After a personal loss, I took a work sabbatical starting April 2004. During that time, I sold my home, moved closer to family, started a business and volunteered through an agency in my community. My former employer asked me to come back several times and because of various circumstances, it didn't ever work out.
A year and a half after my move, family issues became the deciding factor for me to relocate once again, this time to my hometown. Unable to find work in an area with high unemployment, I recently chose to relocate for hopefully the last time before retirement and am now in an area with very low unemployment and high job growth.
Although I have an excellent background and qualifications, I am well over 50 and have not worked for an employer for over three years now. I have spent 10-12 hours a day for the past year and a half searching for work and even though employers seem to be impressed with my qualifications, that's as far as it goes and getting an interview has been rare. I am becoming discouraged, frustrated, and quite frankly, worried.
I have a functional resume, which I think is well-written, and I tailor it to each job I apply for. I'm also happy with the cover letter, however, I have never addressed my employment gap in my cover letter. What is the best way for me to handle the employment gap in my cover letter? And if I do explain the gap in a cover letter, which paragraph should I put it in? Do you have any employment advice for me?
Thank you for any advice.
by Jan Melnik, MRW, CCM, CPRW, President, Absolute Advantage
Dear Job Seeker:
I think anyone reading your story can appreciate your circumstances—and understand the difficulties you describe. There are several suggestions I can offer that may help to make the difference.
First of all, although I have not seen your functional resume, you describe it as well-written. I believe this format may be doing you a disservice, no matter how well the resume is written. Functional resumes, for the most part, scream out to employers that something’s awry—whether it be job-hopping or, as in your situation, a big gap. You see, one of the big problems with a functional resume is that the reader has no idea the context in which the accomplishments or responsibilities existed. In addition, because of the negative vibes a functional resume puts out, there is nearly always the thought that you are trying to hide something. Three years is a long time and even though your reasons were totally understandable and valid, it is a barrier to overcome.
The best strategy, in my opinion, is to be open and direct—confront the situation head-on! We’ll get to what you say in the cover letter in a moment, but how you do this on the resume is pretty straightforward:
Take all the great statements about your signature strengths and qualifications that currently are included, I’m guessing, in your functional resume and move them up to the top—under your contact information. This profile section is the most important item on your resume and it’s where you want to load up with the most transferable skills you have (related to the job opportunity at hand—certainly pick and choose to meet the needs of each prospective employer). This section can occupy about a third to a half of a page on your resume. It’s prominent, should be attention-getting, and written in crisp bullet points (but not too many, please, you don’t want the “laundry-list look”). You should strive not to have all one-line bullet points—mix up the length so that some are two lines, even three lines in length and others can be one line. These points should include solid illustrations of what you have accomplished—bring up some of your most notable achievements to this section.
Then segue to the experience portion of the resume where you should present a clear reverse-chronological description of each of your relevant experiences. For the recent three-year timeline, I’d recommend something like this:
Entrepreneur/Volunteer -- Montgomery, AL / Sarasota, FL / Atlanta, GA, 2004-Present
Attended to family business matters while pursuing volunteerism within the community (very brief description, i.e., Angels of Mercy Hospice) and initiating a business start-up in the field of (brief description, i.e., wrote business plan and established Organize You!, a professional office-organizing practice).
Then provide chronological listings detailing scope of responsibility and key accomplishments for each of the following positions.
Now with a strong resume that isn’t hiding anything but presents your value-added accomplishments front and center in the top profile section followed by a clean, easy-to-read and understandable chronological work experience section, the reader knows exactly what you have to offer.
Cement the proposition with a strong cover letter that puts a positive spin on what you present but be true and authentic (without knowing all the details, I can’t be sure just what your situation is).
After your opening paragraph expressing interest and listing some of the key matching strengths you have to offer, go on to the second paragraph where you outline some more about your background and discuss the gap. Here’s an example to start you off, I’m using sales as the field, but substitute whatever is accurate for your situation.
Throughout my career, I have developed an outstanding reputation for delivering value in virtually every sales position I have held. My numbers consistently eclipse all quotas and I always rank in the top 5% of sales professionals in any organization. I attribute these successes to excellent relationship management skills and a keen ability for cultivating the right type of business. During the past three years, I took advantage of the opportunities presented through some family business matters to relocate several times and, at the same time, give back to the community while starting my own business venture. With family matters resolved and my relocation to (town you are in now) complete, I have concluded the best value I can provide is working professionally in the field of (describe) as a (state the title). I am confident that with my experience and proven background of success, I can be an immediate contributor to (company name’s) operations.
Then move into a strong closing paragraph. You see how easy it is to simply describe matter-of-factly the period of time that has elapsed without too much detail—yet always focusing on your skills, what you have to offer, and your enthusiasm for joining the firm?
Good luck in your new career pursuits!
Jan Melnik, MRW, CCM, CPRW, is a job-search coach and resume writer; she has operated her own practice, Absolute Advantage, for 24 years and works with clients coast-to-coast in the development of exceptional materials and strategies. She is the author of 7 books, including Executive’s Pocket Guide to ROI Resumes & Job Search.