourself honestly is crucial but people don’t always give themselves enough credit, Ince says.

“For resumes, the mistake I see almost exclusively is there's not enough specific data to demonstrate their impact on the organization,” Ince says, adding that a resume should be about how you impacted the role and not only what you did.

Only explaining job responsibilities may not be enough to attract employer attention. Discussing the benefit you brought to your company is a more appealing measure toward being a good fit. Instead of saying you edited videos, say you edited videos that got X amount of views on YouTube. Use quantifiable results whenever possible in order to help sell yourself to an employer.

While it is important to market yourself effectively, you must also avoid dishonesty, since that can put you in a role where you won’t succeed.

“Let people see who you are and what you have to offer and whether or not it's a fit for you is up to them, but I think you've got to trust that process,” Ince says.

The importance of networking

Another area to examine is your social network, says Franklin.

One of the best ways to find a job is through another employee. In some cases companies may make use of an employee referral program, where they encourage employees to recommend new talent to join, Franklin says. Once the position is filled, the employee receives a reward for the referral.

Employee referral programs are among the most efficient ways to get a job because they aren’t open to the public. Most of the time these jobs aren’t posted publicly and applicants are only made aware if they were informed by a current employee.

The secrecy can be its own benefit, as there will be less competition compared to a job posting. Referred employees are often preferred over other applicants, depending on who is recommending you.

“You need to spend time building connections and relationships with others,” Franklin says. “We need to allocate an equal amount of time into building connections as well as submitting our resumes.”

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