When moving to Canada, adapting to the local job market and finding employment in the desired field is often top-of-mind for many newcomers. The pandemic has made the job search process more competitive, driving job seekers to put their best foot forward when applying to open positions.
One of the areas you may need to work through during your job search journey in Canada is employment gaps. Employment gaps are periods during your professional career in which you did not have formal employment. You may have a gap while working in your home country or while you settle in and try to find work in Canada or because you quit your job a few months before your move to prepare for life in Canada. Whichever the case is, know that taking a break from the workforce is not an issue, but how you explain it is important. Be sure to clarify your reasons to employers and assure them that you are ready to join the workforce.
Generally, you may expect to explain an employment gap at three places: a resume, a cover letter, and/or an interview. In this article, we will go over some tips and advice to help you structure your resume and prepare confident responses to address your employment gap(s).
Adopt a resume format that helps minimize the gaps
Review your resume and structure it in a way such that the employment gap is not obvious. One way to hide employment gaps (visually) on your resume is to omit the months and only list the years of employment for each job you’ve held. For example, you could say 2018 – 2020 (rather than June 2018 – March 2020) for a position. Do keep in mind that this strategy would only work if the gap is shorter than a year.
Another way is to use a different format, such as the functional or combination resume. You can also experiment by starting your resume with a summary statement and career highlights section to showcase your skills and accomplishments, rather than what you did when (which is a characteristic feature of the widely-used, reverse chronological resume).
If in spite of this, the gap remains obvious, you may want to address it in your cover letter.
Test and learn – send out a few resumes and if you don’t hear from any recruiters or hiring managers, make a few edits to your resume before you apply to new job postings.
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Be honest and address the employment gap
Avoid lying about anything on your resume, including an employment gap. You can address the employment gap directly during the interview. However, remember to keep your explanation brief and to the point and avoid providing detailed circumstantial explanations so you don’t end up saying something that could affect your chances of getting an offer.
Know that it is common for newcomers to experience an employment gap as they get settled in Canada. But you can make this situation work for you in a few ways:
- Take up meaningful activities such as bridging programs, courses, or volunteering: Bridging programs and volunteering are not only great ways to learn and/or upgrade skills but they also help gain Canadian experience. Volunteering is also an excellent way to build your network – which can help you tap into the hidden job market and stand out from the crowd. It can also help you learn new skills and brush up on your language fluency. Even if the volunteering task is completely unrelated to your career, it shows your commitment and attitude to giving back and helping the society. Plus, you can also add volunteering experience to your resume, and it’s not essential to mention if the opportunity was unpaid.
- Talk about your international and/or overall experience: International experience is valued by Canadian employers. Make it a point to demonstrate how all of your past experience can give you an edge in the position you are applying for or how it can help the employer.
You can include any relevant experience gained during the employment gap on your resume. Instances where you were freelancing, consulting, on a sabbatical, volunteering, or enrolled in a program can add value, enhance your resume, and help clear doubts in the mind of the recruiter or hiring manager.
Prepare for employment gap-specific questions from recruiters and employers
Recruiters and hiring managers may ask you about your employment gap, and preparation for those questions is very important. Sufficient practice will make you feel confident while answering. Be sure to sound like your natural self and not like you’re reading a script which may come across as overly rehearsed or being dishonest.
During the interview, you should also clarify if the gap was voluntary. If you were away to deal with a specific issue like caring for a sick family member or for completing education, make it clear that the reason for your time off from the workforce has been resolved. If you were laid off due to downsizing, it is worthwhile to provide evidence of strong on-the-job performance.
But if you took time off to volunteer, travel the world, or pursue some hobbies, you would have likely picked up some important soft skills (such as communication, planning, organizing, adaptability, problem-solving, or decision-making) along the way. Identify these skills, think about how they apply to the job you’re applying for, and prepare a brief, compelling explanation you can use in interviews.
Gather recommendations from supervisors, colleagues and clients confirming your skills and competence and include them on your LinkedIn profile. This will help you build a strong case while explaining any employment gaps.
Returning to the workforce after a break is not as difficult as it seems, especially when you’re a newcomer in Canada. Employers are generally very understanding and willing to hear your story. Be sure to highlight any productive and meaningful activities during your gap period. And lastly, remember to demonstrate enthusiasm for the position you are applying for.