There are many reasons why you may find yourself with a gap on your CV.
Maybe you were laid off, fired, or you quit your last job because it wasn't a good fit. Perhaps you've just been struggling to get a full-time graduate position since leaving uni and more time has gone by than you'd like.
CV gaps are understandable, but they are a red flag to potential employers. They can suggest you're an uncertain hire who doesn't stick at roles for long and raise questions as to why you haven't been working for several months prior to applying. So, anything you can do to minimise their impact on your application is crucial.
I spoke to Lara Shannon, who works at Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment, the largest private practice legal recruiter in the UK. She tells me, "recruiters understand that finding the perfect role can sometimes take several weeks. However, anything over two to three months will probably require further investigation.
"Particularly if the candidate has great work experience, it begs the question: Why has this candidate, who appears to tick all the boxes and be a rising star in their chosen career, struggled to find a new role?"
Here are 6 things you can do to stop CV gaps damaging your chances of landing that grad job.
1. Use a summary statement wisely.
If you already have a gap on your CV in the recent past, use your summary statement at the top of your CV to tie your employment history together. You should avoid directly explaining why you've left previous positions, but instead bridge the gaps between employment and unemployment by succinctly telling your overall story. In no more than 100 words, talk about how you came to be where you are in your career, the skills you've accumulated along the way, and what you hope to be doing in future.
Lara says, "with any CV, consistency is key to showing you're a talented and hardworking candidate." It's worrying, however, when that consistency is in the form of regular gaps, which "may result in the candidate coming across as someone who hasn't demonstrated commitment and determination to succeed in their market."
Your summary statement is a great opportunity to iron out any inconsistencies the hiring manager might pick up on. For example, if you left a role to focus on a different path or industry, use your statement to briefly, in exclusively positive language, explain your shift.
2. Play to your strengths.
When you're compiling your CV, it can be very easy to focus on and worry about any gaps. But you should avoid taking up valuable space dwelling on your shortcomings. Instead, focus your efforts on communicating all the things that would make you amazing at the role on offer.
Your CV should be tailored to the job you're applying for, using data and facts to demonstrate the positive impact you had at previous companies. Aim to make your CV so strong employers will overlook gaps and be eager to meet you at interview. You can read more here about how to make sure your CV attracts attention for all the right reasons.
3. Don't hide what you did in your CV gap.
If you spent a couple of months out of full-time work because you were travelling, volunteering or undertaking further study - that can certainly be used to your advantage. So, don't hide volunteer work in its own section, write it into your Experience section and employment chronology. Pull out the skills you developed and experiences you had in this time to show how they will transfer to the job at hand.
As Lara says, "if you have a wide range of different experiences in part-time roles and internships, take the opportunity to showcase transferable skills and a well-rounded commitment to career development."
4. List your education before your work experience.
When structuring your CV, if you're a recent graduate, your degree is still pretty important to employers. Hiring managers don't expect you to have years of solid experience under your belt yet, so, until you have a decent amount of work history it's best to put your Education section at the top. This should also hopefully diminish the effect any gaps since uni might have. Find out more about how to order your CV as a recent graduate and download our free template here.
5. If you're in a CV gap right now - start doing something about it. Immediately.
When you're looking for jobs and eager to land something ASAP, it can feel like a waste to take time away from applications to do other things - but you'll be glad you did. If you aren't already, try one of these things to boost your CV: sign up to volunteer in your area, start your own blog or research project to write about, put your portfolio online to get freelance work, take on a short course to learn a new skill or language. Then, include it on your CV and talk about how that something extra and different makes you an incredible candidate.
There are plenty of things you can do to make yourself more and more employable while you're searching for a long-term role. Attending a course to improve your skillset demonstrates you're ambitious and eager to develop, and an increasing amount of companies look really favourably on volunteer work and the values it demonstrates. So, don't just wait for the ideal full-time opportunity to come along; use your time well.
6. Finally, be prepared to discuss it at interview.
Following the advice above will certainly help strengthen your CV and encourage an employer to look past any gaps and interview you. However, you should expect to be asked about inconsistencies in your work history.
Lara says, "gaps will generally need a valid explanation and candidates should be prepared for this."
She adds, "If the application is a strong one, we may investigate the gap at the interview stage or over the phone. Remember, recruiters are always keen to find quality candidates, so if your CV and work experience looks great, we're usually happy to get in touch to find out whether any CV gaps are justifiable."
When that moment comes, make sure you have your answer prepared so you aren't caught off-guard. Aim to be honest, but avoid using negative language like "laid off" or "fired". Never badmouth your previous employers or assign blame.
Your best bet, if and when it comes up, is to tackle it quickly and honestly. Demonstrate that the gap was used well. Then, focus the conversation on the future and what you can bring to the company.