A gap in your work history might be viewed as a warning sign by a prospective employer. If you had time off between jobs due to injury or illness, some employers may even write you off as potentially accident-prone. The following article looks at how job applicants can present a protracted absence from work in the best possible light.
What are my rights?
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law for an employer to discriminate against employees or applicants because of a ‘protected characteristic’. The act contains a list of nine ‘protected characteristics’ which include gender, race, age, and disability.
You are not legally required to disclose a disability or ongoing or historic injury to a prospective employer. It would, however, be wise to disclose an ongoing health condition if it will impact your ability to do the job.
Employers have a duty of care for employees and must make any reasonable adjustments to a role or workplace to accommodate employees. If you do not inform your employer of any health issues, and your condition worsens as a result of your job, it would be hard to hold your employer to account.
With unemployment set to increase as the COVID crisis rolls on, employers can expect more applicants per vacancy than ever before. Screening CV’s is time-consuming. Recruiters will often be looking for conspicuous reasons to disqualify candidates as they sort through CVs.
If your CV has an unexplained gap in your employment history, some recruiters may use it as a reason to reject your application immediately. On the other hand, if your CV openly states that the gap is due to injury, some recruiters may imagine you as accident prone or careless.
What’s the best way to present a gap on your CV?
If the gap is short (a few weeks or less) there is probably no need to mention it.
Similarly, if the time off work was years ago, employers won’t be overly focussed on it. If your work history is decades-long it may even seem unusual if there are no gaps.
If you decide not to explain a gap on your CV, you should still have an explanation prepared in case it comes up in the interview.
If you have a more recent gap on your CV it can be tempting to be imprecise with dates - merely stating the year you joined a company and the year that you left. Most employers will smell a rat with this approach.
Stating that you held a position between 2017 and 2018 might mean you joined the company in December 2017 and left in January 2018, or started in January 2017 and ended in December 2018. To a recruiter, there’s a big difference between a job you held down for a few weeks and a job you held for two years.
If you are asked for precise dates at the interview and it looks like you were attempting to exaggerate your time in a position, it won’t enhance your prospects of getting the job.
Honesty is the best policy
In most circumstances, the best approach is to tackle a potential issue with your employment history head-on. The trick is to work out how to present your time off work in a positive fashion. How best to approach this will depend on your circumstances.
If the gap was recent or if you are off work at the time of application, you could address the time off in a covering statement at the top of your CV or in an accompanying letter.
“I took six months off work to recover from a serious illness,” is a useful stock response. It is honest and should deter interviewers from delving any deeper.
If you have recovered, or any ongoing health conditions are being managed to the extent that they won’t affect your work, you should state as much.
Explain that, following the injury or illness, you have fully recovered and are now eager to get back to work. If you can explain how you used the time off constructively, perhaps to take an online course or brush up on industry news, then so much the better.
There is no need to dramatise your account, but if you come across as an individual who triumphs over adversity it could help you stand out from other candidates.
Another approach is to present time off as an item in the chronology of your employment, e.g:
“June 2018 - November 2018 - Personal and career development - Following an injury at work I took a few months off to recover. I used the time to take an online course in health administration that counted towards my CPD.”
Tailor your CV to the application
Tailoring your CV around for each job application is a worthwhile time investment generally. Employers will respond better to candidates who have clearly taken the time to read a job ad and who have drafted a resume that relates to the position.
If the job ad asks you to address specific points or answer specific questions, make sure you follow these instructions.
If you are worried about a break in your employment history, a bespoke CV also allows you to highlight positive attributes, emphasise relevant skills and experience, and play down anything that is less supportive of your application.
Chris Salmon - Author Bio
Chris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services and is a regular commentator in the legal press.