Overcoming "The Gap Trap"

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Brian Young

 

Owner | Career Consultant | Coach

RockIt Career Consultation Services

The average person has between 10 to 15 different jobs in their lifetime. Sometimes we go straight from one job to the next with no lag in between. But there are times when either you've lost your job unexpectedly, or you're taking an extended period off for personal reasons like caring for your children or sick parent, or you just need a break because you're burned out. Whatever the reason, you could find that when you are looking for a new job, that period of unemployment can be a red mark on your resume. Employers see it and perceive a potential problem. This is what we like to call the "gap trap" because even if there are legitimate reasons for your hiatus from work, you're being written off. Ironically, it traps you into an even longer gap between jobs.

 

Fortunately, if you manage this time well, have a positive mindset about it, and know how to address it with employers, you can actually turn what others view as a negative into a positive. Today, we're going to give you some practical advice on what to do if you're in this situation.

Experiment

A lot of times, what we thought we wanted to do for our career isn't the right fit for us. We build something up in our mind, only to be let down by reality. I had a nephew who went off to California several years ago with the idea that he wanted learn how to be a sound engineer. He came back to his home state of Iowa and got a pretty good job doing something related to his training for a local television network. After a year or so, however, he found it wasn't nearly as gratifying for him as he thought it would be. So he went back to school to get his college degree in education. Now he's a middle school Principal and has been doing that for the last ten years, and loves it. 

 

The moral of the story is, if you come into your employment gap with a gut feeling that you don't want to continue doing what you had been doing, this is the perfect time to experiment. Try something else on and see if it suits you. The best way to do this would be to start with some initial research on the job field and then sit down and talk to people who are actually doing it. Ask them about what their work is like, what they enjoy most about it, and what they don't like. You might even want to ask if you could shadow them for a day. The objective is to see if this job right for you and then figure out what you need to do or learn to get into the field.

Learn New Skills

No one is good at everything, there's always something you could probably pick up that will make you more valuable for your next employer. Now that you have some extra time, use it to acquire those skills you always wanted to have.

 

Go to your local community college to become a more advanced user of Excel. Take a course in Udemy on accounting. Learn HTML basics from a book you find at the library. Build up your communication skills by joining the local Toastmasters group or taking a Dale Carnegie course. Teach yourself a new language with Rosetta Stone.  Become a better writer by practicing on a personal blog and asking for feedback.

 

There's all sorts of ways to gain new skills or improve ones you already have. When you're thinking about what to learn or develop, don't just think about what skills are useful for you today, but also consider what skills might be useful to you and potential employers in the next five or more years. It's hard to foresee what's in store for you in the future, but rest assured, the more you can do, the more valuable you become.

 

Become an Expert

Nothing impresses an employer more than someone who knows what they are talking about. To get to this point, you need to read and observe as much as humanly possible. Learn as much as you can about the job field and industry you are pursuing. Know who the key players are. Understand the language they're using. Keep up to date on what's going on in the field or industry by creating an RSS feed on the topics you're learning or set up Google alerts so you get new articles in your email inbox. Join groups on social media that relate to the job field or industry. Subscribe to relevant magazines and other publications.

 

 

This will pay big dividends when you start talking to employers while you're networking or during an interview. Showing your expertise in a conversation puts you in a position of authority, which is a powerful persuasion lever you can use to influence those you're speaking with.  It takes a lot of time and effort to get your knowledge up to this level, but is definitely worth it. 

Fill in the Gap with Something Else

You don't want your resume to have a big gaping hole of a long unemployment period in it. If employers see that, they see a red flag that will either disqualify you in their mind or, at the very least, will be something you'll need to explain in an interview. To avoid this problem, consider doing something that will fill in the hole.

 

For instance, you could start consulting for businesses or individuals. If you have a marketable skill (and almost everyone does), sell it as a service. Small business owners are always looking for ways to outsource some of the work that is piling up on their desks. Do them the favor of taking some of the load with the skills you have acquired over the years.

 

Many non-profits are also seeking volunteers. These opportunities come with a couple of benefits. First, you might get a chance to learn and practice new skills. It also can give you a chance to network with others who are involved with the organization. Growing your network will always be helpful as it can open you up to new opportunities.

 

Temporary jobs are a great way to get your foot in the door with an employer. If you do good work for them and you make yourself valuable to your boss, he or she will try to find a way to keep you on a permanent basis. The other advantage, is that it gives you an opportunity to make sure that the job and the work environment is right for you, using it as another way to experiment. Neither you nor the employer are making any long-term commitments at this point. The only negative to temporary work is that it takes time away from your job search for a permanent position.

 

Finally, thanks to technology, we live in a world in which "gig economy" has become part of our vernacular. While gigs don't generally pay equivalent to a full-time, skilled job, they do offer you a way to earn money, meet new people, and remain productive. And just like consulting, volunteering, and temporary jobs, they can fill in that space on your resume.

Give Yourself Time to Play

I know what you're thinking..."what, he wants me to play!?"  When you're in the middle of a job search, life's already too serious. You need to include in your daily and weekly plans some activities that take your mind off of it for a while. So go outside for at least an hour and get some sunshine and fresh air. Walk or run. Go fishing or golfing. Have a coffee with a friend. Cook. Knit. Paint. Do whatever it is that gives you some pleasure...so long as it's legal and not too expensive.

 

Taking a break is important to your mental function. When you come back to the job search, you'll be refreshed and invigorated to take on the challenge again. Just make sure that you don't go too far and playing is the only thing you get done! Everything in moderation.

Stay Positive

Of all the advice you're getting today, this will probably be the hardest one for you to follow through on all the time. When you face rejection, your confidence really takes a hit. I've been there before and so has everyone else. It's easy to dwell on what's wrong. When you have responsibilities and bills to pay, being unemployed is extremely stressful. In spite of this, you have to change the conversation in your head. Step back and get another more positive perspective about your situation.

 

Even if you didn't ask for it, you've been given the precious gift of time.

 

  • You've been offered an opportunity to assess and ask yourself, "Is what I'm doing really what I want to do? If not, what else is there out there for me?" Now is your time to experiment.
  • You've been given the chance to learn new skills and acquire expert-level knowledge on something you didn't have before.
  • You've gotten to work in different environments, build new relationships, and discover there's more to you than you realized.

 

When you have this outlook, you will become a more positive and confident person, and you will come off completely different to an employer.

  

Here's the painful truth: No one likes to be around a negative or hopeless person.

 

Why? Because how you feel affects how I feel. And I don't want to feel sad, or frustrated, or hopeless. I want to feel happy and hopeful. I'll be more confident in you if you seem more confident in yourself. So, to make sure that you're not giving off this vibe to the people you talk to, I'd suggest reading a previous blog I wrote on internal conversations you have with yourself. 

Be Excited to Talk About It

Don't be ashamed that you're unemployed. If you've done it right, there is plenty to be excited about. When you're in front of a hiring manager at your next interview, you can proudly tell the story of what you did during this period of down-time. You may not believe me now, while you're in the middle of your employment gap, but this could be the turning point for the rest of your career. The future is bright!


About Us

At RockIt Career Consultation Services, our mission is to help you discover your true strengths and use these strengths to set your course to something more rewarding and exciting in your career.

 

We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.

 

We'd love to help you launch your career and encourage you to learn more about the services we can provide you on your path to a more prosperous future. With our help, you will become the applicant every company wants to hire!

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