Perils of a Gap in the Résumé: Whether to Explain or Not

Jul 14, 2016, 01:15 AM

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Music Perils of a Gap in the Résumé: Whether to Explain or Not By PATRICIA COHENMAY 20, 2016 When Brooke Bleyl started job hunting after taking 10 years off to care for her children, her interviews did not go well. “They even said they typically don’t hire people with such a gap,” said Ms. Bleyl, who lives outside Cleveland and has three children, ages 7, 10 and 12. Ms. Bleyl, who worked as an employment recruiter before taking time off, said she tried to fill in gaps on her résumé, including online selling to earn extra money. “But when you see eBay on someone’s résumé, you know that’s a stay-at-home job,” she said, “and that you’re just selling stuff out of your basement.” After receiving “rejection after rejection after rejection,” Ms. Bleyl said, “I was very defeated.” She eventually found a job as an account manager at a staffing service, but only with the help of a personal connection. For women hoping to return to the workplace after caring for their children, the advice is often “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Many women who described themselves as stay-at-home mothers can attest to receiving denigrating nods and hasty rebuffs. Researchers have repeatedly found ample evidence of discrimination against mothers in the hiring process and the workplace. But women may be better off explaining their decision to stay home to a potential employer upfront, said Joni Hersch, a professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt Law School, and co-author of a new study on the subject, “Something to Talk About: Information Exchange Under Employment Law.” Employers, afraid of running afoul of anti-discrimination laws, don’t bring up the subject, she said, and female applicants, picking up on those cues, often don’t offer information, leaving hirers to guess at the reasons behind a hiatus. But, Professor Hersch said, “women who conceal personal information dramatically lower their hiring prospects.” Advertisement Continue reading the main story Ms. Bleyl, despite her own experience, shares that view. “It’s better to be upfront, because it’s who you are,” she said. “I was so hungry to get in there and work, work, work.” Carol Fishman Cohen is chief executive and co-founder of iRelaunch, a firm that works with returning professionals and potential employers. Her advice to applicants is to briefly acknowledge the career break and quickly move on to explain why they are the best suited for the job. “Don’t apologize for it,” Ms. Cohen said. “Say, ‘Yes, I took a career break for child care reasons, and now I can’t wait to get back to work.’” Not everybody will be open to such an approach. But many will. “I think it comes down to the hiring manager,” Ms. Cohen said. “If the individual has someone in their own personal orbit who has taken a career break, they are much more likely to be interested in the caliber and potential of that population than someone who has not had the experience.” Playing up volunteer and freelance work is important, she said, but it’s a mistake to emphasize “mom skills” that are required for managing family life. The interviewer could be doing all that and working as well. Some experts were skeptical of the experiment Professor Hersch and her co-author, Jennifer Bennett Shinall, an assistant law professor at Vanderbilt, conducted for their study. They said it was too far removed from the actual job-hunting experience. The authors of the study, which is to be presented at the annual American Law and Economics Association conference on Friday and published in a forthcoming issue of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, did not interview recruiters or hum...