How Much Do Recruiters Really Care About Career Gaps or Job Hopping on Your Resume?

Apr 7, 2021 | Resumes

A title graphic featuring Let's Eat, Grandma's yellow pencil logo and an alternate version of the article's title: "Hiring Managers are People Too: Here's What They're Thinking"

Do you find yourself moving from job to job every few years? Did you, like many people, find yourself unemployed for a long stretch of time during 2020 or earlier? We took a deep dive into the current recruiting landscape to find out what recruiters really think when they see “job hopping” or long stretches of unemployment on a resume.

By: Ryan Thornton | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Traditional wisdom may tell us that a resume with gaps or a string of short-term jobs is like a ship without a sail: it’s highly unlikely to land on the intended shore.

Like ships with sails, however, that wisdom may be a tad dated.

Based on what some recruiters and hiring managers have been saying out loud lately, a bit of job-hopping or a time spent out of work might not sink your career after all. In fact, depending on who’s reading the resume, it may not even be a reason to batten down the hatches! (OK, that’s all my boat metaphors.)

Archives

Tired of not landing interviews?

Get our free 3-step guide to writing better resume bullet points, featuring 70 ideas for metrics you can use!

It seems just a decade or so ago, most everyone agreed that these were major career blunders. Today, though, it depends on who you ask. While many in the business have preserved that traditional outlook, more diverse and nuanced opinions are now emerging on the recruiting scene.

Before we get into the thinking behind some of these different points of view, let’s remember the “3 Ds” of managing career gaps: Define, Downplay, and Describe. As we’ll soon see, opinions may be changing some, but a good job search would never count on that. If there are gaps on your resume, this combo of strategies is still your North Star.

When Does a Break Become a Gap?

Calendar with days crossed out. Photo by Adam Tinworth on Unsplash

The longer the gap, the more important it is to provide some sort of explanation for it. Photo by Adam Tinworth on Unsplash

Some gaps are more obvious than others. With some strategic downplaying, a gap of a month or two (or three) may not look like much of a gap at all. On the other hand, a gap of half a year or more will be more noticeable. Large gaps demand a more proactive response from the job candidate.

A survey of 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers determined that short and long gaps do not have the same impact. More than a quarter of participants identified career gaps as the greatest barrier between candidates and good jobs, but only 17% said a gap fewer than 6 months makes placement difficult. In contrast, 36% said it gets difficult if there’s a gap of 6 months to a year.

The Stigma Persists

Recruiter Jeff Lipschultz sees 6 months of unemployment as the point where a job search can start to get stuck due to “unemployment bias.” In an article for Job-Hunt, Lipschultz said this bias is the perception that a temporary lack of work correlates with a lack of up-to-date skills.

Without condoning the unemployment bias, Lipschultz encourages job-seekers to dispel it by staying productive while out of work. Specifically, he recommends activities that can be used to fill a resume gap, including: contract or temporary work, volunteering, taking courses or getting certified in a skillset, or offering your knowledge through speaking or writing engagements.

Perhaps you are thinking something similar to: “That sounds great, Jeff. The problem is my gap in employment happened several years ago!” Well, try to remember if you happened to do anything noteworthy during that time. If that’s not working either, turn your gaze back to the “3 D’s” and tune in below for some uplifting news.

Assumptions, They Are a Fadin’

Person on mountain. Photo by Felipe Giacometti on Unsplash

It’s important to provide context so that a recruiter can view a gap as a life-enriching experience, rather than as a red flag. Photo by Felipe Giacometti on Unsplash

As promised, some good news for anyone who may be feeling down about some past circumstances or personal decisions: some are starting to see the old expectation of the perfectly linear career path as a rather crooked metric.

In a brief synopsis on the rising sea change, Julia Segal, a project manager with a background in career coaching, writes that requiring candidates to have jobs lined up in perfectly subsequent fashion from college to retirement is but an “outdated cliché.”

Apparently, a growing number of hiring professionals now agree with Segal’s assessment. This is partially due to the tragic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the extreme numbers of layoffs, some have said that career gaps up to six months should not “bat the eyes” of those with stacks of resumes in their hands.

It’s not only the pandemic, though. Responses to a recent LinkedIn thread started by John Vlastelica of Recruiting Toolbox show that more and more professionals are questioning the popular wisdom about career gaps.

Vlastelica asked hiring managers and recruiters which of their opinions have evolved over the past decade and was met with a surge of insights and reflections. Several people voiced their shifting views on those with non-traditional career paths.

One respondent on this thread said this attitude adjustment is reflective of many in the business. She wrote: “Colleagues and I used to give a candidate more credit for being focused on a more straight upward career trajectory. Now, I realize that the most engaging leaders are storytellers. Where do they get a lot of their stories? From side hustles, gap years, peace corps, sabbaticals, workaway programs, volunteering, etc. That year ‘off’ prepares leaders to listen more, to be nimble, and to recognize when to make exceptions for exceptional people.”

For his part, Vlastelica agreed that various types of non-traditional employment, including unemployment, “don’t correlate to performance in the job.”

Don’t Hide Your (Large) Gaps

Evidence shows that it helps you to include a reason for any major employment gap in your resume and cover letter. If a 2019 field experiment by ResumeGo is any indication, providing those explanations right away can increase your chance of getting an interview by nearly 60% compared to ignoring them.

That’s probably because, in the words of recruiter Adam Karpiak, employment gaps are “a huge red flag.” In a helpful article on the matter, Karpiak admits that his thoughts are always negative when he sees a gap on a resume. Faced with a gap, he said, he’s likely to imagine that a candidate was fired for insubordination, that they are incompetent, that they have a bad reference somewhere, that they would have found a job “if they were any good,” or that they attempted to poison a former boss.

The last one may be in jest, but Karpiak reiterates: “Seriously, don’t let recruiters use their imaginations.”

Karpiak’s advice is to include lines on your resume for any gaps in employment, even if that means writing in that you took a sabbatical for a while. The idea is that it will distract from the gap and may help you stand out by personalizing your resume.

Of course, not every recruiter will want to know why you had a period of time away from work. Another respondent to Vlastelica’s LinkedIn post chimed in with a viewpoint entirely different from Karpiak.

While this recruiter admitted that a decade ago he always looked down upon gaps in employment and “even on people who were unemployed,” he has since changed his mind entirely. Now, he wrote, his attitude is simple: “None of it is my business and doesn’t affect performance.”

To Stop or Not to Stop the Job Hop?

Person on laptop. Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

In the modern world where it’s easy to move around, job hopping is starting to have less of a stigma attached to it. Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

“Job hopping,” the act of moving between jobs many times in a relatively short period of time, has long been considered a detriment to a successful career. Not so long ago, a Career Builder survey determined that 43% of employers won’t even consider someone with a pattern of job-hopping.

Fast forward from that 2014 survey to 2021, and job hopping may be getting a new connotation in some offices.

For example, HR professional Nikolas Tore wrote recently that job hopping can actually make for better-qualified candidates. Here are some of the qualities he has noticed in job hoppers: “super talented,” “adaptive,” “higher learning curve,” “over-performers.” Not bad, huh?

A key element of Tore’s theory is that job hoppers can learn more skills more quickly by avoiding the learning plateaus common to those who stay in a single role for the long-term.

Looking back again at Vlastelica’s thread, there appears to be some support out there for this general idea.

“I believed that so-called ‘job-hoppers’ were unreliable, lost free spirits who shouldn’t be prioritised as they move nearly every year,” said another respondent. “Now, we call these professionals entrepreneurial, driven, knowing their worth and they’re equally pursued by both corporations and startups (particularly in the tech space). O tempora, o mores!”

Oh, the times, indeed.

Another hiring professional said she has learned that “there can sometimes be a very justifiable reason why a candidate has worked for a company for a short period of time.” In her estimation, it’s important to ask “probing questions” and not lose potentially “amazing talent” due to assumptions.

What It All Means

There can be no doubt that plenty of recruiters and hiring managers maintain a healthy skepticism of both gaps in employment and patterns of job-hopping. However, as we’ve seen, the field appears to be opening up to the idea that every candidate should be evaluated on an individual basis, rather than on life circumstances.

If you are worried about resume gaps or job-hopping holding you back in your career, remember the “3 Ds” and keep all of these opinions in mind. Hopefully, these real opinions embolden you to not be defined by past circumstances, but by your actions and attitude today.

Ready for more expert job search help?

Get our free 3-step guide to writing better resume bullets with the same principles our professional resume writers use (including 70 ideas for metrics you can use!)