By Joyce Lain Kennedy

DEAR JOYCE: Laid off last week, I'm beginning to sort out my options. (I wasn't fired and was liked by my bosses and colleagues.) Where do I start finding another decent job? And how do I explain the 3.5-year gap in my working years when I spent time traveling, studying independently and helping my parents with home renovations? I also spent 1.5 years caring for my grandmother, who was terminally ill. I wasn't in jail and I don't have any skeletons in my closet. I was just busy living life and never found the right place.

Firms are rejecting me because of the gaps. I can talk about my gaps comfortably and positively, but I'm not sure what to do about it on my resume. Can you offer me some input about this situation? -- N.O.

Thanks for the cue to mention a topic stunningly overlooked by far too many job seekers, to their disadvantage -- job search preparation.


Jon Davidson, a successful recruiter and placement consultant, knows with certainty that searching for new employment is a full-time job in itself and, as with any role in life, the better prepared you are, the more successful you'll be.

"Athletes prepare by not only conditioning their bodies but also watching hours of game film on the competition, eating properly, getting enough rest and learning the playbook," Davidson says.

Adding that firefighters also shape up before going to blazes, Davidson says: "Firefighters have extensive preparation to maintain equipment, train for life-threatening situations and maintain fitness to function with 60 pounds of gear on their back. The preparation you do prior to a job search isn't much different."


Davidson, the co-founder of The Resume Bay, a company in Columbus, Ohio, that creates forward-looking resumes and creative job search strategies for the Information Age. Davidson and Jay Hofmeister explain the details of how to prepare for a winning search in their new 30-page booklet, "Sharpening the Axe." You can download a free copy of this helpful e-booklet by visiting The Resume Bay's Web site:; click on booklet title held by the woman on the opening page.

The booklet's title is drawn from an Abraham Lincoln quote: "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my axe."


As you gear up for a new job search, include research on you'll handle your gap problem.

Your work history will look less vulnerable when presented in a functional style, also called a skills style. The main idea is that you communicate up front what you can do in the future for an employer (rather than the traditional reverse-chronological listing of what you've done in the past).

Advice on repairing resume holes has become a cottage industry, but however you handle it, remember two powerful principles:

1. Present the time gap as a positive event.

2. Detail why it made you a better worker -- not a better person, but a better worker with more favorable characteristics, polished skills and mature understanding, all of which you're eager to contribute to your new employer's profit lines.

One approach: You can do the heavy lifting in a cover letter that accompanies your resume. You might say something like this:

"After completing college, fueled by my ability as a hard-working, analytical learner, I completed independent studies in --. I also traveled extensively to develop my understanding of the real world and how it works. Additionally, as my family had deferred home-maintenance costs to pay for my education, I cheerfully learned the basic purchasing and repair skills I needed to effectively pitch in on our successful home-renovation project."

As you cruise the Web for resume examples that illustrate gap-repair techniques, keep an eye out for the work of the late Yana Parker, who created some of the best.


Gear up Job Search with Free E-Booklet | Jobs & Careers

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