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It is common wisdom that a person who has gone for months or years without a job is at a disadvantage in the hiring process. Such a gap in employment dates is considered to be a red flag.

Why?


There are some answers to this question nestled in existing questions, e.g.

... so I understand if this seems like a duplicate question. But no question directly asks why a gap is generally bad. There are certainly valid cases where it's bad, but there are just as many cases in which a gap is good. So this question is about why it is more likely to be bad. Are there any studies demonstrating that candidates with employment gaps correlate with unproductive hires? Or is this more of an unreasoned, intuitive bias we all have?

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People, of course, do other big things besides their jobs (babies, travel, education, health, their own personal or work-related projects, etc.) Taking the time to do them between jobs is hardly a strike against someone's employability. Sometimes the non-work projects could be done while holding a job -- in that case parts of the job often get done on company time. It's arguably better for the company if the employee focuses on work while holding the job, and focuses on other projects between jobs. (I work in a lucky industry -- software -- where most long gaps I know of are like that). – Travis Wilson Jan 25 '14 at 0:18
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It is not "the gap" itself that is considered bad. It really is the etiology of the gap-- if there's not an easy-to-understand explanation, many people will make assumptions which may or may not reflect reality. – Angelo Jan 25 '14 at 22:46
    
Although there may be the same number of valid reasons, most people do not have gaps in their employment for good reasons. It's more common for it to be a bad sign. – JeffO Jan 27 '14 at 20:43
    
They've (employers and everyone) been itching to discriminate but keep running up against socially unacceptable targets until they run into us gappers, at which point they really let us have it. That's the less charitable but most honest explanation. – Vandermonde Sep 30 '15 at 20:02
up vote 12 down vote accepted

It is generally assumed that your career will be a progression of increasing productivity, responsibility, and authority. You would leave one job in order to "move up" to another position in another company.

A gap in job history implies that the end of the previous job was not voluntary on your part, and that the company let you go. If the separation was due to personal circumstances (an injury/illness that made you unable to work for some time, spouse moved to take a new job, etc.) then explaining the circumstances can help, but only if you get an interview. Also, being part of a large layoff should be noted in the resume. If your division lost 1,500 jobs, and you were in that pool, then note it: "Was included in a large layoff" or something similar.

Also, prior to the Bush/Obama Depression (or whatever you want to call it), it was assumed that skilled and competent employees would quickly be able to find other positions. Again, that assumption has had to change, recently, but some who've been fortunate enough to keep their positions through all of this haven't had to adjust their personal thinking on this subject, yet.

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A gap might mean you stormed off in a huff, or simply left because you were unhappy in your job for some reason. It doesn't have to mean you were dismissed. – yochannah Jan 24 '14 at 21:31
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@yochannah not that either of those reasons are necessarily much better.. – enderland Jan 24 '14 at 21:57
    
Wesley, I like this answer, but you're implying a couple of things. First ("A gap in job history implies that the end of the previous job was not voluntary on your part"): that someone would only quit a job if he had another job lined up. Second ("it was assumed that skilled and competent employees would quickly be able to find other positions"): that a skilled employee would want quickly to find other positions (instead of, say, spending more time to find a better job). I suspect, sadly, that those things are probably true. Do you have any more perspective on it? – Travis Wilson Jan 24 '14 at 23:59
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@TravisWilson - I explicitly stated it was an implication, and that the second point was an assumption. What's your point? The issue is that many lack perspective, and you have to realize that point to effectively address gaps in employment history. – Wesley Long Jan 25 '14 at 0:32
    
@Wesley: not a big deal, but you missed my point. There were unstated implications I was trying to add. If 1) there is a gap in job history AND 2) someone would not quit a job without another one lined up, THEN 3) the end of the previous job was not voluntary. You stated #3 and I'm adding #2. #3 doesn't follow unless you infer #2. Similarly 1) a skilled employee would find a job IF 2) he actually wanted one. In any case your answer shows the insights that best answer my question, so thanks. – Travis Wilson Jan 27 '14 at 0:35

The company will want you to explain every gap in your work history. They are concerned that you are hiding something. Were you fired from the employer you didn't mention? Were you in jail? Were you unemployed? Were you under employed?

Some answers and gaps aren't a concern, but they want to make sure that they understand everything you have included in your work history and what you haven't included in your history.

There have been questions on this site where individuals wanted to create gaps by not mentioning bad experiences. Or they wanted to fudge dates to hide a gap or a bad experience. This just leads to problems if they are caught.

If you have a gap that you think needs explaining just tell the truth and specify the reason on your resume:

  • Spent school year abroad;
  • Volunteered with the Peace Corps;
  • Trained for the Olympics;
  • Unemployed.
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It is common wisdom that a person who has gone for months or years without a job is at a disadvantage in the hiring process. Such a gap in employment dates is considered to be a red flag.

Why?

For some jobs it might not matter at all. For others, it clearly does.

I work in software. When I hire, I look for someone who views the role as a profession, and wants to be in it for the long haul. Gaps in the employment history make that harder to project.

If someone has gone for months and years without a job, it makes me wonder if they really want to work now. Perhaps work isn't really important, perhaps it's not necessary, perhaps the applicant just isn't sure. Maybe the work routine won't be to their liking. Perhaps the applicant will get bored and decide to stop working again. Perhaps they will only work long enough to gather money for their next trip around the world - if they did it once, maybe they'll do it again.

For the people I've hired, the strongest predictor of success is their most recent work history. If they are currently performing a very similar job now, then they have a higher chance to slide into this new job and do well. Someone who hasn't worked recently makes for a far riskier hire.

Also, in my industry, things change quickly. Someone who has been out of the workforce for a while is at a disadvantage compared to those who have been living and growing in this profession all along.

It's certainly possible to hire people with gaps in their employment history. I have hired women who wanted to get back into the workforce after being out to take care of their children. But during the interview process, they were clearly at a disadvantage compared to others who didn't have that break in the work timeline. Some have worked out well, others simply did not.

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You have to consider the contemporaneous economic conditions in employment gaps. In software dev you'll often see 3-12 month gaps from the 2001-2003 dot-com-bust and the 2008-present recession because jobs were scarce in many regions and technologies. – jfrankcarr Jan 25 '14 at 17:02
    
Even highly experienced ex-Nokia employees with Master's degrees are having a hard time finding work in the current economy of Finland. O tempora, o mores... Many of them have had to change careers simply because there is no work. – Juha Untinen Jan 27 '14 at 18:02
    
This is a special case. When a single company, which has most dev jobs in the whole nation, does a massiv personell cutdown, of course you have many unemployed devs. If one, as a dev, now tries to find a new job in that country, every HR should know this. If he/she tries to find a new job in another country, he/she has a VERY legitim explanation. An HR who doesn't understand that a gap occured due all of a sudden 1/4 of all devs in the country got unemployed is an idiot. I don't want to work for a company which hires that kind of idiots. – Sempie Oct 5 '15 at 7:56

As someone in the upper echelon's of management, another answer is people with multiple gaps and "job hoppers" can be indicative of a negative psychological condition. Lack of commitment, people problems, authority issues, etc. As said above having and explaining valid reasons help negate the apparent inconsistency, as long as you don't frequently have valid reasons for continually doing so.

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I can see how a job hopper would be (generally) less desirable. (Though, ironically, people who never leave their job are also never on the job market.) But the question is about the gaps between jobs. In other words, if two similar candidates have each had 5 jobs in an 8-year period, but candidate A had three one-year gaps between those jobs: why is candidate B more desirable? – Travis Wilson Jan 25 '14 at 23:37
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In that specific scenario "B" has acquired 3 years more working experience, and as previously mentioned "appears" to be more committed to the workplace. Given to EQUAL candidates you look for anything that gives one a greater edge over the other. – Parks Banyon Jan 28 '14 at 7:19
    
two not to EQUAL – Parks Banyon Jan 28 '14 at 7:19
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"more committed to the workplace" -- this is an excellent and concise explanation. It addresses why someone would want to get a job after leaving a previous job (which is very different from why someone would leave the previous job.) ... Any particular company would certainly want someone committed to that company, but it's not obvious that it'd want someone who's committed to the workplace in general. But I can see how lots of employers would want that anyway. – Travis Wilson Jan 29 '14 at 17:41

As you said, it is considered a red flag just like anything else that potentially puts you in a negative light. The word potentially is critical here. I means something to investigate further in many cases or possibly most case it means someone to investigate deeper or someone not to bother with if there are other well-qualified people who do not a potential negative who have applied.

Getting hired is a competition, your qualifications are compared to those of the other applicants as are you personal traits. Having a gap may not throw you out entirely, but it almost certainly lowers your ranking in the minds of those evaluating potential hires. If it lowers it enough, you won't be asked to interview and you lose the chance to sell yourself.

AS to why gaps cause people to lower the ranking, there are many reasons.

First it means you have less experience than others of roughly the same age group. This often a problem because the guy 5 years out of school with two years worth of gap time, wants to make the roughly same amount as his more experience age peers. It also often mean they apply for jobs they are not actually ready to do based on their current level of accomplishments. That makes the person a riskier hire.

Sometimes a gap means the person has health issues that the company may not want to take on. Or he may have spent time in jail. Or some other disastrous personal problem that may or may not have been resolved. That makes the person a riskier hire.

Sometimes it means that he or she is not well qualified even if the resume appears to be so. A lot of people with large gaps do not interview well and that is why they are not getting a job. This makes hiring officials then see a gap and think, this is person no other company wanted, so why should I? I have seen many interviews where the people who look well qualified can't answer easy questions about their own profession, so this becomes a concern when you interview a lot of people. That makes the person a riskier hire.

In some fields a large gap may men the person has lost touch with the technical knowledge of the profession. That makes the person a riskier hire. T(his is most likely to apply only for a current gap not a past one.)

More troubling to many employers are the people who choose to step out of the workforce for personal, but not family emergency type reasons. If you quit your last job to go hiking in the Andes, then the next employer is going to wonder if he is going to be left in the lurch, the next time the whim to go play hits. I have seen people who are able to do this and find jobs immediately when they are ready to come back to work, but only because their performance is so superior that companies are willing to take the chance. If you are not in the top 1%, then this is something that is likely to cause companies to lose interest. Especially if you do it more than once. It indicates not only a lack of commitment to a particular employer but a lack of commitment to working at all and that is just unacceptable to many hiring officials. That makes the person a riskier hire.

Because so many of the reasons for a gap make the person a riskier hire, hiring officials tend to take gaps seriously. How seriously of course depends on the individual hiring official, how hard the job is to fill (gaps are much less likely to be knockout factors when the job is hard to fill), how impressive the rest of the package looks and the relative ranking to other people who applied for the job. This is not to say people with gaps can't get jobs, just that it puts them at a disadvantage in the hiring process, so avoidable gaps should be avoided.

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