Why you should offer interviews to applicants with gaps in their résumés

Man traveling Azores Portugal
Having come from a non-academic family, I certainly wouldn’t have dared to leave any gaps in my résumé before my first job in a local newsroom.

  • Gaps on your résumé often mean life experience but many people are scared to take time out.
  • I dropped out of my university degree and later left a company job but it made me a better worker.
  • Recruiters should view résumé gaps with curiosity and be more concerned when people don’t have any.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In between jobs, I’ve chased magic swords. A friend of mine traveled through Vietnam and Thailand. Another spent time taking care of her family and one enjoyed the summer doing nothing at all.

From a human perspective, a gap in your résumé is obviously a good thing – you’ve spent that time having pizza for breakfast, entertaining clever thoughts, learning Spanish vocabulary, or devouring all seven Harry Potter books.

Gaps in your résumé mean freedom and freedom takes courage.

I’m in my mid-30s now, but from 1992 to 2008 when I was preparing for working life, I feared the résumé gap. Career advisors taught us to see them as the death knell to our careers.

“People will ask about it,” we were warned. “And what are you going to say?”

Having come from a non-academic family, I certainly wouldn’t have dared to leave any gaps in my résumé before my first job in a local newsroom.

The fear of plunging myself into “economic ruin” would’ve plagued me and I would’ve been afraid of how I’d justify myself in job interviews – and whether I’d even be able to respond to the dreaded question.

teen playing desktop computer game with headphones graphics
I dropped out of a university degree and spent my days playing computer games.

But now, my advice to anyone with a résumé gap would be to answer boldly.

I dropped out of a university degree and spent my days playing computer games until I finally got a place on a different program. Although that might not seem like a good use of my time, it taught me a very important lesson – if something doesn’t work for me, I have to change it.

At that point, it was my degree, and later on, it was a company I was working for. Both times, it’s been worth it because I’ve been able to better evaluate my situation and think about my skills and what I really want. My life has improved as a result and I’ve become a better worker.

“I don’t have any gaps on my résumé,” one of my acquaintances wrote to me once. “And I regret it.”

The people I know who do have those gaps have told me they took the time off to recover from mental health issues. Many of them decided they wanted to work for themselves during their breaks, and a lot of them have made it happen.

What people learn during their time off from their careers gives them the freedom to think differently and maybe even better. Admitting that is tough because it goes against our ideas about the “ideal worker.”

That’s precisely the problem. What society demands of professionals today isn’t sustainable anymore, or even relevant. If you do your job well only when it works for you, then you are one thing above all else: replaceable.

People do lots of things in their jobs. They develop ideas, help people, solve problems, manage the chaos behind the scenes at large institutions, tackle climate change, teach, calculate, heal, and program.

black woman hiking
Gaps on your résumé often mean you’ve got life experience.

We’re not always equally good at those things and gaps tend to help us improve our performance. We need to remember life isn’t a machine and people aren’t cogs – life is complex.

If we don’t incorporate that into our lifestyles and into our work, then ultimately there won’t be anyone left who can develop the ideas to accommodate our complex lives.

However, gaps are scary. One of my friends is currently looking for a job but she’s scared to spread the word through her networks, whether professional or personal. I think that’s a fatal error.

If we all had the courage to leave gaps in our résumés and if recruiters approached gaps with curiosity rather than apprehension, the world of work would radically change.

Even taking parental leave is considered a “gap” in your résumé – a career inhibitor or something you shouldn’t allow yourself.

The truth is that work experience rarely makes us discover anything about life. We only get that through life experiences.

That’s why I think recruiters should be more concerned when someone comes into an interview without a gap in their résumé.

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3 lessons the CEO of multimillion-dollar brand Hint water learned when she started doing the ‘dirty work’ as a leader

Kara_Hint_0532
Kara Goldin.

  • Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of multimillion-dollar beverage company Hint.
  • When the pandemic hit, she personally helped stock shelves at stores like Target with her product.
  • She says getting your hands dirty as CEO teaches you a lot – like how to make strategic decisions.
  • This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.

In the early days of the pandemic, when many CEOs were sitting in hours of executive meetings on shifting their strategy or fretting over financial documents to see how they could avoid layoffs, Kara Goldin – founder and CEO of multimillion-dollar beverage company Hint – was using some of her precious time to do something surprising: stock shelves.

Every day, she would help her team by going to grocery and big-box stores near her home in Marin County, California, to see if their unsweetened, flavored water had flown off the shelves like most other products.

When it was sold out, she’d work to get trucks of Hint water sent directly to stores, sometimes even going so far as to unpack them herself. “I was working at Target San Rafael and a store employee gave me additional space, saying how impressed he was to see the founder stocking shelves,” Goldin told Insider in August.

This unconventional move got Goldin more than extra shelf space. Here are a few of the ways she feels being unafraid to get her hands dirty helped her company not just survive but succeed through uncertain times.

It helps you and your team practice resilience

While delegation is a critical leadership skill and you often want to trust the experts you’ve hired to manage different aspects of your business, “the buck stops with you as the CEO,” Goldin told Insider. That means when the going gets tough, you might have to dive in and help the team get going.

Goldin said that, while your employees may be great at what they do, many of them don’t have the learned resilience that leaders and entrepreneurs have gained from all the challenging times they’ve been through before. It’s your responsibility in moments of uncertainty to help your team problem solve and see possible paths forward.

“During challenging times, you need a leader who is going to set the course,” Goldin said, adding that’s why “the best CEOs today build great teams to be able to manage the day-to-day, but also never lose a handle on the different aspects of their business.”

It teaches you how to make strategic decisions

Stepping down and doing some work on the ground floor can also be a great way to inform your high-level, strategic work as a leader. After all, there’s no better way to figure out the problems you need to solve than getting in the weeds yourself.

Through her experience stocking shelves, Goldin was able to see how she could redistribute her team to solve immediate problems and prevent having to lay anyone off.

After seeing how panicked consumers were about whether they’d be able to get basic essentials, she and her team planned a massive campaign reminding customers they had plenty of stock on their D2C website – ultimately leading to a 300% growth in D2C sales of their product. This also led to the decision to delay the launch of their liter bottles in favor of creating a hand sanitizer so consumers could have more and better options for staying safe.

“Watching exactly what’s going on in the market and how can you solve the customer’s problem is a great way to keep top of mind with the consumers out there,” Goldin said. Plus, doing some of the day-to-day tasks can be a great way to get your hands on market research.

It builds trust with your team

Perhaps most importantly, doing some of the dirty work yourself allows you to lead by example and ensure you’re not asking your team to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself – something that becomes especially important when people are afraid for their safety.

Goldin – who had long-term employees ask if she was trying to kill them when she suggested they needed to go into stores – realized she needed to go in herself to ensure it was a reasonable ask for her team.

“I’ve never been in the military but the best leaders in military history did exactly the same thing,” she said. “You don’t sit there and send your troops in and put their lives on the line – you jump in.”

By “putting herself into the scrimmage,” Goldin said, she was able to determine whether she was making the right call and also share strategies with her team that made going into stores feel safer for her. Plus, her team appreciated that she was so willing to put herself on the line.

“I don’t think you can sit there and live in your glass castle as a leader anymore,” Goldin said. “I think that you have to actually jump in and make sure that you’re moving people in the right direction.”

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3 ways to accelerate your career using common startup principles

IBM women in leadership
Lean into your unique strengths to offer people what no one else can.

  • To leverage the unique intersection of your training and passions to stand out, think like a startup.
  • Be willing to test out new opportunities and learn on the go, even if you feel unprepared.
  • Self-disrupting career plans to pivot and learn new skills makes you a more well-rounded professional.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Growth hacking. MVPs. Beta-testing. Pivoting. These strategies are now practically clichés – startup principles that drive almost every high-growth company hitting the market. I’ve experienced them all firsthand in my career, working everywhere from scrappy five-person operations to robotics powerhouses at the cutting edge of AI.

Here’s the thing: Sure, these principles can help businesses. But in key respects, these same tenets can also be used to supercharge your own career – especially at a time when the way we do business is in flux.

The fact is, for many of us, the world of work has been turned on its head during the global health crisis. People have had to switch roles, return to school to reskill, or start totally fresh in new markets after a job loss.

This has only accelerated existing trends. In the past, staying at a company for decades wasn’t uncommon; today the average person stays at a job for less than five years. Then there’s the gig economy boom in full swing, and the added impact of digitization and automation on workplace roles. The bottom line is that being able to evolve and adapt is key, during a global crisis and beyond.

With that in mind, here’s how to apply startup principles to yourself – whether you’re climbing the ladder inside a growing company, looking for a new job, or even thinking of blazing your own path as an entrepreneur.

Identify your unfair advantage

In a business sense, startups need to have that special something if they’re going to compete with the big, established players. This is something that can’t be bought or copied by competitors. Ali Ash, marketing director at Just Eat, wrote the book on “The Unfair Advantage” and has documented how the world’s most impressive startups have defined their own categories and offered something no one else was providing.

If you look at your own career, the same question applies: what’s your unfair advantage? By leaning into your unique strengths, you’re positioning yourself to offer what no one else can – just as Snapchat put its own unique spin on photo sharing and Tesla pioneered high-performance electric cars. When you lean into your own personal value proposition, you’re eliminating the competition and setting yourself up to be a monopoly of one.

I was an accounting major in college, a qualification that’s a dime a dozen. But early on in my career, I possessed a willingness to explore new fields and untested companies. Instead of sticking to my lane, I developed a diverse sales background – jumping, for instance, from selling multimillion-dollar software contracts to $9-per-month SaaS subscriptions. Ultimately, that breadth of experience, lateral flexibility, and pattern recognition became my unfair advantage.

So how can you isolate and leverage your own unfair advantage? Think about the unique intersections of your passions, training, and personal disposition. You may be trained as a lawyer but have a passion for languages and a knack for networking. That’s a combo not everyone can replicate. Once you’ve found your unfair advantage, think like a startup and leverage it every chance you get. Look for roles and opportunities where you, uniquely, can shine, and don’t be shy about your unique skill set in interviews and networking opportunities.

MVP your next role

Another tenet of startup philosophy is “minimum viable product:” the idea of testing an early version of a product in the market before investing tons in R&D. By measuring consumer response and iterating, you can either improve the offering or pivot to a new direction – all without spending a lot of time or money.

In a career sense, this means being open to testing the waters for new opportunities, even ones you may not be entirely comfortable with yet. Instead of waiting to be fully “ready” for something (a new career, a new role), be willing to dive in and learn some elements on the go. You may need to scramble, adjust, even backtrack. But – just as in the startup world – the opportunity cost of not going for it is too big to ignore.

In the middle of my own career, for example, I left business software behind to join a social media company, just years after Twitter started. Though I could see the growth potential was huge, this was a brand new industry for me. And there was always the chance social media might be just a passing fad. But I put myself out there, acquired skills on the job and grew into the role. (My unfair advantage – curiosity – definitely came in handy.)

So how do you MVP yourself? Understand that no role will ever be perfect, nor will you ever be perfectly positioned to seize it. Exploring lateral roles within your own organization is a great way to test the waters and observe what “sticks” and what doesn’t. Above all, give yourself permission to set aside perfectionism. (I’d go so far as to say you should always feel a bit unqualified for a role.) And don’t be afraid to switch gears or pivot when you need to. Just as in the startup world, career iteration never ends.

Disrupt yourself

The best businesses, even when they’re all grown up, still think like startups. Netflix describes its corporate culture as one that “avoids rules.” That means the company prioritizes innovation, autonomy, and risk-taking in everything it does. Rather than resting on its laurels, Netflix is constantly exploring ideas and isn’t averse to disrupting the status quo of its own organization.

That same philosophy can be applied to our own careers. Far too many people fall in love with their product. They put themselves in one category and are unable to evolve beyond that. They get too comfortable – with a role, a company, a city – and stop being curious and pushing themselves. In this process, career prospects are curtailed or short-circuited altogether.

I continue to try to live by this self-disrupting philosophy. Case in point: I recently jumped from almost 20 years in the SaaS space to the world of AI and software-enabled robotics. A more traditional route would have been to stay in my vertical and stick to senior roles in industries I was familiar with. But I would have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity with a robotics company. And more importantly, I would have missed out on a chance to grow personally and professionally.

How do you disrupt yourself? For starters, keep an ear to the rails for the next big thing – technologies or cultural shifts that promise to upend how we live and work. Right now, for instance, automation and AI are opening up brand new horizons. Continue to push and stay curious, even as you grow more senior in your career. And I’d even go so far as to say you should be downright skeptical of your comfort zone. If you’re not moving forward, you’re bound to go stagnant.

That being said, startup principles can be taken too far – in business, and in life. “Move fast and break things” doesn’t really work in sensitive industries such as health care, security, even social media. Likewise, in life, adopting “lean startup principles” shouldn’t be about being flighty or disloyal. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be building the necessary nimbleness to thrive in a shifting terrain, but providing stability and leadership for your team even when things are chaotic.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I worked for 25 years before taking an 11-month career break, and learned 5 things that anyone can do to reap the benefits of a ‘sabbatical mindset’ – even without taking time off

Chris Litster
Chris Litster.

  • Chris Litster is an executive at Buildium, a platform that helps property managers become more efficient and profitable.
  • Several years ago when the company he’d worked at for 10 years was acquired, he said goodbye and decided to take 11 months off from working.
  • For him, the benefits were huge, but Litser also says during a year like 2020 when taking time off might not be an option, there are 5 lessons that anyone can add into their daily routine to adopt the ‘sabbatical mindset.’
  • He encourages reframing your professional priorities, taking the opportunity to dabble and expand your network, and embracing a simplified, more personal bucket list.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical from work. 

It sounds like an exceptional luxury. It was. I’ll always be grateful for the 11 months I was able to take off in the middle of my career. It was a choice I was privileged to make and a chance few people ever get. 

I’m writing now in a very different context. The crisis of the last year has impacted so many people’s careers in unexpected, challenging and sometimes devastating ways. Many find themselves between careers or exploring new directions. Others are waiting for jobs to come back or new opportunities to surface. 

There’s no getting around how trying this experience is. But one question may be worth asking: Can this time also be an opening to regroup, refocus, and refresh, so that you’re approaching your next opportunity with purpose? 

The answer may be a flat out “no,” and that’s understandable. But for some, this unexpected break may be able to serve as a critical, even strategic, pause on the career journey. I’d like to re-share my experiences and observations in the hopes of helping others “hack” their own sabbatical, whether your break is planned or unplanned. 

Among the most powerful lessons: You don’t need a few months, or even a few weeks, to reap the benefits. A sabbatical mindset can be achieved with no formal break at all. 

Lesson 1: There’s never a perfect time 

Plenty of my colleagues were supportive of my decision to take time off, even though I didn’t exactly have an endgame in mind. But when my kids found out, one of the first things they asked was, “Are you going to be able to find a job again?” It was a more polite version of what a search firm told me: “You’re stupid. You’re in the prime of your career. Taking a year off will make you irrelevant.”  

These concerns are fair enough – but I think there’s an internal voice that lets you know you’re officially burned out. I knew for a while I wasn’t running on all cylinders. And when your work suffers, when your family life suffers, when you’re no longer in the driver’s seat of your own life, you just have to press pause and recalibrate, or you’re heading for trouble

I had a vague plan for my time off. The first six months were going to be purely about rest and recuperation. The second half would be about refocusing on career plans and next steps. Of course, disconnecting and achieving that was easier said than done.

Lesson 2: Embrace a different kind of bucket list

As I drove home from my last day of work, I practically had a panic attack. “What did you just do?!” just kept repeating in my brain. I spent the first several days of the sabbatical just wondering constantly about what was going on at the office and compulsively checking my calendar app. After spending so much time at a company, it wasn’t exactly easy to make a clean break.

But after a week or so, I did stop refreshing my work email. Once I had disentangled myself from work life, the way my energy came back was actually eye opening. And I was able to start filling my days with the things I’d been meaning to make more time for for years. 

We did do a family trip during my time off, but if anything, my sabbatical was about checking off a bucket list of ordinariness. I woke up without knowing what I was going to do that day… and that’s the way I liked it. I had breakfast with my family most mornings. I drove my kids to school. I did the grocery shopping and played tennis and even tried yoga, now that the excuse of “I’m busy with work” wasn’t true anymore. More than any grand plans or life-changing adventures, the opportunity to truly live in the moment and enjoy the people I love is what restored my energy and enthusiasm.  

Lesson 3: Master the fine art of dabbling

To say I didn’t work at all during my sabbatical would be a lie. I was “working,” but it was at a dramatically different pace and with a very different kind of focus than before. 

I made a point of casually messaging and connecting with colleagues and individuals in my network – the kind of people I’d met over the years and really liked and trusted, but never had much time to connect with outside the office. I didn’t have much of an agenda other than catching up and using them as a sounding board while I sketched out the next phase of my life. It was an opportunity to work through exactly what I was and wasn’t looking for next, putting me back in the driver’s seat of my career. With no real end goal to pursue, my ideas had time to incubate, and evolve. 

It turned out, though, that I was engineering serendipity. Opportunities began popping up through conversation, and my new schedule allowed me to explore some exciting part-time collaborations – like an entrepreneur-in-residence role at VC Michael Skok’s new investment firm. Yes, I had planned on not working for a year, but I realized it was a great way to be exposed to all sorts of companies at different stages and test-drive different roles. It let me explore my options for the future in a low-pressure environment that still left plenty of time to be home for family dinner.

Lesson 4: The sabbatical may have to end, but the benefits don’t

These networking coffee chats eventually led to the role I’m in now – running Buildium, a SaaS-based property management software company in Boston. Sure, I had other offers come my way, but because of the reflective time I had during my sabbatical, I knew they weren’t right. This position ticks the boxes that I now know really matter to me: A work environment I love, a mission I believe in, and a balance with family time.

This was the biggest benefit of the sabbatical – I didn’t just get to sleep in on weekdays; I got a chance to reorient and clarify my priorities. I’d been so focused on striving towards an executive role that I forgot what else matters. Taking time off allowed me to find a healthier way to work, and afterwards I learned to prioritize being home at 6:30 p.m. for family dinners every single night. Sure, it wasn’t always perfect, and I sometimes I still found myself answering emails after the rest of the family has gone to sleep. But I wouldn’t give up quality time again for the world. 

Lesson 5: You can find that same perspective without going on sabbatical at all

I’m acutely aware how lucky I was to take nearly a year off. More and more people are taking DIY sabbaticals like me, but I know many people in my life who simply don’t have the luxury of taking an extended break – even a few weeks off is a privilege many just can’t afford. My company does offer all employees a sabbatical for certain tenure milestones, but it’s rare in other corporate environments. 

That being said, I feel that several of the benefits of a sabbatical don’t actually require a formal one. With a little mindfulness, the lessons of an extended break can be achieved on a much shorter time frame:

  • Identify your non-negotiables and stick to them. Whether it’s getting home for family dinner every night or going to the gym every day, if something brings you joy or clarity, make it a priority in your schedule on a regular basis. If you keep putting these things off until you “have the time,” you may miss out completely.
  • When you’re off, really be off. Turn off your email, stay away from the computer, and be present in whatever you’re doing. When I was fully and completely away from work the speed with which my creativity and energy returned was amazing – literally, a matter of days.
  • Make time to talk with people you respect and trust. The casual coffee chat is the first thing to get cut in a busy week, but having this sounding board is invaluable to clarify your goals and hurdles and expose you to new opportunities. It’s a wellspring of inspiration that offers value beyond job offers. 

It’s all too easy to feel like we’re a passenger on our own career journey. Taking a moment – whether with an extended sabbatical break or just on a quiet Sunday afternoon – to ask yourself what you truly prioritize is the best way to put yourself back in the driver’s seat. 

Is your current role getting you where you want to go? Is your work environment helping you make your life richer? No one wants a career where you rack up regrets as fast as bonuses and promotions. Press pause however you can, and you might fast-forward your life in the process.

This version of this story was originally published on Business Insider December 13, 2019.

Read the original article on Business Insider