There’s a long-held belief that people have that in their career the trajectory has to be always upward. It’s the assumption that a lot of us make when we enter the jobs market or begin working for the first time that if we work long enough, and hard enough of course, that we will progress in our chosen field and move up the ladder. I think we all have this idea in our minds that the only way a career should go is upwards and forwards, and that if there’s anything else that we have somehow failed or done something wrong but I’ve come to understand over the last few years that our work life can and should be a much more fluid journey.
Over the years I’ve talked to and coached people in various stages of their career and there’s a question that comes up very often following any sort of gap in the CV or break in working, how do you explain that? It’s the old belief that if a prospective employer sees or perceives something unusual on the timeline of your resume that there was some dark reason or you stumbled along the way, but the truth is that this is becoming less of an issue and something that you shouldn’t stress about when applying for a new job.
While it’s still true that they will ask you about spaces or gaps on your CV, but in my experience recently its more that they want to see the things you do outside of your work life as much as to find out if you went off the rails somewhere. Employers really do want a more rounded and whole person working for them, and having the great experience and past roles on your CV is crucial, they also want to see that you are a person, and don’t forget that.
To give you my own experience, I’ve taken short breaks after certain jobs to reflect and up skill as well as just to clear my head before looking for something else, more than that I’ve taken personal time for my daughter and for family members when needed and these are all valid things to say in an interview. You may think that a potential employer would look upon these answers as a negative and that you should show your commitment to your career, but the reality is that showing that you have other important things in your life may actually work out as a plus. It demonstrates that you might be serious about your career, but you know where your priorities lie and don’t try to hide that fact. Everyone has a life outside their job, and in truth trying to pretend otherwise will actually throw up more red flags.
So yes, it’s okay these days to have a more unconventional journey on your CV, just as long as you are able to speak as confidently about these career gaps as you are about your experience in previous roles. In other words, and obvious as it may sound, don’t just say your wanted to find yourself as this will instantly be translated to ‘I binge watched Netflix and didn’t get dressed for days at a time’. If you have a good story or a reason why you took time out and don’t blag or bluff your potential employer will appreciate it. Long gone are the days that they will look at these things and assume you’re not in it for the long haul.
Another thing to consider is taking a step back in order to move forward. This is a tough concept for everyone, and if you have bills to pay and people to support this can be very difficult to do. What I’m talking about is potentially either deliberately, or as necessary, setting your sights a little lower on your next career move. I’ve talked to many people over the years who get really frustrated when they go job hunting and they can’t find the role that matches their history and experience. This is going to happen and with a competitive market for job seekers, it will happen more and more.
There’s a trap that a lot of people fall into here, and I hate to say it but there’s a huge element of pride involved here. If they can’t get the role they feel they deserve they get disheartened and my next piece of advice is not very well received. Why not go for the role below the one you really want, or even two steps down and work your way up in the company? This is particularly important if your role is one that is niche or less common. It’s a tough one for people to hear as they feel like they’re taking a huge step backwards, but this can be a blessing in disguise.
In theory you may be slightly overqualified for the job you get and, if you are good, you can excel very quickly in this ‘lower’ roll. Plus you get the experience in the new company or industry and ultimately make yourself a more valuable employee. Yes, you might take a hit in pay, and you may well take a dip in pride, but I’d choose this any day rather than getting put off by not getting the interviews for the role I think I truly deserve. It may seem like terrible career advice, but there are lots of pluses, not the least of which being that you show your willingness to work your way up in a new company. Again be honest about your career expectations, but show that you’re willing to re-learn the ropes.
It’s something I’ve real experience with. Several years ago I really wanted to work in a certain area, but the opportunities were few and far between, so I took something I knew I was already good at, with lower pay, but I was able to use my knowledge to make the most of it, and it definitely felt better having a pay cheque coming in than sitting in a cafe sending out CV’s with my fingers crossed. There may be people who ask why you’d do that, but remember its your career and you get to choose how to navigate it. Besides, you can never have too much experience in a role, so soak it up and when the opportunity to progress comes up you’ll be all the more ready.