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Gaps in Resume

Career Corner is a program produced by the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network, part of State Services for the Blind, and it is recorded for people are blind or have reading disabilities. You can listen to the stream of the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network at www.mnssb.org/rtb, and the password is RTB. Your host, for Career Corner is Anne Obst.

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Next we'll turn to another article from the New York Times, this from the May 20th edition, entitled, "Perils of a Gap in the Résumé: Whether to Explain or Not" By Patricia Cohen

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When Brooke Bleyl started job hunting after taking 10 years off to care for her children, her interviews did not go well.

"They even said they typically don't hire people with such a gap," said Ms. Bleyl, who lives outside Cleveland and has three children, ages 7, 10 and 12.

Ms. Bleyl, who worked as an employment recruiter before taking time off, said she tried to fill in gaps on her résumé, including online selling to earn extra money. "But when you see eBay on someone's résumé, you know that's a stay-at-home job," she said, "and that you're just selling stuff out of your basement."

After receiving "rejection after rejection after rejection," Ms. Bleyl said, "I was very defeated." She eventually found a job as an account manager at a staffing service, but only with the help of a personal connection.

For women hoping to return to the workplace after caring for their children, the advice is often "don't ask, don't tell." Many women who described themselves as stay-at-home mothers can attest to receiving denigrating nods and hasty rebuffs. Researchers have repeatedly found ample evidence of discrimination against mothers in the hiring process and the workplace.

But women may be better off explaining their decision to stay home to a potential employer upfront, said Joni Hersch, a professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt Law School, and co-author of a new study on the subject, "Something to Talk About: Information Exchange Under Employment Law." Employers, afraid of running afoul of anti-discrimination laws, don't bring up the subject, she said, and female applicants, picking up on those cues, often don't offer information, leaving hirers to guess at the reasons behind a hiatus.

But, Professor Hersch said, "women who conceal personal information dramatically lower their hiring prospects."

Ms. Bleyl, despite her own experience, shares that view. "It's better to be upfront, because it's who you are," she said. "I was so hungry to get in there and work, work, work."

Carol Fishman Cohen is chief executive and co-founder of iRelaunch, a firm that works with returning professionals and potential employers. Her advice to applicants is to briefly acknowledge the career break and quickly move on to explain why they are the best suited for the job.

"Don't apologize for it," Ms. Cohen said. "Say, 'Yes, I took a career break for child care reasons, and now I can't wait to get back to work.'"

Not everybody will be open to such an approach. But many will.

"I think it comes down to the hiring manager," Ms. Cohen said. "If the individual has someone in their own personal orbit who has taken a career break, they are much more likely to be interested in the caliber and potential of that population than someone who has not had the experience."

Playing up volunteer and freelance work is important, she said, but it's a mistake to emphasize "mom skills" that are required for managing family life. The interviewer could be doing all that and working as well.

Some experts were skeptical of the experiment Professor Hersch and her co-author, Jennifer Bennett Shinall, an assistant law professor at Vanderbilt, conducted for their study. They said it was too far removed from the actual job-hunting experience.

The authors of the study, which is to be presented at the annual American Law and Economics Association conference on Friday and published in a forthcoming issue of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, did not interview recruiters or human resources professionals.

Instead, they asked more than 3,000 people recruited online to act as potential employers and choose one of two candidates with similar experience.

One applicant provided an explanation for a 10-year gap in her job history — such as taking time off to raise children and then going through a divorce — while the other provided no explanation at all. Those who revealed the personal information were 30 to 40 percent more likely to be chosen than those without.

"The number of people who preferred the woman who explained her résumé gap was staggering," Professor Hersch said. "I was shocked."

She said that the way many employers have responded to the law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, serves to hinder women rather than help them. In their report, Professor Hersch and Professor Shinall argue that overly broad guidance offered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the primary federal agency entrusted with enforcing the law in the workplace, has had the effect of freezing out discussion about family life during interviews.

The commission, for example, warns employers, "Questions about marital status and number and ages of children are frequently used to discriminate against women and may violate Title VII if used to deny or limit employment opportunities."

Professor Hersch says that more neutral language that invites employers to broach the issue of family with all candidates — both men and women — would be preferable.

A lot of the interview process is about ensuring a good fit, she said, but now there is "an environment where you're dancing around the elephant in the room."

Ofer Sharone, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who researches career transitions and hiring, disagrees. He said that changing the E.E.O.C. guidelines would be disastrous.

Marriage and children tend to hurt women much more than men in the workplace, he said, and Professor Hersch's and Professor Shinall's recommendation "would greatly exacerbate that discrimination."

Employers often wrongly assume that mothers will not be able to commit to their jobs as much if they're committed to their families. Saying a candidate is the wrong fit can be code for discrimination, Professor Sharone said.

Reducing the choice to one woman who explains a gap and another who doesn't, he said, misses the more likely reality: that both would probably be screened out before they got to the interview stage. Employers are looking to filter through a huge number of applications in the quickest way possible. "If there's a gap," Professor Sharone said recruiters had consistently told him, they are "going to go with someone without a gap."

Professor Sharone and other researchers did agree that if a candidate made it to the interview stage, then explaining a gap was better than leaving it to the employers' imagination.

Joan C. Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings, agreed that the researchers are on to something. "Given how strong the bias is against mothers, women should seize hold of the situation," she said, rather than cede interpretation to a potential employer.

When Stephanie Bond decided to re-enter the work force after taking off a couple of years to care for her two sons in 2012, she ended up getting hired by a recruiter she had contacted. "I said I was a road warrior and took the opportunity to reconnect with my family," said Ms. Bond, who was also able to list consulting work on her résumé to cover any gap.

During the interview, she said, "I was very upfront about the flexibility I needed to have," which included working from home at times.

Her own experience as a hiring manager has taught her what to look for in candidates with a career gap. But for some employers, she said, a gap is "a complete red flag and you wouldn't get an opportunity to explain."

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That concludes an article from the May 20th edition of the New York Times entitled "Perils of a Gap in the Résumé: Whether to Explain or Not" By Patricia Cohen. I'm Anne Obst

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