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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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When is a gap good, in your view? –  Joe Strazzere Jan 24 at 21:16
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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 at 0:18
    
while all of those things might be good from the point of view of the individual, they are seldom good from the employer's or future employer's point of view. Perhaps not the way things should be, but just the way they are (IMHO). –  Joe Strazzere Jan 25 at 19:24
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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 at 22:46
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"common wisdom"! no such thing. –  Sam Jan 26 at 6:41
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4 Answers

up vote 9 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 at 21:31
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@yochannah not that either of those reasons are necessarily much better.. –  enderland Jan 24 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 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 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 at 0:35
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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 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 at 18:02
    
@JuhaUntinen - and changing careers might be just what they need to do in order to avoid years-long gaps on their resume. –  Joe Strazzere Jan 27 at 20:32
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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 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 at 7:19
    
two not to EQUAL –  Parks Banyon Jan 28 at 7:19
    
"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 at 17:41
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