Filling in Résumé ‘Gaps’

Dear Career Coach: I am an NP, but I have not worked in 2 years. How can I get back into the workforce?

Dear Reader: You are not alone! Your question is one that I am asked with some regularity. I have a number of thoughts and a few points to share that you may not have considered.

Usually when NPs who have been out of the workplace reach out to me, they are primarily focused on the present; they want to know how they can get back into the nurse practitioner working world. They will typically ask me what sort of job would best suit them or how to convince an employer to give them a chance. They worry that an employer is going to assume their knowledge and skills are rusty. However, you might be surprised to learn that prospective employers are more interested in the past. Before you can talk about your future, you will have to supply an explanation about why you left practice in the first place.

There are as many reasons that an NP might leave the workforce as there are NPs. While some reasons are more understandable than others, it’s necessary that ALL gaps in employment that last longer than a month be fully explained. When reviewing your work history, one of the first things a recruiter or hiring manager will do is look for employment gaps. If your application is submitted online and electronically processed, the employer will have set the software to scan and eliminate candidates who have employment dates that are not continuous. Any application that fails to address the reason you stepped away from you last job for an extended period of time will raise a BIG RED FLAG.

Right about now you are probably feeling like you are experiencing a bit of a catch 22. You are challenged with accurately noting your work experience on a résumé while also having to note doing “nothing.” You might be wondering exactly how it is possible to put a job you didn’t have on your résumé.

Well, the first answer is that you weren’t doing “nothing” during your time away. Chances are you have a good explanation, even if you don’t think you do. You haven’t said why you were not working as an NP, but I am sure if I asked you, you could tell me.

So what I would like you to do is create a new “job” entry under your work experience section on your résumé. You will title this entry with a brief but informative title that explains your absence without going into the TMI (too much information) realm. For example, you can state “maternity leave,” “care for aging parent,” “spouse relocated,” or “personal leave.” You will also provide “to and from” dates for this entry just as you did for your paid job entries. This satisfies both the computer and the human reviewer that you aren’t trying to sneak something past them. You have acknowledged your time away while sparing them a long story. Longer explanations are reserved for interviews, not résumés.

Too reassure the employer you haven’t become rusty, create a section called “continuing education” and outline the steps you have taken to remain current. You can also write a nice cover letter to expand further on how you have maintained your skills. If you haven’t done any conferences or workshops then you need to attend a few before you start submitting applications.

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