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Following the pandemic, more people are taking career breaks, and many employers are encouraging them to be open about their time away from work.

Large swaths of the workforce have left their jobs, voluntarily or involuntarily, in the changed world of work. Furloughs and layoffs left many employees without full-time jobs through spring 2020, while The Great Resignation saw 47.8 million US workers quit their jobs in 2021 alone – many of them with no other positions explicitly lined up. By June 2022, there will be 1.7 million economically inactive people looking for work in the United Kingdom.

Although voluntary resignation rates have declined since their peak, many employees are still leaving their jobs. Furthermore, the economic slowdown and concerns about a future recession have prompted businesses, particularly in technology, to announce waves of job cuts into the new year. As a result of this disruption, CVs are beginning to look different, particularly with more gaps in employment.

Employment discontinuity, once considered a career taboo, is becoming more common. In some cases, these CV gaps are being rebranded as ‘career breaks,’ a period during which a worker takes stock, recharges, and returns to work. Nonetheless, while there has been a significant increase in resume gaps and an openness to discussing them, not all periods of unemployment are created equal.

Breaking down the taboo

In the last three years, many workers have moved around the labour market. Not everyone who has quit their job has started their new job right away.

Others are taking voluntary breaks for mental-health reasons, in addition to switching industries or going freelance. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a half-million more UK workers have dropped out of the labour force due to long-term illness since the pandemic. Another 1.75 million UK employees, 84% of whom are women, have taken time off work to care for family members. According to some estimates, over 100,000 global tech workers have lost their jobs since 2022. In addition to the standard time required to find a new job, Many of these workers have also received redundancy packages, which means they do not have to return to work right away.

These workers will have resume gaps if and when they return to the workforce. Traditionally, recruiters have stigmatised these gaps in employment by asking candidates to explain them away. “Recruiters were once taught to treat any CV gaps as a red flag,” says Adam Nicoll, group marketing director at Luton, UK-based recruitment and job-consulting firm Randstad. “Hiring people is risky because there is danger everywhere. A gap in employment should be scrutinised to see if you’re hiring a safe pair of hands for the job.”

Missing time in a CV is now generally met with open curiosity rather than an assumption of a person’s poor performance or reliability – Jill Cotton

The career-gap taboo has long been known to candidates. According to Nicoll, much of it stems from the perceived shame of being unemployed. This is why, in the past, job seekers have embellished their resumes to appear to have been in continuous employment. “Following the 2008 financial crash, there was a surge of CVs showing people in steady, full-time employment suddenly followed by ‘freelance consultant’. No one was freelancing; they were simply filling gaps in their careers.”

According to Nicoll, generational differences between employers and those they hire have also fueled this career-gap anxiety. “More experienced individuals are more likely to be hired. Until the 2000s, the narrative was to climb the career ladder as quickly as possible and reach the top. Because career breaks were less common for older hiring managers, they were more likely to be sceptical if the candidate opposite them had taken time off. ”

However, over the years, more employees who had taken gap years or sabbaticals have found themselves in hiring positions, according to Nicoll, softening the stigma associated with employment discontinuity. The sheer number of people who have left their jobs or been laid off as a result of Covid-19 has shifted attitudes even further. “Missing time in a CV is now generally met with open curiosity rather than an assumption of a person’s poor performance or reliability,” says Jill Cotton, a careers-advice expert at the London-based company-reviews website Glassdoor.

In some cases, an employment gap is no longer something to hide; on LinkedIn, employees can even highlight it as a ‘career break,’ where they can detail newly acquired skills or life experiences. In a March 2022 survey of 23,000 global workers, 62% said they had taken a break at some point in their professional careers. This openness about resume gaps has coincided with an increase in layoffs, the abolition of the layoff taboo, and workers writing epic farewell messages on the platform about their experience of being laid off.

“We’re seeing an increase in people being transparent and honest about why they have a gap in their CVs,” says Charlotte Davies, consumer communications and career expert at LinkedIn in London. “It demonstrates that taking a career break can provide an individual with new skills, new perspectives, and a renewed sense of energy when they return to the workforce.”

A fresh career break?

Even with the understanding that a worker’s career path may not be linear, not every employment gap is treated equally. According to Nicoll, a candidate who has taken six months to upskill for a career change may be judged more favourably than a job-seeker who has been out of work for a year due to burnout.

“It still depends on the individual preferences of the recruiter reviewing the CV,” he adds. “Unfortunately, there are some hiring managers who will still look at someone taking a career break for mental-health reasons as demonstrating a lack of resilience. No one, on the other hand, will ever think less of someone who has taken time out to better themselves and learn new skills – it’s a CV gap that has always been perceived positively.” Similarly, a career break for caring responsibilities is usually treated sympathetically by hiring managers, according to Nicoll. However, these carers, who are often women, may still be at a disadvantage when compared to a similarly qualified job seeker, especially if they are in their early career. “If someone had a year out to care for their family, they’ve still ultimately had a year’s less experience in the workplace. There is a more obvious difference in skill collection between someone with three years of experience and someone with four.”

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