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How to Explain Gaps on a Resume

By the Australian Careers Service

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Many people will experience a gap on their resume at some point or other, and with every single industry being impacted in some way by COVID-19 this year, it’s going to be even more common in the years ahead. 

Life happens. It might feel awkward having a gap on your resume, but you’re not alone. The good news is, many employers know and understand this. A gap is no longer the ‘big deal’ it used to be — as long as you explain why it’s there positively. 

Here are four ways to do just that: 

1. Prepare your answer 

The best way to explain any gap on your resume is to assume you’ll be asked about it and make sure you prepare your answer. 

Time out of the workforce can often make us feel less competitive and cagey about our reasons for taking time off. Spend some time thinking about why you were out of work, how long for, and what you did with that time — what did you learn and how will it benefit you in this role? Keep answers concise and confident.  

2. Just be honest 

Employers will question longer gaps because they want to make sure you’re committed to the job you’re up for — if you’ve taken time out for medical or family reasons, they’re seeking reassurance you can do the job. 

This is your chance to demonstrate your professional honesty. Make sure answers don’t come across as ‘confessional’ but focus on the confidently reassuring the employer you’re ready, motivated and committed to take on the job at hand. 

3. Put a professional spin on it 

Think about any transferable skills you may have developed. If you took time out following a redundancy to travel, you could share what you’ve learnt and how travelling has helped you improve as a professional (though time management, organisation or adaptability for example). 

If you were let go, make sure you don’t bad-mouth your last employer. Stay positive and focus on what you’ve gained from the experience, not what you’ve lost. 

4. Don’t panic 

Remember: the employer isn’t seeking to catch you out, they’re just curious. Don’t get defensive or anxious if asked about a gap on your resume.

Bring the focus back to why you’re in the room and what makes you the ideal candidate. You don’t have to go into in-depth detail during the interview if the gap was for personal reasons. Advise the employer you took time out for personal/family reasons and it allowed you to refocus on what you’re looking for now in your career. Then launch into how that led you to apply for the job you’re interviewing for and the unique skills you have for the role. 

Speaking as someone who’s sat on interview panels numerous times and observed how candidates responded to being asked about employment gaps, I can assure you it’s those who don’t treat the gap as an ‘issue’ that reassures all of us in the room that it isn’t. 

Australia’s Best Workplaces for 2020

Global workplace research and consulting firm, Great Place to Work Australia, has released the 2020 edition of its much-anticipated annual publication, 50 Best Places to Work.

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The report is based on research conducted by surveys and evaluation of a company’s policies and procedures.  

While the report always provides fascinating insights into what makes a company great to work for, this year’s report is especially interesting, given the disruption to all industries due to COVID-19. The organisations in this report have continued to demonstrate excellent leadership and care for their employees in the most trying of times. 

The report is sectioned into three different categories based on size: 1,000 or more employees, 100– 999 employees, and 100 or fewer employees. 

1,000+ employees 

The average company with over 1,000 employees is around 35 years old, with majority being in the public sector (80%), and 20% private. Around 90% off staff are employed on a full-time basis. Revenue growth for these smaller companies is 36%.   

With a staff of 1,330, first place goes to worldwide technology leader Cisco Systems Australia, who develop tech equipment for consumers and other businesses. Cisco takes pride in a culture that promotes and encourages personal and professional development.  

Here are the top 5 for companies with 1,000 or more employees: 

  1. Cisco Systems Australia (IT)
  2. Salesforce (IT/software)
  3. SAP Australia (IT/software)
  4. MARS Australia (manufacturing and production)
  5. DHL express (transport and logistics)

100–999 employees 

The average company with 100–999 employees is around 23 years old. 72% of them are in the private sector, 24% public and 4% are not-for-profit. Around 85% off staff are employed on a full-time basis. Revenue growth for these mid-sized companies is 47%, and job growth is 15%. 

First place goes to multi-service IT provider, Interactive — Australia’s largest privately owned IT company. The report says that during COVID-19, Interactive were dedicated to replicating people’s experiences in a physical office in a way that translates to remote working.   

Here are the top 5 for companies with 100–999 employees: 

  1. Interactive (IT)
  2. AbbVie (biotechnology and pharmaceuticals)
  3. Canva (IT/software)
  4. SafetyCulture (IT/software)
  5. BPAY Group (financial services/banking and finance)

100 or fewer employees 

The average company with fewer than 100 employees is around 21 years old — 80% of these are in the private sector and around 85% off staff are employed on a full-time basis. Revenue growth for these smaller companies is a whopping 71%.  

The top spot went to SC Johnson & Son, an American company with an Australian team of just 54 people. Their mission is ‘to develop and market products that are environmentally sound and do not endanger the health and safety of consumers and users’.  

Here are the top 5 companies with 100 or fewer employees: 

  1. SC Johnson & Son (manufacturing and production)
  2. Insentra (IT/IT consulting)
  3. Morgan McKinley (professional services/staffing and recruitment)
  4. Beaumont People (professional services/staffing and recruitment)
  5. LogMeIn Australia (IT/software)

You can view the full top 100 here or download the full report

New Zealand: Jobs in Skill Shortage

Skill shortages happen when employers find it hard to get staff with the right skills for the job. Knowing which jobs are in skill shortage can help you choose the best job option or decide what subjects to study. 

careers.govt.nz

Reasons for skill shortages

Skill shortages can happen because:

  • there aren’t enough workers with the right skills available
  • turnover is high because workers are unhappy with pay or working conditions 
  • there is a general labour shortage, such as during low unemployment.

Skill shortages can change due to:

  • changes in technology or the economy
  • skilled workers moving to another country
  • an ageing workforce.

Immigration New Zealand’s skill shortage lists 

When jobs appear on Immigration New Zealand’s skill shortage lists, this means the Government is actively encouraging skilled workers from overseas to work in that role in New Zealand.

Find out what jobs are currently on Immigration New Zealand’s long-term, regional, and construction and infrastructure skill shortage lists within the following industries.

Employers Warned of Looming Deadline for EU Workers to Sort Visas

Employers have been warned that the deadline for EU workers to have made their UK visa applications is fast approaching.

The latest government advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents states that anybody who had a visa that expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020 was able to request an extension if they were not able to return home because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, this can not be extended beyond the government’s most recent grace period of 31 August 2020 as travel restrictions are lifting globally. Those affected are therefore expected to take all reasonable steps to leave the UK where it is possible to do so or apply to regularise their stay in the UK.

The government said those intending to stay in the UK, including those whose leave expires before 31 August 2020, should apply for the necessary leave to remain.

For anybody whose visa or leave expired between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020, the government said there will be no future adverse immigration consequences if they did not make an application to regularise their stay during this period, however they must now do so by 31 August 2020 or make arrangements to leave the UK.

“There are some quite limited circumstances where people who are still intending to leave the UK but won’t have been able to get their affairs in order [by 31 August] can apply for exceptional assurances from the Home Office, but it’s currently unclear what that really means for them,” Charlie Fowler, senior associate at law firm Collyer Bristow, told HR Magazine.

6 Ways to Get Your Job Search Back on Track

An article by Elaine Mead and published by the Australian Careers Service.

After a few months stuck at home, half the world is either just beginning to return to normal (and the office) or they’ve been left wondering what comes next after experiencing job losses. 

Losing a job or part of your professional identity can be a shock to the system. Know you are not alone in this experience. When you’re ready to take the next step forward, there’s plenty of ways to do so. 

It’s going to take a while for recruitment to pick up again and we’re certainly going to face a few more challenges as we deal with the impact of COVID-19. Making a plan for finding work might seem like a mammoth task. 

The small things can quickly become the building blocks of bigger changes and help you feel empowered rather than trapped during this time. Aside from updating your resume and cover letter, here are six to get you started: 

1. Update your LinkedIn profile 

If it’s been a while since you looked at your LinkedIn profile, now is the perfect time for some updates. You can set your profile to ‘actively seeking opportunities’ to indicate to potential employers and recruiters you’re looking for work and follow companies for job openings as soon as they happen. Spend some time making sure all your job titles are up to date, remove anything outdated and include links to projects or resources that align with your work or professional identity.  

2. Expand your knowledge 

Learning professional skills is a lifelong hobby and a great way to kick start your own development journey if it’s been a while since you studied. If you’re seeking ways to feel in-control and proactive about your career, an online course or workshop could be just the thing you need. Whether you want something to help you in your current industry or you’re seeking to strike out in a new direction entirely, there’s something for everyone. 

3. Check-in with your network 

Networking might seem like a foreign concept in our current climates, but it’s not completely off the table. Are you involved with any professional associations for your industry? Many are offering free professional development workshops, as well as regular Zoom meetings simply giving members a chance to chat and discuss how COVID has been impacting their industry and day-to-day jobs. It’s a great way to feel less alone but also connect with some new faces. 

4. Set up a professional website 

If unemployment is on the books, setting up a digital space that contains your resume, write-ups of any projects and programs you’ve helped on, as well as a weekly blog on your own thoughts about your industry could be what sets you apart when job hunting. Consider this a portfolio where you get to showcase your in-depth knowledge and understanding of your work and include the link to your site on your resume. It’s a great way to invite employers to get to know you better. 

5. Create some ‘how-to’ guides 

Lots of people every day are looking for ways to simplify their workday or understand how to do something quickly and easily. If you’ve got some niche knowledge, creating a how-to guide is a great way to boost your professional identity. Identify common question-points in your day-to-day job or industry and do a write-up — you might even visit a few of your own gaps and write about those! Share online (either LinkedIn or your website) and invite others to share their input. 

6. Start a business book club 

There are books for every single industry imaginable, or you could pick a broader topic such as leadership, workplace culture, or emotional intelligence in the office. You can read alone or rope in a few other colleagues or industry peers to read along with you. It’s a different way of adding to your personal knowledge and growing as a professional. 

Elaine Mead  is a Careers and Work-Integrated Learning Educator based in Tasmania. 

Find Jobs Through Facebook

An article published by careers.govt.nz which is also relevant to UK job hunters.

Due to COVID-19 disruption, you may be wanting to find jobs wherever you can. Facebook is a good platform to use for job hunting because it’s an easy way to scroll through jobs and connect with people in the work area you’re interested in. Many recruitment agencies use their Facebook pages to promote jobs and Facebook itself has its own job search feature.

We spoke with Tony Cutting from Kumara Vine to find out how Facebook can help with your job hunt.

Building Communities Through Facebook

Kumara Vine is a website that celebrates Māori and Pacific people’s success in the workplace by sharing stories of achievement and promoting jobs to their whānau and friends.

Tony Cutting from Kumara Vine explains why they turned to Facebook to promote employment opportunities.

“Māori and Pasifika are known to be strong users of social media, and given that Facebook gives you the ability to build communities, we thought it would be a good vehicle to promote our jobs.”

With Facebook allowing the on-sharing of posts, many other people and organisations can easily be contacted and connected.

Clean Up Your Facebook Account

Most jobs promoted through Facebook will link you back to another website where you can find more information about the job and apply. However, it’s always important to check that your social media accounts and online behaviour are appropriate – especially if you’re using Facebook directly to job hunt.

“It makes good sense that your social media accounts are maintained to high standards as many employers will check them before deciding whether to interview you or not,” says Tony.

The public version of your profile can be seen by employers, but you can choose who sees your posts. Facebook also has a feature that lets you see what your profile looks like to people you aren’t connected with.

Check the Groups or Pages Before Joining

Despite Facebook being a great platform to find jobs that you’re interested in, you should be careful to avoid any dodgy pages or job advertisements.

“It’s important to make sure that any groups or pages that you join or follow are legitimate. That’s why at Kumara Vine we always link our social media jobs back to our website so people can see we’re the real deal,” Tony says.

Make the Most of Facebook’s Job Search Feature

Facebook has a feature just for job searching. Similar to other job recruitment websites, you can filter your job search to suit your location, industry or job type.

Could Appreciative Inquiry Improve Your Career Coaching?

An article by Michelle Etheve who specialises in enabling people to create purposeful, strengths-based change and to thrive as they design, learn, and experiment together. As co-founder of The Change Lab, she helps to create cultures of curiosity by teaching people how to craft and ask better questions. Michelle has designed and delivered Appreciative Inquiry summits, positive change experiences, career development games, and coaching development programs in workplaces, schools, and communities around the world.

It’s not surprising that when people seek advice and support with regards to their career they’re more often than not hoping to fix career ‘problems’, work through where they may have taken ‘wrong’ turns, discuss where they’re ‘stuck’ and not moving forward, amongst a host of other issues. Our brains are wired with a negativity bias, which is a natural pull to focus on what’s not working, what’s missing, what we’ve lost, and what might be of threat to us.

Whilst this wonderful survival mechanism has served us well at times and kept us alive as a species, this can often leave us stuck and only seeing half of the picture, especially when it comes to complex matters like our careers. We learn very little about what we’re capable of, what’s possible, and where our strengths lie by investing the majority of our energy into exploring our failures and perceived weaknesses.

So, it’s important to ask: Do the approaches we reach for to support career conversations place our energy in exploring problems or do they help people to uncover, tap into, and build on their strengths to grow greater confidence, clarity, and spark new possibilities?

One such strengths-based approach worth exploring for career conversations is Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Developed by Professor David Cooperrider and his colleagues, this approach has been used to generate positive change for individuals, teams, and whole human systems. One of the most common ways AI is used is to bring entire organisations, schools, or communities together for large scale change summits, achieving phenomenal and transformational results.

Much like its name indicates, the approach is ‘appreciative’, meaning it sheds light on the best of what is and what has been, and taps into what strengths, resources, and life-giving factors are available to be built upon.

It is also an ‘inquiry’, holding true that change begins not with the action we take, but with the questions that proceed them. It is those questions that shape the direction in which we focus our energy, change, act, and grow. So, by guiding people through an inquiry with questions that are appreciative – they look for the good, the true, and the possible – positive change and action is primed to emerge.

For example, schools have tackled the question: ‘How can we reduce bullying?’ only to find they get real traction and positive change when they flip their question and ask: ‘How do students grow great friendships?’

We grow in the direction in which we ask questions. What questions are shaping and guiding your conversations? Do they help clarify and prioritise what you want to grow?

So, how can we apply AI to career coaching conversations? Give the following five steps at try:

Define an appreciative career topic

The first, and arguably most important, step in an AI conversation is to define the topic of the inquiry. You will shape your questions around this topic, so the aim is to make it magnetic, positive, and for it to get to the heart of what people truly want to be moving towards. We have a natural tendency to move in the direction of what is life-giving and positive, rather than negative and depleting, this is called the heliotropic effect, so it’s essential to begin by shaping a topic that supports this.

A great way to create an appreciative topic is by using Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres’ ‘name it, flip it, and frame it’ steps. Here’s an example:

Name it – Name the strategic problem, complaint, or what you want to remove/reduce.

Example 1:  Feeling very drained by my work.
Example 2:  Don’t know what I want to do for a career.

Flip it – Flip this by asking: “What would the positive opposite of this be? What is it that you do want or want more of?”

Example 1:  Feel like I get some energy from the work I do.
Example 2:  Have some career ideas.

Frame it – Frame this in a way that is magnetic and energising by asking: “What would be the positive impact if the flip occurred? What is the desired outcome?”

Example 1:  Have an energising and engaging career.
Example 2:  Exploring and growing my career possibilities.

Once you have defined your topic of conversation you can craft questions that serve the needs of each stage of the process and help people move through it. You will need questions that do the following:

Discover the best of what’s been

This is the first step of your inquiry (the first of four steps in AI’s 4D framework), to facilitate your coachee through discovering the best of the past to discover stories of strengths, performance, confidence, and what made these moments possible.

Ask questions to get to the heart of ‘what’s been working well?’ Try starting with: “Tell me about your best…” and add words that would get to the heart of previous strengths and successes with regards to the inquiry topic.

Example 1: “Tell me about your best experience of feeling energised at work.”
Example 2: “Tell me about your best experience of exploring and creating new career* possibilities.”

Explore further with probing questions to surface more of the strengths, such as: What happened? What made that possible? What strengths were you tapping into at the time? Why is it so memorable?

*If the person is very early in their career drop ‘career’ from the question and have them explore when they’ve created any new possibilities for themselves.

Dream of what’s possible

The second step in your inquiry is to support your coachee to create rich, vivid, energising images of the future. These images should aim to generate optimism, hope, and act like a magnet pulling the coachee forward, motivating them to take action. These are a lot richer than simply setting a goal. They invite people to paint a picture of what they will be feeling, doing, seeing around them, this is as specific as you can make it.

Ask questions to generate these images of ‘what might be possible?’ Try: “Based on the strengths we’ve just discovered, if everything went as well as it could what would…?”.

Example 1: “If everything went as well as it could, what would feeling more energised and engaged at work make possible?”
Example 2: “If everything went as well as it could, what would exploring and creating new career possibilities look like?”

Explore further with probing questions to paint a rich, motivating picture, such as – What are all the different ways that might look like? What might you be doing? How would you be interacting with people? What would they be saying? What would you be most proud of? What difference would it make?

Design what might be

The third step of your inquiry aims to generate pathways to bring to life that picture of the future. The aim is to realise as many pathways as possible so to create a host of options to help people remain resilient and flexible in the face of barriers, in ways that align with their strengths and resources. Assist them to prioritise which pathways they want to put their energy and resources towards first.

Ask questions to generate multiple pathways for ‘how might we get there?’ Try: “What might it take to…?”

Example: “What might it take to move from where you are now, to the picture you just described?”

Explore further with probing questions to help generate many pathways, then prioritise them, such as: What are some other ways you might make this possible? Which of these pathways are you most motivated to try? What support might you need to draw on? What resources are available for you to tap into?

Realise your Destiny 

The final step in your inquiry aims to invite people to take action that they are motivated to and care enough about to take responsibility for. While the word ‘destiny’ may sound odd, it nicely highlights the unpredictable and emergent nature of our future. Far-reaching plans are unrealistic in our ever-changing lives and world. Once we take our next steps, we can repeat this 4D cycle continuously for more learning and positive change as new strengths are developed and new experiences generate new information to re-shape our dreams and create new pathways.

Ask questions that generate immediate next steps for ‘where will you start?’ Try: “If there was # step you could take…?”

Example: “If there was one small step you could take to move forward, where would you like to start?”

Explore further with probing questions to ensure they’re able to take immediate action, such as: What would you need to get started? What obstacles might you encounter and how might you overcome or bypass them? How will you celebrate taking this step?

Appreciative Inquiry is a wonderful and unique approach to creating positive change. There’s no ‘right’ way to apply it to careers coaching, so explore and experiment with these suggestions and find a way to make it your own. For example, you may prefer to move through all the steps in one conversation, or you may wish to have a separate conversation for each incorporating different measures, homework, and activities as part of the inquiry.

If you’d like to learn more about appreciative inquiry, feel free to reach out to us at The Change Lab: michelle.e@thechangelabs.com or connect via LinkedIn.

International Resources
July 21, 2020
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The Canadian Careers Development Foundation (CCDF) is a non-profit organization that works to advance career services and the capacity of the profession to respond with empathy and skill to their clients and stakeholders in an ever-changing work environment. CCDF is a nationally and internationally recognized leader in the field of career development. 

They provide a range of free resources including the following:

Job Search Workbook

If you’re ready to find a job, this guide is for you.  Through a step-by-step effective and proven job search process, this workbook will help you:

  • Find work that it a right fit for you and your skills,
  • Help you develop the tools you need to be ready for work search, including a good resume, references and a career pitch,
  • Support you in identifying potential jobs, use your networks, tailor your work search tools and present yourself well at job interviews, and
  • Provide tips on accepting a job offer, agreeing on terms of employment and accepting a position in a professional manner.

Job Search Workbook

Career Decision-Making Workbook

If you are unsure what you want to do after school or throughout your career, this guide is for you. Figuring out the next steps of your career journey may seem overwhelming. This guide will take you step-by-step to get clear about what you want and how to get there.

Career Decision-Making Workbook 

Get Your Free Job Hunters’ Workbook
July 3, 2020
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A free job hunter’s workbook from Careers.gov.nz

Are you wondering how to get started again in the job market?

NZ Careers has created a workbook packed with helpful information and tips on how to search for, apply, and get the job you want.

Download the eBook now

Making the Shift to Online Career Coaching
June 29, 2020
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Published by the Australian Careers Service.

By Karen Lomas 

Many of us have been forced to shift from long-utilised methods of in-person career coaching to new systems of delivery and service. We’ve all had to adapt as quickly as possible to school closures and social distancing while continuing to support our students and clients. Making the shift to online career coaching has been key. 

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I have been utilising online platforms for quite some time; however, COVID-19 has meant a shift away from anything delivered face-to-face. Here is my personal reflection on this period of churn. 

The initial slow-down 

For me, COVID-19 lock-down policies resulted, for a short while, in an almost total suspension of work. In particular, revenue for March dived in comparison to revenue for March 2019. In addition to being bed-bound with illness for a five days, a project I was working on was suspended. 

Another issue was that families lost income, as some were either furloughed on reduced pay, or laid off. The JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes had not yet come into play. I felt the need to offer some discounts and it felt good to be able to do this. Then I waited and things picked up. Sometimes there’s nothing else for it but to be patient.  

Changing my business model 

I went from running a career office that clients attended in person, to an all-online careers service. This shift meant marketing the new provision of career coaching via my website and on social media. This costs money because I have to pay for back end support on my website.

Once I mastered Zoom, I had to learn how to use Webex quickly, then keep on top of the deluge of information coming from Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre, Career Development Association of Australia, Careers Industry Council of Australia, Careers Education Association of Victoria, tertiary providers, my Careers Group and from virtual careers expo organisers. It was super intense for a while. 

I now use both of those Webex and Zoom platforms and lock my meetings, but do not take recordings. I did this upon the advice of CICA. In a discussion with my Careers Networking Group I realised that schools have different policies, so I was anxious about the fact that while school-based career practitioners had policies that protected them, I had to abide by a different set of rules. I have to rely on my handwritten notes and the interview summary that I share with my clients. For sure, I have insurance policies and the backing of my professional associations.  

In my private practice regarding counselling with children, I always obtained written permission from parents to counsel their child, whether it be online or in-person. If a child is happy for their parent to be present during their coaching session, I accommodate this. The preamble is a little longer with online counselling — the assurances around the session not being recorded, and that when I look away it’s because I’m taking notes ( not because I’m tickling the cat)! 

Challenges my clients are facing 

The language that I was hearing and reading from parents and students was challenging. Many admitted they weren’t coping, and there were parents who said their Year 12 child was thinking of dropping out of school. When asked how they were doing, clients were increasingly circling the word ‘anxious’. 

Some students and young adults do not wish to turn on their screen during sessions, therefore I cannot look for clues from their body language. Then again, there is the potential for the disinhibition effect — the potential benefit of distance, or the barrier created by the screen, and with respect to email and texting, the delay. Students and young adults are indeed divulging, so then it’s a case of listening actively and checking that they are, in fact okay.  

Challenges I’m facing 

Along with the above, there’s an increasing demand for services — and the fact that I don’t have any bells ringing to tell me that it’s lunchtime or time to knock off.  

With a new way of working, we have to protect ourselves from burn-out. I am indeed feeling tired and on one Friday, about a month ago, I was still at my desk at 7pm. That was not an easy day for me, as three students did not seem too good. I had to tell myself that something, just a smile, some words of encouragement will have helped them.  

An overall success 

Shifting to online career coaching has worked and this is gratifying. However, it has required a process of adjustment over which I have had very little control. When I set up my business, I was calling the shots. This year I, like all of us, have been forced to adjust my work in the face of what felt like what I might describe as ‘organised chaos’. It takes me back to a time early in my career when I was working in London and having to run a business despite IRA bomb scares and actual bombings. I recall my Assistant Manager saying on one such day, ‘Well, it’s character-building’. We had to laugh.

Karen  is a career coach specialising in early career exploration with school-aged students.