Four Ways to Talk About Gaps in Your LinkedIn Profile, with Katie Fogarty

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 228:

Four Ways to Talk About Gaps in Your LinkedIn Profile, with Katie Fogarty

Airdate: January 29, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

You’ll likely have one or two gaps in your career. Perhaps you got laid off, chose to start a family, or took a break between jobs.

What should you say about these kinds of gaps on your LinkedIn profile?

Here to talk about this is Katie Fogarty.

Katie owns The Reboot Group. She helps job seekers and companies tell better career and brand stories.

She joins us today from Long Island, New York.

Well, Katie, here’s where I want to start, why should listeners talk about gaps on a LinkedIn profile at all? Why not just wait for an employer to ask?

Katie Fogarty:

Mac, that’s a great question. Avoiding gaps is not something that works; employers are going to see if you have a gap on your resume, they’re going to be curious about it, and frankly, they’re busy. They don’t have time to decode your work history.

If you have a gap on your LinkedIn profile, on your resume, it’s going to be obvious and it really behooves you to get out in front of it, figure out what you’re going to say, and lead with an explanation of your gap.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about what you mean when you say gaps, Katie. Is this about being out of work, between jobs, taking care of family members? Give us some examples.

Katie Fogarty:

Well, there are really two types of gaps that people have in their work history. They’re either involuntary gaps, where perhaps you’ve been reorganized out of a job, your company might have gone through a merger, an acquisition, they might have had a change in priorities, and your job was eliminated. Sometimes your gap is involuntary because you’ve been fired or let go for performance issues. Sometimes your gap is involuntary because you’ve had to step out of work and deal with a health challenge. That’s one set of gaps.

The other set of gaps are voluntary gaps where you choose to leave the workforce to care for children, to care for an elderly or sick relative, to manage your own personal passions. A lot of times, people experience burnout, or they want to take a sabbatical, or they might explore a career pivot, and wind up going to do continuing education.

So, those are basically the two types of gaps that people typically have on their work histories.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s dig into how people should talk about those kinds of gaps, and you have four tips. Let’s start with the first one.

You say, “Explain, don’t apologize.” Tell us more about that, Katie.

Katie Fogarty:

Yeah, absolutely, and, Mac, before I dive into that, I actually just want to take a minute to do some quick stage setting.

I know that for all of your listeners who are job hunting, there’s a lot of anxiety that goes along with that, and if you have a gap in your work history, sometimes there’s just increased trepidation about how you’re going to get out there and explain it. And I really want your listeners who are experiencing gaps to understand that they are not alone.

I work with people every single month who are dealing with either voluntary or involuntary career gaps that I talked about, and I myself have had career gaps during my own work history. I have a nineteen-year-old daughter, a sixteen-year-old, and a five-year-old, and I have left and reentered the paid workforce twice.

So, I really know it can be done, and the good news is that gaps, the research has shown that even if you have gaps in your history, that employers in this very tight labor market are still willing to consider working with you.

Resume.go, which is a national resume company, just did some research, and when applicants provide a reason for their work gap, when they let the employer know why it happened and what they were doing, they are 60% more likely to actually get and land an interview. So, that’s point number one.

You need to explain what happened during your gap, what you were doing, and why you left, and don’t make the employer figure it out for you. You need to come up with a simple one to two sentence explanation that talks about the gap. If you left to care for children, you’ll say that.

You’ll say, “I left the workforce for five years. Now that my children are entering Kindergarten, I’m returning to work as…” Whatever it is that you do, so explain your gap but be clear that it’s over as well.

Let employers know that the gap has been resolved and that you’re back to work.

Mac Prichard:

Why does that work, Katie? Why does providing an explanation, why is that so persuasive to employers?

Katie Fogarty:

Employers are humans. They too have children, they too have relatives, they too have people in their lives who have left, have gone in and out of work, and they understand that there are reasons that people legitimately step out of the workforce.

And as long as you’re clear about explaining that you’ve either cared for a loved one, you’ve been caring for children, you’ve been helping out parents, maybe that you’ve had to temporarily address a health challenge, they get that. And so, you’re giving them the information they need to understand what happened during that blank space that’s showing up on your LinkedIn profile or your resume.

Mac Prichard:

Why doesn’t it work? Why is an employer seeing that gap going to have concerns?

Katie Fogarty:

Well, there’s a perception that people leave, that have gaps in their resumes that are negative. You know, perhaps the person was not able to cut it at work, perhaps they’re disinterested in working, perhaps they’re no longer current, their skills aren’t marketable any longer, so those can be the negative perceptions of the gap. When you fill the gap with a positive explanation of what you were doing with your time, it can help off-set those, or mitigate, or counteract those negative perceptions that people might have.

Mac Prichard:

The examples you shared a moment ago were about voluntary departures; let’s talk about involuntary separations. People who have been laid off or even fired. Katie, how do you recommend that a listener talk about those experiences? And I also want to commend you for sharing your own experiences with gaps. I, too, have been fired once and laid off once.

It happens to all of us, often, but what is your…how do you recommend, on LinkedIn, that people do talk about those involuntary separations?

Katie Fogarty:

Absolutely, I would not recommend talking about your reorganization, your firing, your being laid off directly on your LinkedIn profile. In your LinkedIn about summary, which is where you’re really sharing your professional story and making a case for the value that you offer an employer, if you’ve had a long departure to deal with something like childcare, then you need to have a one to two sentence description to say, “After five years at home, I’m returning to work.” That belongs in your LinkedIn summary.

If you’ve been fired or reorganized out of a job, that is something that I would recommend not including in your LinkedIn summary, but coming up with an explanation that you can share in an interview because you are going to get asked about it.

If you did want to discuss involuntary separation somewhere on your LinkedIn profile, you could consider including them in your experience section. So, if you left your most recent job because of a reorganization, you could consider including that language in that section, saying, “You know, after my company went through a merger” or, “went through an acquisition” or even simply coming up with a sentence or an introductory clause that says something like, “My company’s business priorities shifted and my role at this organization ended.”

You could kind of address it there. But involuntary separations are a little trickier than voluntary separations, and I would consider doing that more in an interview than addressing that directly on your LinkedIn profile.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned in the summary, you gave an example of how to talk about time spent raising a family. Other practical suggestions about how to talk about other examples you mentioned for voluntary separation? Say, taking care of a health issue, for example.

Katie Fogarty:

Well, when you’re mentioning taking care of a health issue, I would not give too much detail and I would also be very clear that it’s resolved.

So, you could say that “I took a temporary sabbatical to deal with a health challenge which has since been resolved.”

And any time that you’re talking about your gap and why you stepped out, now that you’re looking to re-enter the workforce, you need to create language that’s clear that your gap is over. You’ll be saying, “I cared for children who are now enrolled in school.” You know, “I was home with young infants who are now in childcare.”

You’re going to want to be very clear that the reason that you left has been resolved, so that the employer is not worrying that this could be an ongoing gap.

Mac Prichard:

The second of your four tips, Katie, was to account for your time. Tell us more about this. This is about how you spent the time that you were between jobs.

Katie Fogarty:

Absolutely, and let me just finish up with the concept of the LinkedIn summary before we move on, Mac, if I can?

Mac Prichard:

Please.

Katie Fogarty:

Your LinkedIn summary is really where you’re making a case for your value towards an employer.

So, even if you have a gap, it’s front and center in your mind, but with the employer, what’s front and center for them is hiring somebody that’s going to be able to help them with their business challenges, that’s going to grow their business and move it forward. That’s what they’re looking for. So, you still want to make sure that even though you’re doing a one to two sentence description in your summary about your gap, that the majority of your real estate on your LinkedIn profile, the majority of the conversation you’re having in an interview, is making the case for what you can do for the employer and the value that you bring to the table.

The point, too, about accounting for time can help support this idea. So, if you’ve taken a long-term gap, you’re still going to need to account for time and explain what it is you’ve been doing. So, there are a couple different ways of doing that. You could choose to highlight some strategic volunteering that you’ve been doing, and you can also talk about the continuing education that you’ve been doing to keep your skills up to date, to keep them relevant. And I would love to share two quick stories that can help bring this to life for your listeners.

Mac Prichard:

That would be terrific.

Katie Fogarty:

I worked with a fabulous guy, he was a CFO, a Chief Financial Officer for a large financial service company for about 12 years, and he lost his job in a reorganization. This happens to a lot of people, just the structure of company changes. And after about six months of job hunting, he wasn’t really getting the traction he wanted, so he realized he needed to start accounting for his time.

People wanted to know what he had been doing for the last several months, plus he wanted to keep busy and start telling a new story. So, he begins strategic volunteering. He was a board member of a nonprofit and he looked around and said, “You need my help.” And he stepped in as acting CFO and helped blow the dust off their system, set them up with new processes. He was able to make a difference for the organization that he volunteered with in this acting capacity, but he was also able to talk about this in his interviews. Because it took him a year to land a job, So, when an employer was looking at what he had been doing he was able to talk about his work as a CFO for 12 years at the other company but also what he’d been up to lately. Which is really critical.

I recommend that for people. Look around and see how you can either volunteer or act or advise in different capacities that allow you to account for some of your time.

Mac Prichard:

How did your client talk about that experience on his LinkedIn profile? What did he say?

Katie Fogarty:

Well, he literally used the words, “Acting CFO.” So, even though you’re working in an unpaid capacity, you don’t have to describe your work as a volunteer, which can sometimes feel a little soft. He was acting as their CFO. He was managing their budgets, their accounting processes, setting up rigorous processes just like he would if he were being paid in that capacity. So, you could use the word “acting,” you could use the word “advising” or “consulting,” rather than use the word “volunteer,” which sometimes has implications that it’s not as professional, maybe. It’s just more that you’re pitching in and helping out.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I want to take a quick break, Katie, and when we return, I want to hear that second story of your client who used an experience between jobs and how they talked about it in their LinkedIn profile.

Stay with us. When we come back, Katie Fogarty will continue to share her suggestions about how to talk about gaps on your LinkedIn profile.

As Katie has made clear, hiring managers want you to explain gaps in your job history.

Here’s something else employers want: candidates who share examples of solving problems that matter to a company.

In the best interviews, candidates give examples of past performance, instead of making promises about what might happen in the future.

That’s why the next time you meet with an employer, you’re likely to get behavioral interview questions.

Do you have your answers ready?

I’ve got a free guide that can help. It’s called 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions. It’s free.

Behavioral interviews start with phrases like, “Tell me about a time.” Or, “Give me an example of.”

Our new guide shows you how to recognize these and other tell-tale phrases. We also give you a four-part strategy for answering any behavioral interview question. And you get a list of the 100 most common questions.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio.

I’m talking with Katie Fogarty of The Reboot Group.

Katie, before the break, you had shared an example, a story of a client of yours who used a volunteer experience to get new skills and talked about that experience on his LinkedIn profile. You had a second story that you wanted to share with our listeners, too.

Katie Fogarty:

Yes, this client was a woman who had had a big consulting job where she did a lot of travel, and then decided the hectic travel pace didn’t suit her family life. So, she left work, stepped back, and was home with her children for five years. And when her youngest went to Kindergarten, she was ready to reenter the workforce.

But she had been smart and did a lot of retraining before she back went in because she knew she’d have to account for that time. Yes, she could say on her LinkedIn, “I stepped back to be with my children for five years.”

But she knew that she would also need to make a case for her new value. So, she actually went and did retraining, and left the business consulting space and became a business librarian. So she actually did a two year, part-time librarian program while she was home.

Even if your listeners aren’t willing or able to commit to that level of retraining, they can still take classes, they can still do a course, there’s a million online courses that you can take to add skills. You can take classes directly through LinkedIn, you can take classes through Coursera, and this helps your employer look at you, see what you’ve been doing, even during the times when you’re not doing paid work.

You have positioned yourself to return and you’re having a refresher of your skills, because that’s one of the big issues with career gaps, employers can sometimes think that maybe you’re not current, that you’re not up to date and up to speed, and if you’ve done some training, even if it’s just one or two classes, this helps you tell a different story on your LinkedIn to a prospective employer.

Mac Prichard:

How do you recommend, Katie, that a listener tell that story on LinkedIn? Where should they put those classes and courses?

Katie Fogarty:

LinkedIn allows you to, there’s a profile section that you can add to your profile, which is courses and certificates. LinkedIn and a lot of other online digital classes have badges, so if you have taken a class either through LinkedIn or through some of their affiliate partners, the badge for that certificate is directly on your LinkedIn profile. So, it’s proof that you’ve actually taken that class.

You can also if you’ve been out of work for a number of years, you could simply add your education experience up in your experience section, rather than have it down as an education block, so that you’re accounting for your time.

Employers really want to see an accounting of what you’ve been doing, even if it’s education, volunteer work, or other things that you’ve been doing to fill the time since you’ve been in a paid position. You want to make sure that you’re not making them guess, you want to be clear about what you’ve been doing with your time.

Mac Prichard:

Your third tip for talking about gaps on a LinkedIn profile is to move away from what you call short gaps. What do you mean by this, Katie?

Katie Fogarty:

Well, this is the…when you’re taking a long voluntary gap to maybe care for children, this doesn’t fall under that umbrella; this falls more under the umbrella if you’ve…a short gap might be if you’ve either been fired or left a company for a reason, and you’re looking for work and it’s taking you a while to land it.

You know, after the 3-month mark, recruiters, hiring managers, they really want to understand what you’ve been doing. And so, you could do some consulting work, where you could kind of hang up your own shingle and do consulting or offer advisory services in whatever your area of expertise is and this can help off-set the perception that you’re not doing anything with this gap.

Sometimes those consulting roles turn…so if you’ve been looking, for example, for four months and it takes you eight more months to find something, you could be doing consulting during those 12 months, so eliminating that four-month gap where you were looking unsuccessfully and the eight-month gap where you were consulting. You could consolidate those months under this one umbrella of consulting work.

Sometimes when you work as a consultant or in an advisory capacity at a business, they take you on in that role and at that point, then you could roll over that consulting work into, if you get hired by that company, any consulting work that you did for them in that more unofficial capacity can be rolled under your employment once you land there officially.

Mac Prichard:

To be a consultant, you just need one client, one contract; nobody’s going to ask if you were working 40 hours a week, are they?

Katie Fogarty:

That’s exactly right. So, even if you’re consulting in an unpaid capacity, you don’t necessarily have to say that. I mean, you always want to be authentic and transparent when you’re having interviews and the information that you’re sharing on your LinkedIn but consulting work is consulting work. If you are doing work for a company, an organization, a nonprofit, you can put that on as consulting work even if it’s ten hours a week, not 40.

Mac Prichard:

What about a listener who might be mid career or in a senior point in their career, looking back, there may have been gaps 5, 10, 15 years ago of 3, 6, even 9 months. Should they list those, every position by month and year, or can you skip over that?

Katie Fogarty:

LinkedIn allows you to list positions simply by year rather than month and these are for smaller gaps, not the long term gaps that we talked about, but for small gaps where there might be a three-month gap between an experience that you started.

If you list it by year, sometimes those three months just sort of disappear. This works once you’ve landed someplace and these are short, tiny gaps in your career past. So, you can use the LinkedIn structure, and rather than entering a month, you can simply enter the year and then maybe that two to three-month gap disappears.

Again, these are only for the short-term gaps. You can’t move away from the long-term gaps. You can only move away from gaps of, I would say, three to five months.

Mac Prichard:

Your final of your four tips is not to just look at gaps but to consider negative perceptions that your LinkedIn page might send. What do you mean by that?

Katie Fogarty:

Well, this is why the gaps matter. Why are people concerned about gaps? Why are we even having this conversation?

People are concerned about gaps because they create these negative impressions, and some of the negative impressions around career breaks are that maybe you are disinterested in work, that maybe you’re out of date, or not competent, or that your skills are somehow not current.

Because we know that’s not true, because we know you have so much to offer, you want to make sure that your profile is communicating that to a prospective employer. You really need to pay attention to the non-verbal statements you’re making and how you talk about your career, and these are very easy to address but you need to look at your profile and ask yourself, “Am I using a headshot or profile photo that’s current or am I using one that’s dating me?”

Every once in a while, I’ll work with a senior leader that’s clearly using a much older profile picture, and sometimes when I inquire, they’ll say, “Well, I’m using that photo because I’m younger.”

And the answer is, “Just because you were younger doesn’t mean you look young.” Hairstyles change, clothing styles change, headshot styles change. So, you want to look at your images and make sure you’re not using one that’s got, like, your 1980’s power suit where you look dated. That’s number one.

Number two is, in your skills section, are you highlighting outdated skills? Tech skills change, computer language skills change, what’s considered to be a skill changes. I worked with a client recently who had a wonderful 40-year career as a senior ad sales leader, and her second skill on her LinkedIn profile was Microsoft Office.

You know, I had to say to her, “That’s signaling the wrong thing. Microsoft Office is not really a skill at your level. Everyone knows how to use Microsoft Office now.” You want to turn your profile inside and out, and make sure that you’re eliminating things that could make you look dated.

Are your recommendations all from 5, 10, 15 years ago? If so, time to get some new ones. You could even ask someone to write a recommendation this month about work that you’ve done in the past. At least the date for the recommendation will be more current.

Another thing that I recommend doing is checking out your emails. Emails change as well; if you’re still using a Hotmail or an Earthlink or an AOL email, time to update that as well, so that you’re using a Gmail, or perhaps using an email with a domain name. So, you would be mac@macprichard.com versus mac@earthlink.com.

Then, finally, I love to offer this tip to clients: ask somebody young in your life to review your profile for you. Maybe it’s a college child, maybe it’s your niece or nephew, or a young neighbor, or a young mentee. Get them to look over your profile and flag anything that might be signaling that you’re dated or not quite current.

A quick example of this is that many people of a certain generation, and I put myself in it, do two spaces after a period when they’re typing. We were all trained to do that but today’s younger, digital-native employees are only using one after a period. Because they’re all used to typing directly on a computer. So, this is a small thing but it also signals that you’re from a different era. So, if you want to be signaling that your skills and your experience are current and that you’re connected and confident and ready to hit the ground running for that employer, you want to make sure that every aspect of your LinkedIn profile is signaling exactly that.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific advice, Katie. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Katie Fogarty:

Well, I’m very excited. I just launched my first e-learning course, it’s a mini-course on crafting a very strong, keyword-rich, LinkedIn Headline that gets you noticed and connected to the right professional opportunities.

I’m offering that on my website, and I’m also really excited, this month to be featured in Mika Brzezinski’s new book on comeback careers. She wrote that with her sister-in-law Ginny, and it’s called Comeback Careers: Rethink, Refresh, Reinvent Your Career At 40, 50, and Beyond.

It’s a wonderful resource for people who are looking to get back to work, and it’s a terrific resource for people who are struggling with how to communicate about career gaps.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about you, your company, your services, and your new course, and the new book from the Brzezinskis by visiting your website therebootgroup.com.

Now, Katie, you’ve had so much great advice for us today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember when talking about gaps in a LinkedIn profile?

Katie Fogarty:

I want them to remember to be confident in what it is that they offer. Communicate your gap, why it exists, one to two sentences, and then move on. Move on to communicating your value and what it is that you offer to an employer, the magic that’s going to happen when you start working together, because that’s what get you hired. Focus on your value, not on your gap. You have a lot to offer.

Mac Prichard:

Just as you need to explain employment gaps, you’ve also got to be ready for behavioral interview questions.

Don’t walk into your next job interview and wing it. Get your copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

On our next episode, our guest will be Lauren Bell. She’s a career strategist with Projectline Services in Seattle.

Lauren and I will talk about how you can find a family-friendly job. She’s got great advice about how to research companies, set your own goals and boundaries, and get remote jobs that allow you to work from home.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next Wednesday, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Career gaps are an inevitable fact of life. Whether it’s a voluntary gap to take care of children, or an involuntary gap because you were fired or laid off, you must be ready to explain those gaps to a hiring manager who will see them on your LinkedIn profile. It’s important, says Find Your Dream Job guest Katie Fogarty, to clarify what you were doing with your time and that the gap is now over. Use your LinkedIn profile to highlight your skills and focus on the value you offer, and don’t apologize for your gaps.

About Our Guest:

Katie Fogarty is a 20-year veteran of media, branding, and PR. She launched The Reboot Group to deliver custom coaching engagements, workshops, and trainings that unlock clients’ abilities to advocate for their work and value on LinkedIn and beyond.

Resources in This Episode: