Life is unpredictable—that’s probably an understatement. Try as we might, we will never be able to fully divorce our private and professional lives. Sometimes, circumstances require that we push “pause” on our professional endeavors to focus on the personal.
Choosing to prioritize personal needs may result in taking a full break from your professional life, which in turn begins that dreaded “gap” in your resume timeline. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on those gaps we choose to make.
Getting laid off or losing a job and having a gap until the next role is a different animal – in that example, your time is usually entirely focused on finding your next job. In the type of gap I’m describing, you’ve made a decision to walk away from a professional role to focus on personal circumstances.
My resume gaps happened for a variety of reasons. The first one started as a layoff during the 2008 recession, but I chose to continue it through my wedding and a relocation to the Middle East. During my 5+ years in Saudi Arabia, I supplemented my ‘gap’ with experiences that used my communications skills (more on that shortly). My next gaps included starting a family and taking care of a medically complex child. More relocations created more gaps until I found myself lucky enough to be part of a team that allowed me to work remotely full-time. Eventually, my family needed more focused time during a difficult season, leading to my current professional hiatus.
Resume gaps can, understandably, make people nervous. If you find yourself in a position to take a professional pause, there are ways to look at your gap as an opportunity instead of just a liability. Instead of fretting over what a future hiring manager might think, look at ways to take advantage of your time during the gap so that you are an even more attractive candidate in the future.
Stay Connected to a Professional Network
Walking away from a professional identity can be jarring. While you may fully believe that your transition to full-time caregiver or spouse or parent is the best decision, it doesn’t mean that the change will be seamless. Maintaining a network and a connection to that professional identity can help make the transition less disconcerting.
As you enter your resume gap and say goodbye to your daily teammates, it’s crucial to find a professional group with whom to engage. If you haven’t joined the Spin Sucks Community, it’s a great place to start. Your personal LinkedIn network is another good way to stay connected to the heartbeat of the industry – take some time to follow other industry leaders and sign up for their email newsletters.
Once you’re part of a community, it’s important to engage regularly. This doesn’t need to be a daily thing – but once a week or a few times a month, take 30 minutes to scroll through the posts and threads and read what people are talking about. Read the email newsletters from industry leaders. Give your brain some challenge through the thought exercises and scenarios described. Comment with your observations and seek to add value to the conversation.
When the day comes for you to reenter the professional world, keeping these contacts and maintaining some professional threads will give you a head start.
Find Ways to Practice Your Current Skills
Luckily for us, we are communications professionals and not surgeons, which means it’s much easier for us to maintain our professional skills between roles! A surgeon may not be able to just pop into an OR and practice some stitches on live patients, but there are a number of ways to keep our comms skills sharp in the real world.
One of the most obvious skills we all need is good writing. So find a way to write. Look for opportunities to submit guest blog posts, develop a series of LinkedIn articles, or just take some time to journal your personal experiences. It doesn’t have to get published, but getting published does help keep you connected to the industry.
Beyond writing, offer your services (time willing) to your family and friends. I am currently helping a cousin design logos for her French bulldog studs (pro bono). She needs the logos, and I’m using it as an opportunity to learn the newly launched AI graphics tools from Adobe (see upskilling in the next section). You could help make social media graphics or write posts for a family business, help your kid’s PTA promote an upcoming fundraiser, or write up a press release for a local nonprofit.
Unless you truly need portfolio material, these efforts are less about recording and showing off your skills and abilities and more about keeping them honed.
Upskill and Reskill
One benefit of staying connected to a network or community is that you will keep on top of emerging technologies and developments. Use those networks to identify emerging areas you can take a deep dive into.
By not having full-time professional obligations, you can set aside time to really understand something as it’s coming into focus. A great example would be understanding generative AI and emerging tools and use cases.
If you have the time and resources, consider committing to an online course, masterclass, or certificate program from trusted sources to take you even further. The email newsletters you signed up for from industry leaders can be a great resource for this kind of opportunity.
Use a Professional Filter
At some point, you may be ready or need to take on a professional role again. When it’s time for you to reenter the professional world, it’s important to view your non-professional activities through a professional lens.
For example, on top of doing mom things last spring (like creating wolf ear headbands), I also managed and scheduled four different home inspections, seven different contractors, dealt with car engine issues, helped organize a family vacation for 13 people, and managed orthodontist and multiple doctor visits (including chest x-rays and labs). This doesn’t even include the post-move tasks!
Even in a non-professional role, I’ve still managed projects, schedules, and deadlines. I’ve worked a budget and managed expectations. I’ve communicated and supervised. These are the talking points for a future interview when describing my resume gap.
Finally, if and when you decide to reenter the professional world, keep an open mind. Our modern world does not have a linear professional progression. The experiences and connections you maintain during your gaps may reroute your professional life as well. You may end up in an industry you never expected or working in a role that is different from your previous five-year plan.
Embrace the possibilities. You never know where it will take you if you ‘mind the gap.’