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Writing a Stellar Resume even with Unemployment Gaps!

When it comes to securing gainful employment after you’ve been jobless, your potential employer’s decision to hire may come down to how your resume portrays your worth, rather than anything you said during the job interview. A poor resume may cause you to not even be considered for a position. Your resume has the power to make or break you.

There a three common resume formats: chronological, functional, and combination. A chronological resume focuses on the duties and time period of each job starting with the most recent. A functional resume hones in on the skills acquired rather than each individual job experience, and it usually neglects to include any sort of timeline. A combination resume is, as one may guess, a combination between the chronological and functional resume. It provides a timeline of job history but highlights your unique skill sets.

The most effective resume format to use when in a situation of unemployment is the combination style. Rather than centering your resume on the positions you’ve held and the amount of time you held them for, the combination resume suits unemployed persons best as it focuses the reviewer’s attention on the specific responsibilities you’ve had and the skills you’ve developed as a result. Even though it includes a timeline, the negative perception of any employment gaps should be lessened with greater emphasis placed on why you are a valuable employee regardless of those gaps.

This format offers flexibility to allow for adapting your resume to fit the specifics of any industry. The timeline makes your resume easily navigated, which most any employer will appreciate. No one wants to spend their time decoding a piece of paper.

Now, how does one write a combination resume? Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Find a template that appeals to you. There are many free resume templates available online to choose from. Stick with one or two colors (ideally black or a color close to black). Choose a template with a clean, professional layout. Having minor embellishments is okay, but don’t add too many artistic details, as this will clutter up your resume, causing it to look less professional.
  1. At the top of the template there will be a place to fill in your name and basic information (email, phone number, and address)
  1. The first section is the “Qualifications”: 4-5 bullet points stating what qualifies you for the job you’re applying for (this needs to be tailored to each job). This allows you to highlight your best skills and traits right away, which the employer will have in mind while they continue reviewing your qualifications, causing the employer to focus more on what you bring to the table and less on any gap(s) in employment. (Click here for examples)
  2. The next section should be your educational or professional experience (these two can be flipped around depending on your preference). The education section is straight forward: Include the institution, the degree or certificate obtained (or in progress), and the year it was (or will be) obtained. You should also highlight any important achievements, awards, skills gained, leadership qualities, or other relevant traits that contribute to painting a picture of your qualifications for the given job.
  1. For the professional experience section: list each job and the years (YYYY – YYYY) you were in the position. Do not include months – this leaves some ambiguity with employment gaps. In the interview you should be more detailed about start and end dates. It’s important to have integrity in conducting yourself around future employers – most employers will care more for your honesty than they do for your unemployment gap(s). For each job, include the main skills you used and acquired (e.g. client relations, sales, administration, marketing, etc.). Under each skill explain what you did and any evidence of that skill (award, recognition, ect.).
  1. Look back over your professional experience. Do you have any gaps spanning close to or more than 12 months? If so, what were you doing during this time? If you were a student, stay at home parent, caring for an ill loved one, taking a year to travel, or something of this nature, you should include it (“full-time student,” “full-time parent,” “full-time caregiver”). Be sure to outline any skills you exercised or developed during this time – interpersonal communications, persuasion (parenting stubborn children), time management, organization, etc. This helps close those gaps and show that you have been doing something even if it was not a traditional job. If you were on medical leave or unemployed because of the economy, do not include those. Employers may see you as a high risk for quitting, being fired, or otherwise terminating employment early on.
  1. Lastly, while you are in the midst of the job search, seek out a volunteer position can help your chances. It is something current you can put on your resume and the employer will look favorably on it. Having YYYY – present under your professional experience is never a bad thing, so try and figure out a way to get that on your resume!
  1. Before giving your resume to a potential employer be sure to edit it and have someone else edit it as well. Spelling, grammar, and format errors are silly reasons to not receive an interview and are easily avoided.
  • Use short phrases, terms, and descriptions (there is no need for sentences)
  • Be strategic with your font sizes and text decorations (bold, underline, italics, heading)
  • Keep the length to a max of two pages – preferably one page in length
  • Don’t be afraid to get creative with using the space on the page (try out tables, columns, rows). How your format it matters.
  • Use Headings
  • Be strategic with your text colors in conjunction with font types
  • Be sure to use a professional font. Some industries have a specific font that is typically used in professional communications. If that applies to your industry of interest, use that font in your resume.

Writing a resume is not easy, especially if you have employment gaps to work around. With a little guidance and some creativity, you should be able to create a stellar resume despite unemployment status. Overall, when it comes to working around unemployment gaps, the key thing to remember is that having those gaps doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Spin that time period to highlight your accomplishments rather than harping on our turbulent economy and job market.


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