Don’t Rule Out Applicants Because of Employment History Gaps

By Jennifer Schramm Jul 2, 2014

Many businesses are reconsidering their negative assumptions about employment gaps on applicants’ resumes—and HR is leading the way.

High long-term unemployment rates have contributed to this change in thinking. Individuals who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more accounted for 35.3 percent of the unemployed population in the United States at the beginning of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the bright side, that number was down by 908,000 over the past year. Yet, at 3.5 million, long-term unemployment remains worryingly high.

The labor force participation rate is another concern. It has fallen more than three percentage points since 2007—the steepest decline in the post-World War II era—and stands at 62.8 percent.

There are myriad reasons why working-age adults are not in the labor market. Many are full-time students. Others have stopped working due to caregiving responsibilities. Many who are not working will want to re-enter the labor market somewhere down the line.

Earlier this year, Henry G. “Hank” Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), joined leaders from more than 300 companies at the White House to discuss how to reduce long-term unemployment. They pledged to adjust hiring practices in order to tap the long-term unemployed as a source of talent.

There is growing evidence that, once hired, those with significant employment gaps are just as effective as other employees. San Francisco-based data analytics company Evolv recently found no significant difference in job performance between entry-level call center agents who hadn’t held a single full-time job in at least five years and the rest of the company’s agents.

Some organizations have come to realize that employment gaps can represent periods of strong personal growth and skills acquisition. In fact, applicants who have gaps may be among the very best candidates.

Managers need to understand that today’s economic challenges and demographic shifts will inevitably lead to a large number of potential applicants with employment gaps. They must look critically at how they review resumes and examine hiring procedures to ensure that recruitment strategies don’t exclude applicants with employment gaps.

And organizations can engage with their local talent pool—including people who are either unemployed or just stepping back to work after an absence—by offering training programs or even temporary positions, sometimes referred to as “returnships.”

Organizations that challenge old concepts will benefit from the contributions of an often-overlooked source of talent and potential.

Jennifer Schramm is manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.


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