A recent question posed to a general Q & A site sparked my interest: “Why do employers avoid hiring job seekers who have been out of work for a while?” The question was interesting, but the responses were even more interesting with some valuable lessons for job seekers.
Related: How To Handle Career Gaps On Your Resume
The initial answer placed all the blame on employers: a) a presumed “shelf-life” to skills, b) you’re “stale,” or c) “if you were any good, you’d already have a job.” Then, in an unhelpful statement, the respondent wrote: “It’s wrong on a dozen levels.” without providing even one as even an example. For over a dozen additional responses, most agreed with further criticism for HR while one respondent asked for elaboration on what’s “wrong.” While there is clear evidence that this bias does exist in some hiring managers and HR representatives, it is also clear that job seekers need to face some other realities.
Reality #1 – Candidate Volume
Too many job seekers assume they are the best candidate for every job they apply for. Wrong! First of all, in most cases, you are one of a hundred (or hundreds) of applicants. Many are going to be equally qualified; some are likely to be more qualified. Your resume or online submission is likely to be scanned for key words related to accomplishments, skills, and/or education. You may be rejected for a reason completely unrelated to “job gaps” on your resume. Given the high volume of resumes that are screened out by automated searches, your “job gap” could easily be an unknown factor.
Reality #2 – Resume Quality
Whether or not the decision on your application is affected by candidate volume, the quality of your resume is very likely to be a determining factor. A hiring manager or recruiter’s job is to very quickly sort a high volume of resumes into some type of grading, often a simple A-B-C rating. Research on this has shown that 80-90% of resumes end in the “B” pile, e.g., because of an obvious experience mismatch, or in the “C” pile, e.g., because of a poor quality resume. I’ve been receiving resumes almost daily for review, and more than 90% are immediate “C” pile because of boring, “facts only” descriptions of experience, small font size, tiny margins, or completely irrelevant information. Your resume may be missing the “A” pile for nothing related to your “job gaps.” In today’s competitive market, only “A” resumes are likely to survive.
Reality #3 – Interview Quality
Here’s one possibility where a candidate’s “job gap” may be directly responsible for rejection – but not because of the “job gap” itself. Interviewing several candidates, I’ve noted that “job gaps” are often explained very poorly:
- “Let me tell you about the jerk who ran that department.”
- “That company was so poorly managed…”
- “I just got burned out and decided to take a few months off.”
In today’s working world, the majority of HR professionals and hiring managers are aware that individuals quit jobs, are laid off, or have jobs eliminated for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their track record of accomplishments. However, if a candidate focuses on almost any variation of a “not my fault” explanation, it is not the “job gap” that’s hurting.
The broader issue of interview preparation is relevant here too. If a candidate is poorly prepared to answer questions about their accomplishments, e.g. answers that are too short or too long, then it is very likely the candidate is not scoring well on the interview – whether or not there are “job gaps.”
Many organizations today are placing a significant emphasis on “fit.” Interviewers are attempting to measure how well a candidate fits the organization’s culture. For some organizations, it is considered the most important factor. A candidate with a “job gap” may have the right skills and accomplishment, the right education – and yet again, be judged as not as qualified compared to other candidates based on perceived “fit.”
There’s a final key point here – related to the interview. If a candidate has been granted an interview, it means the “job gap” did not affect that choice for initial screening or the resume review. So it is much more likely it is one of the other problems identified above. I’ll vote for poor interview preparation and lack of “practice, practice, practice” in most cases.
Reality #4 – Background/Social Media Check
A recent study showed that 94% of company’s used LinkedIn as part of their recruiting process. Organizations routinely use outside agencies to perform background and reference checks. There are many possibilities here for turning a positive interview into a rejection. Here’s an obvious one: What did your supervisor at the company that downsized you say about your performance? Alternatively, how is the “job gap” explained on your LinkedIn profile?
A Note On “Consulting”
It was mentioned in the discussion on “job gaps” that a recommended alternative to the “job gap” is “consulting.” I do not recommend this unless you are really consulting and can document this activity with accomplishments and results. A skilled interviewer will quickly uncover a “consultant” claim that doesn’t include some meaningful accomplishments. Moreover, that will eliminate you as a viable candidate.
I do believe that some candidates are rejected for an interview or a job just because of “job gaps.” However, the assertion that it is wrong for a dozen unknown reasons is a poor argument when there is likely a much different reason for the rejection. If a candidate has a strong resume, prepared and practiced answers to interview questions – including about the “job gap” – and has carefully addressed their social media presence, it won’t be the “job gap” that’s preventing them from receiving an offer.
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