CV TIPS - Are we done with the CV gap taboo?
Following the pandemic, more of the workforce are having pauses in their careers – and many employers are encouraging them to open up about their time away from the workplace.
One of the major shake-ups in the changed world of work has been huge swathes of the workforce leaving their posts, voluntarily or not. Furloughs and layoffs through spring 2020 left many employees out of full-time jobs, while The Great Resignation saw 47.8 million US workers quit their jobs in 2021 alone – many of them without other positions explicitly lined up. In the UK, by June 2022, there were 1.7 million economically inactive people looking for work.
Although voluntary resignation rates have cooled relative to their high point, plenty of workers are still leaving their positions. In addition, the economic slowdown and worries about a future recession have caused businesses to announce waves of job cuts into the new year, particularly in tech. As a result of this disruption, CVs are starting to look different – notably, they’re beginning to feature more gaps in employment.
Traditionally deemed a career taboo, employment discontinuity is becoming increasingly normalised. In some instances, these CV gaps are being rebranded as ‘career breaks’ – a time where a worker takes stock, re-charges and returns to the workplace anew. Still, while there’s been a significant uptick in resume gaps, and openness around discussing them, not all spells of unemployment are created equal.
Breaking down the taboo
Many workers have shifted around the labour market in the past three years. Not everyone who has left their job will have immediately begun their next role.
Along with some people switching industries or turning freelance, others are taking voluntary breaks for mental-health reasons. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, there are a half-million more UK workers out of the labour force because of long-term illness since the pandemic. Another 1.75 million UK employees have paused their careers due to caring responsibilities, 84% of them women. And some estimates say more than 100,000 global tech workers have lost their jobs since 2022. On top of the standard time needed to search for a new role, companies have also given many of these workers redundancy packages that mean they don’t necessarily have to rush straight back to work.
When – and if – these workers return to the workforce, they’ll have resume gaps. Traditionally, these holes in employment have been stigmatised by recruiters, who ask candidates to explain them away. “Recruiters were once taught to treat any CV gaps as a red flag,” says Adam Nicoll, group marketing director at recruitment and job-consulting firm Randstad, based in Luton, UK. “Employing people is risky – there’s jeopardy everywhere. A spell between jobs would be an area for scrutiny: to check if you’re employing a safe pair of hands for the role.”
Missing time in a CV is now generally met with open curiosity rather than an assumption of a person’s poor performance or reliability – Jill Cotton
Candidates have long been aware of the career-gap taboo. Nicoll says much of it is tied to the perceived shame of being unemployed. It’s why jobseekers have historically embellished their resumes so it appears they’ve been in continuous employment. “Following the 2008 financial crash, there was a surge of CVs showing people in steady, full-time employment suddenly followed by ‘freelance consultant’. No one was freelancing: they were just covering obvious gaps in their career.”
Generational differences between employers and those they hire have also fuelled this career-gap anxiety, adds Nicoll. “More experienced people are more likely to be in the hiring position. Up until the 2000s, the narrative has been to climb the career ladder, and reach the top, as soon as possible. Career breaks were less common for older hiring managers, so there was more likely to be scepticism on their part if the candidate opposite them had taken time out.”
Throughout the decades, however, more employees that had taken gap years or sabbaticals have found themselves hiring positions, says Nicoll, softening the stigma around employment discontinuity. The sheer number of people who’ve left their jobs or been laid off in the wake of Covid-19, has further shifted attitudes resume gaps have shifted. “Missing time in a CV is now generally met with open curiosity rather than an assumption of a person’s poor performance or reliability,” says Jill Cotton, careers-advice expert at company-reviews website Glassdoor, based in London.
In some cases, an employment gap is no longer something to conceal; on LinkedIn, workers can even highlight it on their profiles as a ‘career break’, where they can detail newly acquired skills or life experiences. In its March 2022 survey of 23,000 global workers, 62% of employees said they’d taken a break at some point in their professional career. This openness around resume gaps has coincided with a surge in redundancies, the shedding of the layoff taboo and workers writing epic farewell messages on the platform highlighting their experience of being cut.
“We’re seeing an increase in people being transparent and honest about having a gap in their CVs, and why,” says Charlotte Davies, consumer communications and career expert at LinkedIn, based in London. “It’s showing that a career break can offer an individual new skills, fresh perspectives and a renewed sense of energy when they return to the workforce.”
A fresh career break?
Even with the acceptance that a worker may not necessarily have linear career histories, not every employment gap is treated equally. A candidate that’s taken six months to upskill for a career switch may be judged more favourably than a job-seeker out of work for a year following burnout, says Nicoll.
“It still relies on the individual tastes of the recruiter scrutinising the CV,” he adds. “Unfortunately, there are some hiring managers who will still look at someone taking a career break for mental-health reasons as demonstrating a lack of resilience. On the other hand, no-one will ever think less of someone who’s taken time out to better themselves and learn new skills – it’s a CV gap that’s always been perceived positively.”
Likewise, a career pause for caring responsibilities has usually been treated sympathetically by hiring managers, says Nicoll. However, these carers – often women – may still be at a disadvantage against a similarly qualified jobseeker, especially if they’re an early-career candidate. “If someone had a year out to care for their family, they’ve still ultimately had a year’s less experience in the workplace. If it’s between someone who has three years’ experience versus someone who’s had four, there’s a more obvious difference in skill collection.”