Tips for Evaluating a Candidate with Employment Gaps

When evaluating resumes, most employers hope for skilled, currently employed candidates. But more often than not, applicants come with resumes and work history that raise questions, including employment gaps.

Some employment gaps are obvious. For instance, if you see a two-month gap on a resume but notice that person just moved to Hawaii from New York, you can assume they took time off to relocate and find a new job. But what about candidates who have a 4, 6, or 12-month gap?

“Always ask candidates about employment gaps longer than three to six months. What they did during that time will tell you a lot about the individual,” says Kelly Marrotte, Corporate Recruiter at ALTRES.

Employment gaps aren’t always bad news. Here are a few things to consider when assessing an applicant with a gap in work history.

Look out for these 3 major red flags

RED FLAG: Employment gap longer than six months

Over 35% of employment gaps are more than 15 weeks long. The majority of these applicants will have a valid reason for why they took time off. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Lapse in childcare
  • Maternity/paternity leave
  • Family/personal illness
  • Continuing education

Be cautious when you hear vague answers such as “personal issues.” When someone cites vague personal reasons for an employment gap and doesn’t give specifics, take care not to ask questions that invade their privacy.

For employment gaps longer than one year, ask the applicant if they did anything to maintain their skills and knowledge. That could include:

  • Volunteering for a nonprofit or organization in a similar role to the one they are applying for.
  • Taking educational courses or pursuing an advanced degree.
  • Being active in industry-related conferences or clubs.
  • Attending networking events to keep their professional connections up-to-date.

Even though the candidate may not have been working full-time, it doesn’t mean they weren’t continuing to better themselves in their chosen field.

RED FLAG: Short-term employment

Multiple instances of jobs lasting less than one year, especially accompanied with gaps in employment, are a cause for concern. Two common reasons for a pattern like this are:

  1. The employee is not finding what they are looking for in these companies and thinks you will be able to give it to them.
  2. The employee is not looking for anything long-term and is only concerned with making ends meet until they can move on to the next thing.

Neither of these reasons should automatically disqualify this type of applicant. If the position you are hiring for is a temporary or entry-level position that doesn’t require a lot of training, it may be worth giving this applicant a chance. However, if you are hiring for a long-term position and are looking for an employee that is committed to growing with the company, you should continue your search.

RED FLAG: Only listing years on their resume

Standard resumes should list the month and year of both the start and end date for each job. Listing only years may be a sign of an applicant trying to hide a string of short-term employment. If their resume doesn’t list the months, be sure to ask during the interview.

Consider the position

Every position is different. A long employment gap will matter more for a high-level or specialized position than an entry-level one. For instance, if you are hiring an HR Specialist, but the applicant hasn’t worked in the human resources industry for the last 10 years, there is a possibility that they are out of date with current employment laws and policies. The same could be said for IT positions—technology changes quickly from year to year so a person who has stepped away from the industry may not be completely up to speed.

On the other hand, if you are hiring a Sales Consultant, employment gaps are more often forgivable since the skills required are more intuitive than learned in this industry. Entry-level positions are also somewhat easier to work with because they don’t require a high-level of education or skills.

Still hesitant about the recruiting process? Let ALTRES Staffing help! We screen thousands of candidates every year to find the best candidates for our clients. Get in contact with us today.