Your CV is often the first contact between you and a recruiter. When they look at it, their attention will immediately focus on your most recent work experience.
However, it may be that you have been away from the working world for a year or more, for any number of reasons. In this situation, some job seekers decide to lie and invent a “job” that they have been doing for some time. One common example is for someone to say they’ve been self-employed for a long period of time, even if they actually haven’t been working on anything.
Obviously, this is a risky strategy. Imagine if the recruiter starts asking questions about what types of services the person’s company provides, who their clients are, and so on. They might also be surprised to discover that the person doesn’t have a website for their business.
The reality is that a recruiter can forgive a candidate for being off the job market for a few years, if there’s a good explanation provided. But a flat-out lie is a lot less likely to be forgiven: if you’re willing to lie about something so substantial, they may ask themselves what else you are willing to lie about. Getting caught in a lie puts the entirety of your integrity in doubt.
There’s no miracle solution to fill in the gaps in one’s CV, but I have a few tips that might help.
1- Focus on presentation
Some books about the art of crafting a good CV suggest using tricks – for example, not listing dates next to employment experience, only the length of time employed – or trying out novel page layouts.
Personally, I believe that recruiters aren’t naïve, and will likely have no trouble picking up on these strategies.
In my opinion, using a skills-focused CV rather than a chronological one is an excellent way to make up for gaps in your CV without trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Even though you will still need to detail the chronology of your employment history, at least this information won’t be found on the very first page.
By using a skills-focused CV, you will be able to put your qualifications front-and-center, and present them in a separate context from your professional accomplishments. You can also speak about your volunteering experience, school projects or personal interests that you focused on while you were off the job market.
Keep in mind, however, that some recruiters dislike skills-focused CVs, because they find it difficult to navigate the unconventional format.
If you do decide to use a skills-focused CV in your job search, make sure to create an impeccable document. I suggest you read this article I wrote specifically on this subject:
2- Speak frankly
Sometimes, there’s no better solution to a problem than to simply tell the truth. Then you don’t have to worry about hiding anything! When it comes to applying for a job, your cover letter provides the opportunity to tell the story of what you’ve been doing while you’ve been away from the job market.
Remember that by choosing to be frank and honest, you will still need to act strategically. You will need to find the right angle to tell your story – the one that will work strongly in your favor.
The goal is to say just enough to inform the recruiter of your situation without getting lost in details. For example, the statement below might leave them perplexed:
I haven’t worked for two years due to some personal problems.
The first question that the recruiter will ask themselves is “What problems?” because this kind of statement raises their curiosity – and, absent any details, human nature may lead them to assume the worst.
On the other hand, you don’t want to confuse or bore a recruiter with unnecessary details:
I haven’t been working because my brother is sick and I have to take care of his kids. Well, they aren’t actually his kids – they’re his partner’s kids from a previous marriage. His ex-wife died. Well, actually she’s still alive, but in a coma….
You get the picture. In a case like this a recruiter may simply decide that working with you may be too complicated of an undertaking.
Another thing to avoid is to sound like you are complaining:
I haven’t been working, but it’s not my fault. I’ve done everything I can to get a job, and every day I apply for several positions. I think employers are prejudiced against me because…
In short, you need to give a reason why you haven’t been working, but you also need to quickly get back to why you’re applying and what you can bring to the table. If possible, it will be helpful if you can point to any skills you’ve acquired while you’ve been off the job market:
If you look at my CV, you’ll see that I haven’t been working the past two years. I went through a separation and I needed to care for one of my children, who needed psychological help.
I assure you that this situation is behind me now, and I’m looking forward to finding the stability that I used to enjoy. This difficult experience allowed me to develop my patience and strengthened my character, and I’m very much looking forward to putting my skills back to work.
Of course, keep in mind that there is always some risk associated with speaking frankly – it’s make or break!
3- Present yourself before presenting your CV
If you have a chance to meet the employer before sending them your CV, go for it – this is an ideal situation!
It allows the employer to appreciate your personality and to gain a better understanding of you as a person, while giving you an opportunity to explain your situation in words.
To set up this kind of meeting, I suggest seeking out exploratory gatherings where you can have informal discussions with people in a networking context.
If you’re not familiar with how exploratory gatherings work, seek out someone who can help you.
In closing, I suggest you check out this article in video form (starring Vincent Bernard). You can also visit my YouTube channel where I provide content specifically for job seekers.