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I have a few long gaps in my resume. I spent a lot of that time traveling the world. This isn't just one gap -- there's two or three gaps over the past decade and a half.

I also worked on my own personal software projects during these times, but nothing ever came of them. I don't even have the source anymore. Would it be ethical to put this on my resume under 'Myself company' or something like that? If not, what's a better way to manage this?

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If I were the recruiter, I would be very skeptical if you say you've taken a gap and did software projects, and didn't even have the source code(proof)! – Dawny33 Jan 25 at 11:08
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What's wrong with traveling the world? Can't have a better reason for a gap in the resume than that. – limdaepl Jan 25 at 11:29
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One aside, lots of companies are justifiably reluctant to employ ex-contractors on a permanent basis because of legitimate concerns about retention. Multiple transitions between self-employment and permanent work on a CV would be a serious red flag for many hiring managers. – Iain Galloway Jan 25 at 16:36
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@Dawny33 - I've never heard of a recruiter or hiring manager asking for "proof" of personal software projects. Does that ever happen? – Johnny Jan 25 at 18:50

This isn't just one gap -- there's two or three gaps over the past decade and a half.

These gaps aren't an issue as long as:

  • you were employed for the majority of this time
  • you didn't leave any jobs prematurely: you spent at least 2 years in every job before leaving a gap
  • the jobs still show career progression: if it's all entry-level work that may complicate your search and limit your opportunities

Based on your description you're just someone that enjoys taking an occasional sabbatical. This is typically known as taking a career break. While taking (several) career breaks is not typical in Western society, in most industries it won't be frowned upon. Taking career breaks should not be a limiting factor for your resume.

As such, there is no need to fill in the blanks by making something up. If you list yourself as being self-employed for those gaps, people will assume that you were working as a self-employed contractor in a similar position to the other experience you describe. It is never a good idea to have people assume things about your resume that aren't true. When they find out they'll often think you were lying or inflating your experience. In your case they'd be right.

The personal projects you describe simply don't hold up as substantial experience, especially when you have nothing to show for it. If you spent that time actively and significantly contributing to an open-source project or a proof-of-concept for a start-up then that would be actual experience you could list.

So to summarise: No, it would not be ethical to list self-employment during these gaps, but you also don't need to.

As those career breaks stand out, you'd usually explain them in your cover letter if they were recent. You'll also need to explain them well during interviews and make it clear that you're not seeking to take a break in the next few years. Since you apparently didn't have a problem finding new employment after earlier breaks, I assume you don't need help with that. If you do, have a look at the related questions in the tag.

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@JoeStrazzere Exactly. Listing a self-owned company or self-employment only works if it had a business component which means doing something that you're getting paid for (contracting) or developing something that's meant to make money even if it didn't pan out (start-up). The poster here is an example of the latter. – Lilienthal Jan 25 at 12:51
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It is never a good idea to have people assume things about your resume that aren't true. Yes. This. This cannot be understated. Unless you're seeking a job in politics, finding that you've lied to someone before even meeting them is a deal-breaker. – reirab Jan 25 at 19:17
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2 years is arbitrary and largely depends on your field – njzk2 Jan 25 at 23:14
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I like your answer. I don't like the heavy formatting. – Lasse Jan 26 at 6:53

If I were interviewing you, I would ask about the "gap" activities.

If you claim to have been traveling the world, that would be casual ice-breaker questions to help get to know you.

If you claim to have been self-employed as a developer, the questions would be much more focused. I would be, if anything, more interested in the work you did while self-employed than in the jobs. What sorts of things do you choose to work on? How productive are you when not supervised?

If travel were the primary activity during the gaps, the first set of questions would be easy to answer. If attempting to start a software business were the primary activity, the second set of questions would be easy.

This is a case in which the ethical course of action, an accurate resume, is also the most advantageous course of action.

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As a recruiter, I appreciate the honest answer such as I was backpacking through Europe experiencing diverse cultures and improving my communication skills. It is up to the recruiter to ask more deep dive questions as to why you chose to leave a position to go traveling. Or to ask why there are gaps. Many times the gaps are easily explained, "went back to school", "took care of an ill family member", " Was downsized" or I chose to start my own contracting business" all of which are acceptable explanations. Net Net - just be honest.

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Human resources do not live in a parallel universe. They are pretty aware that potential employees can decide to spend 1 year traveling the world. Candidates could also be taking care of a sick parent, or being sick themselves for 3 months.

All these things are not deal-breakers.

Where I live they will even try to avoid digging too much into personal details, not out of discretion, but just because this is opening a door for potential discrimination claims.

Candidates seem to worry way too much about whether HR will approve of their life-style choices. Being independent does not imply being incompetent. Lies, on the other hand, is a no-no.

Note: filling a past gap in your resume implies stretching the truth at best.

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