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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

April 7, 2017

How do I address large employment gaps on my resume?

Julie Q. Brush

The landscape of the legal profession has decidedly changed. And so have the directions today’s lawyers are choosing to take their careers. Not only are lawyers opting for more time off and non-traditional career paths, the legal community is less judgmental and more accepting of these choices. Taking time off or choosing an alternative role is no longer a career death wish.

Attorneys take time out from their legal jobs for a variety of reasons: to start a family, decompress, travel, care for a sick family member, raise children, volunteer or to pursue a business path…to name a few. Each choice creates a legal employment gap in the resume that needs explaining when an attorney wants to re-enter the legal job market.

So can an attorney address a gap directly on the resume? And should an attorney address it on the resume? If so, what’s the most effective way to go about it?

First, let me say this about resumes: People don’t “read” resumes, they skim them. And when they do, they absorb as much information as they can right up front. As they skim, they form impressions – and questions about a candidate. All within a matter of nanoseconds. A fairly complete impression of a candidate is formed after skimming the first ¾ of the first page. When an employment gap exists, it is almost always noticed – and it can send a flag to an employer. Whether that flag is yellow, red…or checkered depends on what else they see in the resume and whether the gap is addressed. If left unattended, an employer may assume the worst, which may put a candidacy in jeopardy.

So if you have such an employment gap, I recommend that you provide a brief explanation within the body of the resume to address this issue. One or two sentences explaining the pause are sufficient. The location of this information should either be the last sentence at the end of the descriptive paragraph for your last employer or, if you are using bullet points, the last bullet point. In addition, it should be highlighted in some way (i.e. italicized) so it catches the employer’s eye.

Some examples of phrasing:

  • Left company to care for ill father from 2011 – 2013.
  • Left firm to start social media company. Company was acquired by Yahoo! in 2013.
  • Left to start family and raise children (2004 – 2013)
  • Company acquired in 2007. Took time off to travel and raise son and daughter.

For lawyers, the road less traveled is now more populated than ever. And alternative career paths have gained wider acceptance in the legal and business communities. Consequently, competition for jobs has reached great heights now that this new constituency has newfound credibility. For this group of lawyers, addressing employment gaps upfront will highlight deliberate choices and avoid misperceptions about candidacies.

So articulate your choices directly on the resume. A simple sentence or two will do the trick to create the bridge you need.

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