So you thought it was a great idea to embark on a 9 month voyage of self-discovery around the world. But now that you’re back and desperately job hunting, here’s the hard truth: Singapore employers would prefer it if you never, ever stopped working. Who needs holidays, right?
You’ll find that out the hard way when your resume is tossed into the shredder due to unexplained gaps, or you get interrogated by interviewers about where you were from February to September last year.
Given the popularity of gap years amongst the younger set, and how difficult it is for older retrenched folks to find jobs, more and more Singaporeans are finding themselves forced to justify gaps in their resumes.
We asked Eunice Tan, managing consultant at recruitment firm JadeClover, what job seekers with gaps in their resumés should do to minimise the damage.
1. It’s usually better to state the reason for the gap than to keep quiet
Whether you should state the reason you were out of work for a while or just shut up and hope they don’t ask you about it has been a matter of debate.
But Eunice, who interacts with employers on a daily basis, says they tend to let their imaginations run wild.
“So long as the reasons for gaps are not negative, I usually recommend that candidates put them down on their resume. Leaving unexplained gaps leaves a lot of room for imagination, and usually employers do not come to positive conclusions,” she advises.
But what if your reason for not working for 6 months was because you were trying to build your World of Warcraft empire, or use up your frequent flyer miles? Well, so long as you can spin it into something that sounds reasonable, the gap might not be fatal.
“Some people’s reasons for a gap are very simple, they just wanted to take a break or go on a holiday. Candidates also often take time off to take care of children or parents. Employers will usually accept such reasons so long as you have a good employment history. There has also been a lot of restructuring and retrenchment going on in recent years, so if you were retrenched employers will understand,” says Eunice.
In addition, if you got retrenched after just a few months, it’s important to state the real reason you left so quickly to avoid looking like a job hopper.
2. Gaps of up to 6 months are fine; anything longer and you’d better have a good reason
While short gaps are generally accepted and won’t cause any raised eyebrows, watch out if you’ve been out of work for more than 6 months.
“To employers, a reasonable threshold is usually 6 months. Any longer than that and they will start to view your resume negatively, and you will not be in a good position to ask for a higher salary,” she warns.
Considering that in some industries like banking, asking for a salary that’s 15% to 20% more is reasonable when you change companies, that gap could be costing you quite a bit.
“If you can’t find a job, try to fill in the gaps with part-time or contract positions. Some people will say they’ve been assisting friends to start up businesses, which is better than doing nothing, since you still pick up some experience along the way.”
3. If you don’t have a good reason for your gap, find one
The hard truth may have been that you were retrenched and spent the last 8 months desperately searching for a job, in building your empire in World of Warcraft.
That looks bad. So make yourself look better if you fill in the gap with something more “productive” than browsing JobsDB.
“For those with gaps because they were unable to replace their jobs after being retrenched or quitting, it’s a good idea to enrol in a course and enrich themselves, or do some volunteer work. These are good ways to fill a gap that will be looked upon favourably by employers.”
Hearing this is a relief, as it indicates that no matter how crappy your circumstances might be job-wise, there are still things you can do to make them better in the eyes of prospective employers.
Even if nobody in the world wants to employ you, you can still stop yourself from falling into professional obscurity by using your SkillsFuture credit to take a course to fill the time, or do volunteer work, preferably in an area that enables you to use your professional skills. Think of these activities as a new job, just one that doesn’t pay, but that enhances your resumé nonetheless.
Anything’s better than spending the next 6 months trying to watch every episode of The Simpsons ever created or crying your eyes out in front of a million Korean drama serials.
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