When screening 100 resumes to find the ten best to interview, employers don’t need much of a reason to screen out the ones that look risky. Today’s column addresses how to reflect lay-offs and other long periods of unemployment on your resume or employment application.

When and why – If you worked for an employer ten years ago for a month, it’s normally unnecessary to list that job on your resume. On the other hand, if you held a job for years before being terminated, or if the application asks if you’ve ever been fired from a job, you need to list that job and include a brief explanation why you were laid off. Having a significant gap in your employment history can be a red flag, leaving the employer to guess why you weren’t working, and to assume the worst.

Lapses between jobs – There are many reasons for an extended lapse between jobs. Some might include raising a child, a prolonged illness, attending school or incarceration. If your skills and experience are a good match for a job, most employers won’t screen you out due to a minor lapse in your employment history. However, be prepared to address your employment breaks at the interview. Depending on the reason for the lapse, you could address it on an employment application. In the space where you list your previous jobs, state something like, “2002-2007 – Took time off to start a family.” If space allows, you could also state, “I am now ready to return to the workforce full-time.”

Some medical conditions carry the protection of federal employment law, prohibiting the employer from discriminating based upon the medical condition. My personal opinion is that most employers are simply concerned that a previous or current condition will not result in significant time off or a major cost due to a relapse. If you are reluctant to share the details about your condition, you may want to address your likelihood (or unlikelihood) of missing work due to your condition. If you are ready to return to work full-time, tell the employer you were off due to health reasons that have been resolved.

Previous job loss – The key is to assure the screener that whatever happened in the past will not be a problem in the future. Were you terminated because of a ‘personality conflict’ on the job? If so, DO NOT highlight to a future employer you couldn’t get along with your former boss. Instead, try stating, “To pursue employment where I can fully utilize my skills.” If you are asked why you left in an interview, you could state how that particular job wasn’t a good fit for you or that your skills weren’t a good match for the job. Prepare an answer that is brief, to the point, and doesn’t describe you or your employer in a negative light. Describe what you learned from the experience and how you’ll use that knowledge in the future. Discuss new skills acquired since that job, or mention an award or certificate you received which shows you can be a superior employee.

Layoff due to a closure or downsizing – Give the screener or interviewer a feel for the scope of the lay-off. For example, “I was part of a 20% workforce reduction;” or, “The business closed, laying off all employees.” Be cautious not to appear angry or bitter (even though you might be!) if asked to address this situation in an interview. Try a positive spin instead. State that you see your situation as an opportunity to start over, or to explore new challenges and apply your skills and knowledge in a new environment. Always practice your answers out loud before needing them in the interview.

Schooling you didn’t complete – If you have a significant number of credits, it’s best to list that number. If not, just put down something like, “ABC College, 2000-2004, Major: Finance.” By listing your education this way it is not immediately evident that you didn’t complete. Remember, if the question should arise during an interview you need to be truthful, and be prepared to explain why you didn’t complete, or that you are still attending part-time.

Multiple jobs over a short time – If the jobs were temporary positions, list that on your resume. Better yet, instead of listing each and every job, group the jobs together, such as, “Three Years Retail Sales Experience.” That way it doesn’t appear you were job-hopping. You can also list dates on the right side of the page rather than the left, as is customary. You might want to only list those jobs that apply to the position you are seeking. You can list those under the heading of “Relevant Experience.” Be aware that some applications ask you to list all jobs during a certain period. If that is the case, list them all.

You can’t get the job if you don’t get an interview. Time spent on refining your resume or application may be all that’s keeping you from getting the interview. Our staff at the One-Stop Job Center will be happy to review your resume or help you prepare one. Come see us at 124 N. Irwin Street in downtown Hanford.