Should You Hire Candidates With Resume Gaps?

Two resumes have just come across your desk. The first candidate has 10 years of experience. The second candidate also has 10 years of experience, but there is a three-year gap in the middle.

As a hiring manager or recruiter, which one do you choose?

Your first instinct may be to pick candidate one,  but considering workers who have taken time off for personal, health, or other reasons is important for a variety of reasons:

  • Even if a candidate has been out of the job market for a few years, chances are they still have a great deal of experience and education.

  • An increasing number of companies are committing to hiring for diversity. As a best practice, hiring for diversity should encompass not only gender and ethnicity, but age and life stage.

  • With talent shortages in many industries, considering workers with a resume gap but otherwise solid skills is an easy way to increase the likelihood of making a great hire. 

To help employers tap into this often overlooked source of talent, we spoke with Jennifer Gefsky, co-founder and CEO of Après — a company that specializes in connecting employers with candidates who want to get back into the workplace. Jennifer was inspired to start Après after her own eye-opening experience re-entering the workforce.

We also spoke with several candidates who have been, or are currently going through, a career transition. Here’s their advice to employers:

1. Recognize the Benefits of Workers Who Have Taken Time Off

Burnout is a common challenge in a lot of fields. One benefit to hiring people who have a resume gap is that they are likely to bring enthusiasm and fresh energy to your company. “You don’t have to worry that we’re coming to you burnt out and frustrated by our last employer,” explains Whitney Naquin, an HR professional who took time off when she had her second child. “We are rested and excited to contribute to our field again!”

Not only are they ready and eager to get back into the workplace; candidates who have taken some time off are often looking to settle down, says Jennifer: “Coming back to the workforce with a lot of life experience, these candidates are looking for somewhere to work where they can make an impact and stay awhile.” She adds, “They will be quite loyal to a company that takes a chance on them.”

People take time off from their careers for many reasons, but that’s not to say they’re any less dedicated to their career or capable of coming back and adding value to a company. “For many people, it’s a very difficult decision to take time away from their career to focus on something else,” says Morgan B., a new mom and current VP of Marketing who requested to stay anonymous. “As an employer, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and give them and their story the benefit of the doubt,” she advises.

2. Rethink Your Application Process

While application tracking systems (ATSes) are a convenient way of collecting and storing candidate information, they can sometimes, whether purposefully or inadvertently, weed out candidates with a career gap that requires a bit more explanation.  “Some of the companies with the most rigid application tracking software were the most difficult to apply to, because you could only respond “yes/no,” and there were no areas to explain more,” says Gillian Kruse, an incredible cancer survivor who is now back at work after taking time off for her treatment.

Without a place to further explain the gap or highlight other experiences and skills, otherwise strong candidates aren’t given the consideration they deserve. “I would get automatically rejected from their system without a person ever seeing my resume and deciding for themselves if I was qualified for the role,” says Gillian.

As an employer, consider the application process from a candidate’s viewpoint. Are you collecting information in a way that allows you to see their experience and background as a whole?

Perhaps it’s a matter of creating an employee referral program to give these candidates another way in, or having space in your application for them to explain different phases of their career, including any time they’ve taken off. 

3. Consider Candidates Holistically

When reviewing a resume that has a sizeable gap on it, Gillian recommends the following:

Be willing to look at a candidate as a combination of past experience, talent, and potential; not just their accomplishments and annual performance review from last year.

Rather than focusing on the gap in their resume, Morgan adds, “Focus on their skills, their preparedness to re-enter the workforce, and what else they can bring to your business.”

It also helps to bring some empathy to the table. “Things come up that are completely out someone’s control that affect their ability to go to work at the moment, but that doesn't mean that when they return to the workforce they’re any less talented than someone who didn't take a leave of absence,” says Gillian.

This story, recently shared to LinkedIn, is a perfect example of why empathy is key in recruiting:

4. Get Your Team On Board

It’s key that leadership, HR, and middle management are all in alignment about the type of candidates that should be considered. “It’s wonderful if the head of the company is pushing for [inclusion], but if management isn’t on board, they may not understand or support bringing in someone who has had significant time off,” explains Jennifer.  

To effectively recruit, hire, and retain candidates returning to the workforce, “Managers need to be involved and engaged in the initiative, otherwise it won’t work,” she says. Involving management early on in the inclusion discussion is step one. Step two is training them on how to interview and work with this demographic of candidates to ensure the entire process is seamless and positive for both sides.

5. Offer Flexible Work Schedules

As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, one of the best ways to attract a diverse workforce is by providing a flexible work schedule. Not only does this popular work perk enable remote teams to seamlessly work together, but it can actually boost productivity by empowering employees  to get their work done when it’s best for them.

“Many people who have taken time away from the workforce have concerns about how they will juggle work with other priorities,” says Alex F., a data analyst who took time off after a serious car accident and requested we keep her name anonymous. “Providing employees with the right technology, flexible hours, and remote work options can go a long way in hiring returning workers,” she adds.

To communicate to candidates that your company embraces and supports flexible schedules, be sure this benefit is highlighted in your job descriptions and in job titles: e.g., Marketing Manager (Flexible Options). This can be a great way to attract talent who may otherwise bypass your company for one that offers greater convenience .

The good news is that many employers today are becoming more open to the idea of hiring people who have taken significant time off from the workforce. To be effective in doing so, however, recruiters and hiring managers need to rethink the way they attract these candidates and consider their applications.

By shifting your focus to the benefits returning employees bring to the workforce — loyalty, energy, and a breadth of experience, to name a few — you open your doors to a talent pool that looks a little different on paper, but also one that can bring tremendous value to your company.