How does my employment gap during COVID-19 look to potential employers? Elaine Varelas discusses

Whether it's for family, avocations, education, or another pursuit, some may choose to take extended time off between roles – even more so now with a global pandemic affecting many workers' jobs. Elaine Varelas discusses the reasons for extended time off and how to show a potential employer that you want to work.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: If I’m not working right now and don’t really want to, is that going to look bad to potential employers? I was laid off and I’m taking the time during the pandemic to stay at home and be with family, but I’m worried it will look bad on my resume. How are employers looking at gaps in 2020?

A: Not working for a short period of time is totally acceptable to employers, especially during COVID-19 in 2020. Everyone understands that there are many other major life components to this time, and dedicating personal time to family, avocations, education, and other major life areas is totally acceptable to employers for what they consider a reasonable amount of time. So what is reasonable is one question. Three months? Six months? A few years? Your answers depend on that answer.

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Employers want to see evidence that you want to work. Many people give answers that show they would much rather be doing anything else. A recent candidate started an interview saying he had a good ten years left. Starting the discussion about a new job with the end in sight didn’t give the impression he was excited to work at all. Not everyone can show that they way to work, either, based on their job history, time off between roles, or whether or not they have a good answer as to how you took advantage of time off resulting from COVID-19 – or any circumstance, really, that could put you out of a job.

How employers look at employment gaps are often based on how you address these gaps. Get comfortable with yourself about why you’re taking this time off. You want to understand for yourself what it is that you hope to accomplish. If it’s having a good, easy-going summer, you might want to try to add more information to that answer for interviews.

You were laid off. It was based on the global pandemic, and not on your inability to work or your performance. You chose to stay home with family. Some of the considerations your potential employers might be are, how old is that family? Are they young children who no longer had school or daycare? Are they elderly relatives that had care needs that you were able to fulfill? Or are they 20-year-olds who had no need for you to be anywhere near them? Those personal details are illegal to ask about. However, if it works to your advantage, you might want to reveal this information. It could be something like, “I moved my parents from their house of 40 years to a condo,” or, “I have worked for 20 years nonstop since I got out of college, and I always wanted a big garden. This year I have it.” And have a conversation about these relatable activities, or anything else you feel you accomplished. Job searches also take time, so no one expects you to have a new job overnight, but they do expect you to be prepared with a resume if they seek you out.

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You don’t mention how long you plan to take off. What we do know from financial data is that specific gaps at different times in your career will impact your overall earnings and your career trajectory. If you’re at the peak of your career and you are missing work time, then you’re not contributing to your 401k, and potentially not making the same kind of contribution to social security. All these things will have a financial impact on you later in your career.

If you are a woman earlier in your career, employers wonder if you’re on the “mommy track.” We don’t even know in this question if you’re a mommy or a daddy or if you’re not a parent, but taking time off for family can often has negative implications. It shouldn’t and that is slowly changing, but be prepared to deal with these potential challenges effectively in an interview or a cover letter. You want to make sure you can demonstrate how invested you are in your career and that you do want to work.

It’s always important to show that you’re interested in your work. Whether you decide to read the top two books related to your industry, or by a leader in your industry, or decide to take an online course that makes you more effective. Showing that you have a broader interest in your work than just showing up is always a positive, and it represents the difference between a job and a career.

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