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How to keep gaps from forming

March 27, 2009
By Heather Huhman

Taking two weeks off after you graduate from college is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged. After all, you’ve earned it! But, going much longer than that without meaningful, relevant work experience to add to your résumé could end up costing you. What are some options to keep the gap between college and an entry-level job from forming on your résumé?

1. Find an internship. “Gaps on a résumé, no matter how long you are unemployed, are completely avoidable. If you are stuck between jobs, now is the time to start giving your time away,” said E. Kelly Fitzsimmons, CEO and co-founder of HarQen LLC. “The best way to get a new job is to earn it. Try applying for an unpaid internship at a company that you respect. If you perform well, they will make room for you. Nothing is guaranteed, but an unpaid internship keeps that dreaded gap at bay.”

To add, I recommend pending graduates apply for entry-level jobs and internships (paid and unpaid) simultaneously during their last month or so of school. This lessens the likelihood of having to scramble for something after-the-fact.

2. Get a certification. “If you work in an area like IT where there are certifications for various pieces of software and equipment, consider setting up a home lab and working your way through what you need to know to get certified. Telling an interviewer, ‘While I've been looking for a job, I set up a lab in the basement and got my MCSE’ is a very good way to explain what you've been doing for the past few months,” said Mark Shead, owner of Productivity 501.

There are many fields in which you can get an additional certification. Shead’s advice is not limited to IT.

3. Freelance. “Freelancing is a great way to fill gaps in your résumé,” said Maureen Nelson, a senior career counselor at the Oakland Private Industry Council One Stop Career Center. “You have real work to show with clients and projects. And, freelancing might be a way to find your next permanent job!”

Read my interview with Michelle Goodman, author of “My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire,” for specific freelancing tips.

4. Consider temping. “Look to local staffing firms who may help companies hire temporary or contract staffing. While it may be challenging to secure a permanent position right now, many companies are bringing on temporary talent for project work that looks great on a résumé—and it is a great way to get your foot in the door at a larger company who may hire for permanent positions later,” said Analisa Blakley, marketing director at The Judson Group.

5. Check into the possibility of extending your college job. “If the job seeker had a part-time position while in school they should continue to work at that position and/or find a similar position whereby they could leverage their past experience,” said Jason M. Hill, MBA, managing partner at Sound Advice Consulting Services. “It will show that they are gainfully employed and are not wasting time. This will also help the job seeker with their financial situation, self confidence and keep their interpersonal skills sharp.”

6. Volunteer. “Whether skills-based volunteer work provides an opportunity to network, stay engaged or build skill sets, it's what many professionals are doing to ride out the recession. Skills-based volunteering benefits both sides of the equation, the nonprofit obtains the free professional services they need to survive, and the volunteer has the opportunity to give back, keep their skills sharp and their résumés intact,” said Mary Roben, executive director of SmartVolunteer.

7. Enhance your education and knowledge in your field of interest. “Join professional associations, attend seminars or workshops by those already in the field, and become active in your professional community. Making a commitment to your ongoing professional development will be valuable throughout your career and will differentiate you from other candidates,” said Wendy Gelberg, principal of Gentle Job Search.


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