Employer stigma of hiring candidates with career gaps

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Career breaks often become a mental block for recruiters, standing midways between a deserving candidate and a good job opportunity.

A 27 year old Sakshi is going through one of the most difficult phases of her professional life. She had to take a break from her job due to personal reasons. Now when she is ready to resume work after five months, her biggest challenge is finding a suitable employment opportunity with a career gap on her resume. Similar is the case with 38 year old Aditya who is trapped in the claws of unemployment since one year. His previous organisation where he was steadily working for four years went through a spree of layoffs and he was one of the victims of the cost cutting initiatives. He now dreads the fact that longer the gap, the more difficult it will be to find a job.

Be it pursuing entrepreneurial dreams or switching fields or medical emergencies, causes for taking a sabbatical are innumerable. Career breaks often become a mental block for recruiters, standing midway between a deserving candidate and a good job opportunity. “When you hire someone with a career gap, you have to evaluate him at par with any other candidate. It’s on us how we see a career gap on a resume – as an opportunity or a threat,” says Sandeep Datta, Head HR and Admin at SG Analytics.

Hiring managers and recruiters often disdain candidates with career breaks and use it as a negotiation tool for them. “HRs do take an advantage of applicants with career gaps. However, it depends on the circumstances also. If the need of the hour is to onboard the candidate whose profile possesses rare competencies, then there is no room for negotiation. But if the candidate’s profile is available in abundance, then the recruiter will definitely bargain,” says Capt. Partha Samai, Group Head HR, AGS Transact Technologies.

Sandeep Datta

When you hire someone with a career gap, you have to evaluate him at par with any other candidate. It’s on us how we see a career gap on a resume – as an opportunity or a threat.

Generally women form a major chunk of employees who take sabbaticals for various reasons like relocation due to marriage, health issues of family members, maternity to name a few. They are often seen struggling to find their way back in the corporate world. A survey in 2014 was conducted by London Business School on over 2000 women and it revealed that 70 percent of the women feel anxious about taking a career break. A lot of organisations recognize these concerns and take special initiatives to address them. One such significant initiative is ‘Tata SCIP – Second Careers. Inspiring Possibilities’. It is a specifically designed program to facilitate and smoothen the onboarding process of women returning to work after a break.

Partha Samai

HRs do take an advantage of applicants with career gaps. However, it depends on the circumstances also. If the need of the hour is to onboard the candidate whose profile possesses rare competencies, then there is no room for negotiation. But if the candidate’s profile is available in abundance, then the recruiter will definitely bargain.

The ripple effect for candidates with career breaks is not just limited to finding an employment opportunity. They often flounder in self-doubt and are intimidated by the fear of continuous rejection. Their resumes are not shortlisted easily and even scheduling interviews becomes a major task for them. The Human Resources team, who effectively manage the “human” capital of the organisation, needs to be sensitive to this fact and empathize with the candidate’s predicament. Recruiters are unable to comprehend the positives of hiring such candidates, who can eventually form the best talent pool for the organisation. They are highly engaged, participative, more hardworking, and have a higher retention ratio. “The person is more than eager to prove his mettle and will make up for the lost time. So he will come with a vengeance. As HRs, we have to ascertain what was the reason for the gap and how can we seamlessly fit him into the organization,” Datta opines.

Often talent acquisition managers lose out on competent candidates because of judgmental decisions. The only resolution to this is open communication with the candidates. “The reasons for career gap can be varied and situation specific. However, in a resume, you cannot write all these stories. Resumes are very clinical in nature. They give you from-to, from-to, from-to, but there is no scope of writing why?” says Samai.

Employers need to break their sacrosanct image of an ideal candidate. They need to go beyond resumes, give a fair opportunity to candidates with career gaps and let true talent prevail.

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