Painting Yourself in the Best Light While Out of Work

by Brian Skory

Previously, I've dealt with the topic of how to handle gaps in your employment history, but one gap that can be particularly troublesome is the one at the very top of your resume if you have been out of work for some time. No one raises an eyebrow if your last date of employment was a month ago, or maybe even two, but as each additional increment of time goes by it can be particularly challenging to mitigate the negative impression this will undoubtedly create in the resume-reviewer's mind.

If you provide no accounting of how you've been spending your time while you've been out of work, that blank slate will provide the backdrop for any number of assumptions, none of which will likely be favorable or even accurate. Rather than permitting that to happen, head this one off at the pass by making sure you are engaging in activities, while actively seeking employment. That will create an impression of an unemployed individual who is making the best of their time away from the workforce.

Examples might include:

  • Getting a certification in your field. These can often be attained at local community colleges or universities and online. This might be the perfect time for someone interested in project management to pursue their PMP Certification, or for a BA to explore becoming a Certified Business Analyst Professional.

    On your resume, note: "Took advantage of time off from work to obtain some professional certifications including…"

  • If your last positions have not allowed you to work with updated versions of languages or modern frameworks, now could be a good time to take some online classes and make your resume skills matrix look current and relevant.

    On your resume, note: "Completed the following online courses…"

  • Look for opportunities to do some freelance work or contribute to open source projects. These are valid work events that can go on your resume while you are looking for that next full-time job.

    On your resume, note: "Engaged as a Freelance Software Developer working on the following projects…"

  • Become active in a local user group, even taking on an elected officer role if possible.

    On your resume, note: "Took on a leadership role with the local .NET Users Group which included lining up monthly speakers and driving up membership attendance."

Anyone can find themselves in a tough, slow market, but showing yourself productive during that period can make all the difference when it comes to landing an interview once that opportunity finally does role around.
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