Gaps in Employment

As a hiring manager, do you worry about a candidate’s gaps in employment? From my perspective, I would say ‘it depends’. 

When Gaps in Employment Are Not a Concern

An incredibly long and uninterrupted work history doesn’t necessarily mean that the candidate is a highly competent individual.  It may not even mean they are honest or easy to get along with.  We often see candidates with extensive tenure who are just…well…mediocre at best. 

While job seekers should definitely spend time explaining gaps in employment, I would encourage recruiters and hiring managers to not assume that an unexplained gap is a problem. Actually, some employment gaps make sense and could indicate a very strong CRA candidate. Perhaps the CRA started a family, took time off to care for an aging parent, or went back to school. We also see candidates who leave one (or more) positions off their resume because they shifted their career trajectory, and those positions were no longer relevant to their current career path.  

While hiring managers should dig into the reasons for the gaps, they should also be conscious of their own personal bias as it relates to considering gaps in resumes. Meaning: if you, as a recruiter or hiring manager, always view resume gaps as negative, you could miss out on hiring terrific team members.  

After all, isn’t the job of a recruiter (and hiring manager), to assess the candidate in a holistic way?  

The Hiring Manager’s Real Apprehension

While we can all agree that a break in employment isn’t always negative, unexplained gaps cause a lot of concern.  Several years ago, Bullhorn conducted a survey of 1500 hiring managers on the topic of employment gaps and job hopping. They cited that this topic is the biggest obstacle to gaining (or regaining) employment for many job seekers.  

We agree. The longer a candidate has been out of the market, the less marketable the candidate is. For the job seeker, this means that representing gaps in employment is a challenge for them too, because they know that many hiring managers will skip over their resumes when several employment gaps are prevalent.

Which means this…candidates often work hard to hide those gaps.  Because of the stigma surrounding ‘explaining gaps in employment’, instead of showing (and explaining the gaps), many candidates will take measures to conceal those hiccups within their work history. Some things you should be on the lookout for:

Is the resume too squeaky clean? 

At the time of my updating this article, one of the largest global CROs in our industry just laid off all of their contract CRAs along with a sizable percentage of their perms. Unfortunately, this reduction in force equates to hundreds of CRAs being released. 

Out of the blue. No notice.  No planning.  A very large number of these impacted CRAs will have a gap because of this layoff. It may only be a month or two, but it is still a gap. 

And this is typical for our industry. Sponsors are known to shift to new CROs and this causes layoffs. The economy is currently experiencing a downturn which is resulting in project funding being pulled…thus causing layoffs. Studies fail, projects are put on hold, and companies are acquired or go out of business. Lost jobs are a result of any of these situations.

Therefore, because of the nature of our industry, the lack of employment gaps may actually be the red flag.  

Do the applicant’s start and end dates seem to “fit” too perfectly?  

When you review the candidate’s resume, does it show that the applicant always managed to leave one position in one month and start the next position the same or following month?  Many applicants will “stretch” their dates of employment in order to cover gaps in their work history.  Before making an offer, always conduct a background check as well as an employment verification to confirm the candidate’s dates of employment were not falsified.

If the CRA is a consultant, it can be tricky to confirm accurate start and end dates for each assignment. In this case, you will want to view the overall ‘consulting’ time. Note that anyone can have an active corporation, but this doesn’t mean they have had active contracts. If the contract CRA doesn’t list their clients and/or contracts, ask questions. 

You can also conduct references for recently completed projects whereby you ask the reference to verify contract start and end dates. Then you can compare what the references state to what dates the candidate has provided.

Another idea: where possible, you should save copies of applicant resumes so that you can compare them if the candidate reapplies at a later date. We do this, and we have found that comparing older resumes with current ones is a terrific practice.  Why? Often we will have an older resume that shows different start and end dates for assignments. While occasionally these shifts in dates can just be a typo, it does give us an opportunity to seek clarity. 

Are assignment dates complete and clear?

A very (very) large peeve of mine is when candidates only use years for their employment, thus leaving the months off of their assignment dates. It actually causes more questions for me, because stating they worked somewhere from 2020-2021 doesn’t tell me a complete story. 

For example, listing 2020-2021 as an employment date could mean the candidate was on the assignment for almost two years…or just two months (or obviously somewhere in between).  

It begs a question: Why would a candidate be that vague? 

Additionally, why would a candidate completely eliminate their employment or assignment dates? We received a resume the other day that simply provided a list of positions, but no dates of engagement. I never know what to do with those resumes…which again leaves me to wonder why the candidate is being so unclear. 

The point of the resume is to provide a clear work history, and the detail provided should tell a story.  And of course, that story should go way beyond just providing a basic list of assignments. For me, if my perception is that the candidate is being intentionally vague, imprecise and unclear, I will steer clear of the candidate.  

Did the candidate get fancy with the formatting of their resume?

I find that ‘fancy’ formatting is distracting (and this may be the point). When someone sends a resume with loads of graphics, tables and grids, be sure to pay close attention to the actual content and data rather than allowing yourself to get distracted with the sleek layout.  

Additionally, if the applicant has used a nontraditional format, make double sure you map out their dates. We find that candidates will frequently use functional resumes to hide employment gaps as well as to draw attention away from non-industry roles.

Explaining Gaps in Employment: A Recruiter’s Perspective

I like to work with people who are honest and upfront about their situations…and those who pay attention to details.  Therefore, when an applicant sends a resume to me that is vague or doesn’t explain significant or multiple employment gaps, I automatically jump to a negative conclusion about their circumstances.

I believe candidates who are tuned in to what hiring managers are looking for, and have a strong work ethic, are aware of the perception work history gaps leave and feel the need to explain those gaps in a well-crafted cover letter or in the submission email.

We once posted an in-house Data Entry position and received 772 applicants for that one opportunity.  As the hiring team, we had to be smart about which candidates we would speak with and unfortunately, those candidates who had a trend of short-tenured positions and unexplained employment gaps were the first to be culled from the applicant pile.

And when a gap is present and explained, here are some things the recruiter or hiring manager should consider:

    • If the gap was extensive (two years or more), did the candidate keep up with industry trends? Did he or she focus on the education needed to maintain their skills during the gap? These learning activities may include volunteering, as well as formal or informal educational activities within the industry.
    • Is there a trend of employment gaps or just one instance?  Additionally, is there a combination of gaps and short-term positions? Past job history can be a predictor of future job performance but one ‘blip’ on a resume typically isn’t going to be a concern. You do, however, want to look for trends as seeing several gaps in employment and/or short-term positions is something that needs a deeper dive. 
    • Was the employment gap recent or did it happen some time ago?  If the gap in work history happened in the past and the candidate has shown strong job tenure since, then I wouldn’t be concerned with it.

Let us Help

Sorting through hundreds of resumes to find high quality CRAs has never been easy. In today’s competitive market, don’t put you or your team in a position to sort through hundreds of candidate resumes in order to find the right CRA. 

That is what we are here for. With a team that is fully dedicated in sourcing and placing excellent CRAs, we are able to ensure your hiring process goes smoothly. Reach out to us today!