How to Overcome Resume Gaps When Hiring

Posted by Scott Smith on Nov 1, 2019 9:00:00 AM

In ICS insights, client, Hiring Tips

When a job candidate has gaps in their employment history, recruiters and hiring managers take noticebut not in a good way. Recruiters like to see full work histories, and they worry when candidates have gaps in employment.

Why Resume Gaps are Problematic for Recruiters

Recruiters see those resume gaps as problematic for several reasons. More often than not, they assume that holes in work history are due to being unemployable. When recruiters see holes in work histories, they immediately put those resumes in the "NO" pile, leaving candidates without any chance to explain the gaps.

Should Hiring Practices Change?

Are recruiters making mistakes by ignoring resumes with employment gaps? Possibly. They don't fully know the story behind why those resume gaps exist. Instead, recruiters make assumptions that those periods of unemployment are due to negative reasons. This might be a standard operating procedure for many recruiters, but it could be a sign of bad hiring practices, too.

Where Does the Bias Begin?

The bias against candidates with employment gaps undeniably exists, not from recruiters but mainly from hiring managers. They view that when employees stay in a job, it shows that they are loyal and trustworthy. Employees with complete work histories also receive positive feedback from their previous employers and hiring managers.

Long tenures are always favored, and gaps are considered red flags. Hiring managers would wonder why candidates with employment gaps didn't work for a long time, and they associate it with negative behavior. Those red flags create an instant bias against the work gaps. If anything has to be changed for people who have honest work gaps, the changes have to come from hiring managers who need to be considerate in asking candidates why they have such gaps. Then, the shift will trickle to their recruiters.

How Many Years is Too Much?

ResumeGo's study included over 30,000 resumes with employment gaps between one and five years. Some candidates gave reasons, while others did not. The study found that after a two-year employment gap, the chances of employers interviewing candidates dropped the most. If the work gap is two or three years, employers were highly unlikely to schedule interviews with candidates. If five years, they rarely call those candidates for interviews. However, when candidates with work gaps shared their reasons, their chances of getting interviewed did increase, especially if the reason involved outside training or education.

Shifting Hiring Practices in Response to Low Unemployment Rate

With unemployment at a serious low, both recruiters and hiring managers need to consider all options to find the best talent. They should give a fair chance and talk to everyone who has the qualifications. The best candidates could have holes in their employment history, but for legitimate reasons. Those holes could be due to pressing family issues, education opportunities, or other reasons that show a potential candidate's strengths. When recruiters and hiring managers ignore resumes with gaps, they could be missing out on a possible star.

Removing Bias with Satisfactory Explanations

To change negative impression like laziness or inability to find a job, candidates with employment gaps need to provide a clear and sensible reason. According to ResumeGo, the following are acceptable reasons and can remove hiring manager concerns about employment gaps:

  1. Caring for a family member with a chronic illness
  2. Dealing with personal chronic illnesses
  3. Continuing education
  4. Raising children

Learning to Look Differently at Resume Gaps

Hiring managers and recruiters should consider candidates with employment gap and probe them further about it. The questions should not be judgmental in nature. Instead, they can start with why they left their previous job or what made them choose their next role. Recruiters must let the conversation happen to get the information they want and to ensure that candidates are viewed without any bias.

Upon probing candidates, recruiters and hiring managers must be prepared to uncover and respond to internal or external reasons. If the reason was external, like raising a family or a chronic illness, they can remove the red flag and let the candidate move to the next step. But if the reason was a bad boss or not receiving enough hours, then the red flag should be kept, as work ethic could be the candidate's problem. 

Avoid Questions that Violate Discrimination Laws

Hiring managers and recruiters should also be careful when gathering information. They should be knowledgeable about hiring laws, so they can avoid questions that could lead to hiring discrimination lawsuits.

When answering questions about employment gaps, candidates might talk about personal issues like mental illness, age, criminal records, or pregnancy. Hiring managers need to know how to professionally and responsibly respond to information that could lead to lawsuits and more bias.

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