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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 9, 2016

How do I explain long unemployment gaps, weird job moves, short stints etc. on my resume without sounding bad?

Julie Q. Brush

A good resume tells a story: Your story. And that story must be cohesive, succinct and informative – leaving very little, if anything to call into question. While not every minute event should be detailed, it is vital to assess and include the most important sound bites…Because one key omission or ad nauseam diatribe and your candidacy is DOA.

Omitting important information on resumes is perhaps the most common mistake made by legal professionals today. A few typical exclusions include explanations for: long employment gaps, short moves, weird moves, non-legal moves, low salary, no promotions, industry switches, education issues to name a few. And these types of omissions can prove costly. Why? Because a lack of information is like a piece of Swiss cheese – creating holes that employers and resume readers will fill with something negative – beliefs, ideas, impressions, judgments – whether they are warranted or not. It’s human nature. So plugging these holes with information that you control is the best move if you want to secure the next step forward.

How can a legal professional achieve this and what should s/he include on the resume? As you seek to refine your own CV, below are the dos as well as well as some examples of well-phrased explanations:


  1. Information should appear as the last bullet point or line in an employer job responsibilities/description section. If your explanation is located in different section (i.e. Education or Bar Memberships, place information last within the section)
  2. Keep potential red flag explanations limited to one sentence. Two shorts sentences will suffice if needed.
  3. Fragments are ok.
  4. Be honest.
  5. Info on company acquisition can be noted next to company name or at end of description section.
  6. Italicize font for explanations catch the eye of the reader

Explanation samples for potential red flag situations:

Long Employment Gaps

  • Company acquired 10/15. Took time off to bike through the South of France.
  • Left job to pursue role as full-time mother and CEO of the Brush household.
  • Left position to care for terminally ill father. Father passed away 11/15.

Short Stints

  • Role was not a fit and returned to former employer. Welcomed back enthusiastically.
  • Position eliminated shortly after joining the firm/company.
  • Relocated to Houston for husband’s job.
  • Company acquired 2/16 and job eliminated.
  • Left role when manager resigned and job responsibilities significantly diminished.

Non-Legal Moves

  • Recruited by close friend and colleague at Company X for COO position. Assumed GC responsibilities as well.
  • Hired as employment lawyer and promoted to Head of HR. Prefer legal employment role for next move.
  • Left job to pursue unique business development opportunity at salesforce.com.

“Weird” Moves

  • Left job to attend Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Worked as sous chef at Per Se in New York.
  • Opened solo practice for schedule flexibility while caring for young kids.
  • Started gaming app company with classmates from UCLA. Company acquired in 2015.

 Low Salary

  • Accepted lower salary for opportunity to switch industries.
  • Joined at lower seniority level for opportunity to retool legal practice.
  • Joined start up and took lower salary for significant stock option package.

No Promotions

  • Flat legal department structure so no promotions available during tenure.
  • Switched groups three times to diversify practice so title remained the same.

Industry Switches

  • Joined Genetics Company to pursue interest in life sciences industry.
  • Left Semiconductor Company to gain software industry experience.

State Bar

  • Took California Bar Exam Feb. 2016. Results pending.
  • Registered In House Counsel (RIHC)
  • State Bar of California (Results pending 5/16)

Education issues

  • Completed two years of medical school before transitioning to law school.
  • Took semester off to care for sick family member.

It takes less than 45 seconds for an employer to develop a clear impression about a candidate from his/her resume. And during that brief time, questions can arise that if left unanswered, can raise a red flag and potentially doom a candidacy. So take care to identify what might seem unclear or left out of your story and thoughtfully fill in the blanks. By doing so, you’ll not only increase your chances of advancing forward…you’ll move one step closer to your happily ever after career.

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Andres Rincón-Retat, Associate, GPZ

Very good and useful response, as always. Thank you for sharing.

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