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How Lawyers Can Navigate Gaps in Their Resumes

Heather N Bowen Pascual

How Lawyers Can Navigate Gaps in Their Resumes
Zigmunds Dizgalvis via iStock

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The dreaded resume gap. You’ve left one employer either by your own choosing, by getting laid off, or by getting fired. In some instances, you may feel like a failure. Alternatively, you may feel like you must immediately take some, or all, of the following steps to get your career on a steady path: update your resume, draft cover letters, peruse the endless job boards, apply to open positions, connect with internal and third-party recruiters, notify your connections, and shout from the rooftops that you are desperately in need of a new position. PAUSE. Take a step back. Don’t be in such a hurry to dive into the job hunt.

Take Time for Reflection

Reflect on what went wrong in your previous job and understand what you are looking for in your new role. Were the culture and work environment different from your expectations? Was the salary not within the range you needed to survive and thrive? Did management not value your contributions or provide you an avenue to be a part of the organization’s larger missions? Do you need a role that allows you to work remotely to cut costs, achieve higher productivity levels, and have a better work-life balance? Going through this period of self-reflection is critical. Without it, you will repeat the same mistakes in your next role and end up back on the job market within six months. Outlining your future career path can take days, weeks, or months. If you have had multiple gaps in your resume that last between three to nine months, know that there are ways to use those gaps in your employment history to accelerate your career to the next level. It starts with reflection.

Communication Is Key

Like they say, “it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” Once you have an opportunity to interview with a potential employer, know that you will be questioned about your resume gap at some point. An interviewer will want to know whether you left your job willingly, whether you did not find your work stimulating, whether you had issues in your performance, or whether the company pushed you out due to a lack of “culture fit.” You must clearly and confidently communicate why you transitioned from your prior employer and want to move into a new role at the interviewer’s company.

Be proactive in explaining your resume gap and provide a clear explanation to the interviewer that lasts ideally no longer than 30-60 seconds. For example, if you used to work in a large company and want to work in a startup environment, you might say something along the lines of

the following: “I left my prior low-impact position at a major multinational company to pursue a career working with startups and entrepreneurs. What I truly enjoy is having a seat at the table and being directly involved in projects that positively impact a company’s growth trajectory. In this position at your company, I could provide intellectual property counsel to entrepreneurs by strategically guiding them through the process of protecting their ideas, products, and services for the long term through the process of filing and registering copyrights, trademarks, and patents. This is an opportunity that was not available to me in my prior role, but which I am excited to take on at your company.”

Once you have provided a rationale for the gap in your resume, move on. Interviewers will push you to explain yourself further or attempt to bury you in the details. Do not buy into this trick of trying to defend yourself or your answer, as you will waste your interview time. Steer the conversation to another topic by asking the interviewer to explain more about the role and workplace culture. Ultimately, successfully communicating a gap in your resume comes down to practicing what you want to say and delivering it confidently when the time comes.

Focus on the Future

Sometimes, people leave an employer to make a career change or pursue a new line of work in their current field. This often requires substantial training and educational programs or obtaining a highly desired or preferred certification in the industry. Again, preparation is key in accomplishing this task.

For example, say you have been working as an M&A transactions attorney but now want to transition to a data privacy operations role. Many data privacy roles require that candidates have an IAPP CIPM certification as a qualifier. In this case, you would need to take personal time to understand the rapidly changing dynamics of the data privacy landscape, discern what regional and national laws impact businesses, grasp what is necessary to build and successfully operate a data privacy program, and ultimately achieve the relevant certification. That process could take three or more months to accomplish before you could competently discuss data privacy matters with industry professionals and advise your clients on the regulatory changes applicable to their business practices. If you were to hurriedly apply for data privacy roles without an understanding of the data privacy landscape, surely, you would be setting yourself up for disaster.

A resume gap or multiple resume gaps do not have to cause a downward spiral in your career. If you learn from prior mistakes and patiently take the necessary steps to find the right job for you, you can leverage a resume gap to have a thriving career. Look at your resume gaps as a stepping stone that you can use to ultimately reach your ideal position and lifestyle.