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Here’s how to excuse the gaps in your CV

If you want to work in financial services and your CV includes long periods of inactivity and doesn’t chart a perfect career trajectory of the kind we described last month, you may be feeling a little sweaty.

Long gaps in a CV never look good. This is particularly so in investment banking, where organizations like Barclays Capital run dreaded Chronological Indepth Structured Interviews lasting many hours, with the intention of unearthing patterns in past behaviour. If you’ve reverted to tending Dahlias, watching daytime TV, or lying on beaches for many months in the past, the fear must always be that you have the propensity to do so again.

Equally, however, the cyclical nature of the financial services industry, and the cataclysmic nature of the ‘financial crisis’ mean that most people working in banking do have gaps on their CVs. If everyone with a CV gap were excluded from seeking re-employment in the industry, the choice of candidates would be reduced to a deeply fawning equity researcher, and the niece of a major client.

CV gaps are inevitable and acceptable. It’s what you do during them that matters. Here’s how financial services careers specialists suggest neutralising their negative impact. Needless to say, you will actually need to do these things, rather than just pretending to have done them.

1) Alpha-male pursuits

A CV gap is not acceptable if the time out of work is spent unproductively. However, the situation changes considerably if you spend the time off doing something indicative of stamina, competitiveness, determination, grit or fortitude.

Hence, Graham Ward, an executive coach, former co-head of European equities at Goldman Sachs, and programme director at the INSEAD Global Leadership Centre, says he’s coaching a CEO who’s taking a year off to climb Mount Everest.

“Sabbaticals are acceptable nowadays if you can qualify what you were doing,” says Ward. “They tend to be fairly well thought of if they include some kind of achievement or have a developmental aspect.”

Other possibilities include: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking to the North Pole, or (for low budget options) cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats and swimming the Channel.

2) Educational attainment

It will help too, if you can demonstrate that you used your time off constructively to learn something – particularly if you learnt something that may be relevant to your next job.

Studying the CFA is a cost-effective favourite: it’s cheap, shows initiative, and will leave you free to take a new role should such a thing arise. If you have 40k to spare and are aged less than 32, you could also contemplate an MBA at a top school – bearing in mind that this will probably keep you out of the market for two years.

3) Charitable endeavours

These are best combined with 1).

For example, you could spend your time Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, or hopping between Kingston and Dorking in aid of sick cats.

Kate Grussing, managing director of Sapphire Partners, a search firm with special expertise in placing senior women in what are often flexible roles, says she sees a lot of candidates who’ve done, “really meaty things,” with their time off, such as fund raising for charities and using their skills to help the local community.

“A lot of people in the UK spend their time out in the not for profit sector,” confirms Michael Moran, at career coaching company Fairplace.

4) ‘Consulting’

Given that most periods out of the market aren’t intentional, you’ll probably need an income. If full time work isn’t available, freelance consulting may be an option and is seen as a valid use of your months out of full time employment.

Moran suggests referring to a consultancy-related gap in a CV as follows: “You can explain that the gap on your CV was taken in order to set up your own consultancy and to sell your services to clients. However, having done this for 18 months, you’ve decided you’re more suited to full time employment.”

Equally, Grussing says she comes across people who’ve helped friends set up businesses while they were out of the market. “The longer the gap is, the more important it is to do something,” she says.

And here’s how not to excuse the gaps on your CV

If the four points above will help gloss over the holes in your CV, the three points below will highlight them in neon marker. Don’t:

1) Lie

It’s no good saying that you’ve been consulting/climbing mountains/studying the CFA/helping a friend with a mail order business if you’ve been lying on the sofa. You will get found out.

2) Say that you’ve been looking for work

It may be perfectly true, but if you say you’ve spent all your time trying to get back into the market, you’re not exactly advertising your popularity.

“If you say, “I’ve spent the last 18 months applying for jobs, you’re basically signalling that you’ve been all around the market and are unemployable,” points out Moran.

3) Say that you’ve been spending time with your family

“It should be deemed acceptable to take time off to be with your children, but if that time off was forced upon you, it would be optimal to have done something alongside it that was equally productive,” says Ward. “If you’ve been laid off, you need to be seen as resourceful and as someone who can pick themselves up in the face of adversity and generate the energy to make things happen.”

Comments (19)

  1. I find the suggestion that you decided to spend time with your family is not a good use of your time abhorrent. Sure you can desert them and go climb Mount Everest, but hey some of us have families. Yeah good idea lets all become freelance consultants too; but wait in a market that is dead, being a freelance is the same as looking for job.

  2. Unfortunatelly that generation is just simply lost. Those people with gaps will never get employment, whatever the excuse/reason. There are 100’s of candidates for 0 jobs.

  3. having years of experience reading cv’s ..i am immediately concerned at Climbing and Consultancy as gap fillers…Climbing is harder to test tho normally untrue, and Consultancy can quickly be tested with the aid of a Compnies House Search and I would expect to see some revenue after a few months…but at least they are better than the most over used cv interest/hobby/filler..The PADI course/certificate !!!!!!! used by most

  4. An agency suggested to me to mention PA trading. Now looking – as sitting in front of a screen at home can be boring even if it is rewarding (straddles are an easy way to make money).

  5. This comment sounds like a recruitment consultanmts remark. i.e someone who only listens to thier client and does not work with the candidates who live real lives in the real world and are affected by real events. Actually the article made me angry. When are recruitment consultants going to actually do something for thier money. Like really supply the approporiate candidate to the client – not a wish list . This article is complete garbage.

  6. I tend to agree with Alastair so he gets my vote. Maybe for someone under 30 it might need fleshing out if been banged up but for anyone over 35/40 who has been laid off or left a job for other reasons it all seems ridiculous, especially in major recessions. Perhaps the writer only deals with candidates under 25 or forgets we are in a day and age of hire and fire.

    The points above say dont lie, and then the rest of the article seems to imply to lie rather than tell the truth, unless you have been climbling Mount Everest or the Salavation Army. I wouldnt want to work for a company that doesnt understand real life, appreciate honesty, or have any interest in employing real people and instead wants robots.

  7. Reading the article it seems that HR people know what the clients are looking for – if so, why job boards are posting the same jobs over and over?
    That leads me to think:
    1) companies/clients do not have a clue of what they are looking for and describing how beautiful they are is a waste of time. If they do not what they need, there is little/nothing a new hire can do about it. If Recruiters want the commission for placing the right candidate, there is an opportunity for them to make a difference, if they are able to, by helping the company to properly define the business need rather than just sending dozen of CVs as a dispatch and delivery desk
    2) HR people do not understand business priorities and deliverables related to the advertised position and the inteview is a monumetal waste of candidate’s time

  8. @ Alistair – It is not the article that is garbage but the recruiters and their clients (banks). They fire people without any consideration for their future or dependants and later tell you you are not good because of the gap in your CV , which is a result of their primitive ways of operating: hiring employees and giving them unrealistic targets and them firing them in less than 6 months. Finance may have been an elite profession in the past but it is now nothing more than a byword for job insecurity and toxic atmosphere. Talent is already switching to more attractive careers. There is a huge demand for bankers in Switzerland now, the number of vacancies is at an all-time high. Why??? Because those with some brains already avoid banking.

  9. I spent 16 months out of work once, so I set up an ebay business in the meantime to help myself make a means to an end, if you are waiting for someone on the other side of the desk to offer you a job you become reliant….but ultimately, that which got me back into full time ‘credible’ employment was lying about the gap…..go figure.

  10. Oh be quite Ali!

  11. Its perfectly legit to take time off to have children for women – it shows that they understand some jobs makes no compromises (eg long maternity leave frowned upon etc). Usually anything between 1-2 years are fine.

  12. Unfortunately this article does little to address the issue of ‘re-employment’ .Few are likely to avoid ‘unplanned’ career breaks throughout a life time of working, the perfect career trajectory I would suggest is a rarity and not the norm.
    However , having been in this position once before, I took on a role after a 6 months ‘break’ and was able to double my salary in 20 months in situ and earning 80 K…this was due to the fact that I threw everything into the role, enthusiasm, energy, fresh perspectives and skills, plus the sheer relief of securing an income… maybe a more positive approach or a little more credit should be given to those with ‘gaps’ and both parties would benefit… regs

  13. Time to get entrepreneurial!

  14. “straddles are an easy way to make money”

    Some 95% of people who trade from home get wiped out. There’s nothing ‘easy’ about trading for yourself.

  15. If any of this is news to you, I think you need help of a different sort…

  16. This is just plain nonsense, of course people are going to have gaps in employment. I guess the key thing is to make sure that all time is accounted for on your CV – NOT that it proves a thing!!

  17. Don’t take it personally if people ask you about the gaps in your CV, msot of the time they jsut want to make sure there is no mistake or things missing from the CV. People tend to be very understanding of gaps especially in the current environment, and if you demonstrate that you have been proactie during the gap people don’t really mind that much.

  18. Agree with lots of the criticisms, but climbing Kilimanjaro/cycling from Lands End to John O’groats isn’t going to hurt, is it? if there are 100s of good candidates for every job then doing something challenging (or good for the soul e.g. working for charity) when you have the time shows initiative and a positive mind-set. Its easy to slip into depression in the current climate but you have to pick yourself up. And if you want to try and move to a new career/industry, it will also potentially impress your new prospective employer. At least you did your best so you can keep your pride. As to those complaining about good candidates losing their jobs, tough. Life is not fair. Count yourself lucky to be in the rich 20% on the planet and move on with your life.

  19. I thought that the mountain climbing tip was completely unecessary, reactionary and over-the-top bollocks, although I do admit that it would provide you with a unique conversation starter for your interview, or conversation with a recruiter. Most finance industry professionals, including of course interviewers, have been through some type of career gap, or know one of their ex colleagues who has, and hence often tend to be more understanding than job seekers might imagine. I think that the key would be to avoid dishonestly, take time to upgrade qualifications and join business associations, and not allow oneself to get bogged down or defensive about the interview gap during interviews or recruiter discussions. Obviously, it is what it is, and life doesn’t always run according to plan. Lots of great people are stil unemployed in major financial markets. Here’s hoping that they all soon get back to work! Good luck!

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