Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The 'CV gap' barrier: Evidence it exists & how to get over it

One of the reasons that Katerina & I set up this blog was because we were feeling frustrated by continual media reports equating a career break with career suicide. We wanted to offer a more positive voice of encouragement and advice. So I was a bit reluctant to start this post with some dispiriting news, but have decided that it's better to accept the reality of the practical barriers faced by returners - then we can work out how to tackle them.

Research into CV Gaps - The Bad News

As a psychologist, I'm always checking for evidence to test my beliefs. I have heard many stories from highly experienced career break women of sending out scores of job applications and never even getting an interview. And conversely I also know a few women with 5+ years out who have found top positions through applying to job ads. So I'm always looking for research to check whether the 'CV gap' really is such a major block to being hired. 

That's why I was interested to read about a recent study into the barriers faced by the long term unemployed. Rand Ghayad sent out 4,800 job applications to 600 job ads, changing only experience and length of unemployment. He found there was an “unemployment cliff” at 6 months of unemployment: an applicant with relevant experience who had been out of work for over 6 months was 3 times less likely to get an interview than someone with no relevant experience who had been out of work for a shorter time. Ghayad hypothesises that employers believe that "individuals with long nonemployment spells may have their skills atrophy and as a result become relatively less productive." So employers think that skills deteriorate after 6 months out of work ...

Clearly involuntary unemployment is not the same as a voluntary career gap, but it's not too much of a leap to see how this finding might be relevant to women whose work experience dates back a lot longer than 6 months. So we're not imagining things ... if you send out a job application for an advertised role, a lack of recent experience can lead to your CV being ignored by prospective hiring managers, regardless of the level and relevance of your previous roles. 

7 Ways to Tackle the CV Gap Barrier

Acknowledging this is a real practical barrier, doesn't mean it is insurmountable. What are some solutions if you want to get back into paid employment?

CV-based solutions

DON'T use a skills-based CV to try to 'hide' your break - recruiters usually find these irritating as they have to piece together your work history. 

DO clearly state the years of your 'Parental career break' to avoid confusion  

DO remember to include ALL work-related activities during your time out:

1. Include 'professional' voluntary and community work alongside your old employed roles under work experience, not in a separate section. A 2012 study found that relevant voluntary work can be valued just as highly as paid work by recruiters. A City recruitment director told me last week how impressed she was by an applicant's career break position as Governor of a high-performing school. For other examples see our previous post on managing a CV gap

2. Don't undersell any business ventures you have undertaken. One of my clients didn't include a jewellery business she had set up in her break as she felt it was too small scale to interest a corporate recruiter. In fact this was clear evidence of entrepreneurial and business development skills.

3. If you have undertaken any project or freelance work, however minor, include this as 'self-employed work' in your work experience.

4. If you don't have recent work experience but your break has included further education or professional qualifications, put your Education & Qualifications upfront. Look out for skills update or refresher courses in your area to boost this section.

5. Make sure that you have a Linked In profile and that it is consistent with your CV - don't start it with the role you left x years ago!

Alternative strategies to applying to job ads

Nothing new here, but worth reiterating that sending your CV out for advertised jobs is the least likely way to get back into the workforce.

6. Use your contacts to find your next role and avoid getting lost in the demoralising recruitment black hole

7. Find a returnship or create your own. One of the reasons we're so enthusiastic about returnships is that they provide recent and relevant CV experience, as well as potentially leading to permanent employment.

Do you have any other ideas?

Posted by Julianne


  1. If possible, I recommend finding a career coach or a mentor. Being unemployed is very hard. Anyone who can help unemployed people to find work or make their lives a little bit easier is certainly appreciated and valued.

  2. Hi Finished at Fifty - Thanks for your comment. 1-1 support can be helpful but when it's not possible, we hope this blog fills some of the needs of women returning to work. Katerina

  3. Thanks for the interesting information.

  4. Absolutely nothing new right here, but really worth reiterating which is getting your own cv help away for promoted jobs may be the least probably way to be in the labor force.
    I used colleagues to find the next role and steer clear of getting lost within the demoralising recruiting black pit.

  5. Thanks John for sharing your experience. We do find that most returners find their new roles through existing & new contacts, although returnships may shift that over time. Julianne


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