If you’ve ever read mainstream career advice, you’ve surely come across the notion of a resume gap: an absence from the working world between jobs.
You don’t have to read very long to understand that the resume gap is almost universally regarded as a negative by prospective employers. It’s a red flag – something to be scrutinized by the hiring manager and painstakingly explained or covered up by the applicant.
On one hand, this makes total sense. After all, job candidates with periods of unemployment are more likely to be unreliable, period. Even if there were a good reason for the absence – say, caring for one’s ill and elderly parent – the employee simply is not likely to be as dependable as someone with a complete, gap-free resume. Perhaps the candidate is being truthful, but perhaps he or she was really fired or selectively “laid off” for subpar work.
If, god forbid, the candidate proactively chose to take time off, he or she is a flight risk. Much better, then, to hire a different applicant – preferably one with zero aspirations of time away from the office.
On the other hand, this notion of resume gap as red flag is a steaming pile of crap. It’s been propagated by risk-averse “careerists” (who would never dream of taking meaningful time away from work if it could hurt them in a future job search) and even more risk-averse HR managers, who, in their defense, maintain their professional sanity by recruiting predictable, average-competence, Policies & Procedures-abiding employee drones, if you’ll allow me to exaggerate a bit for effect.
In reality, as with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
The resume gap is a fitting embodiment of the internal conflict I’ve experienced since I began my career.
Like any self-respecting Millennial, I’ve been told my whole life that I’m a talented, gifted person. Someone who could rapidly climb the career ladder, become an industry “thought leader,” and achieve real professional “success” – assuming, of course, that I’m willing to make any and all lifestyle sacrifices required.
Frankly, I’m burnt out. I have spent most of my adult life prioritizing work – putting my employer ahead of my personal life. I’ve largely chosen the careerist’s path: taking on demanding jobs with long hours, complete disregard for life outside the office, and, on occasion, borderline sociopathic managers.
It’s not all bad. I’ve made good money. I’ve learned plenty. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some really interesting projects and entrepreneurial ventures. At times, it’s been exciting. At times, it’s felt meaningful. And even when it’s not, sometimes I derive great satisfaction from just getting things done – delivering a great presentation, landing a big deal, or powering through a to-do list until late in the evening. But when I finally pull myself out of that realm – when I close up my laptop and turn off my phone (just kidding, I’m not allowed to turn off my phone) – I find myself feeling empty.
“Is this it?”
I’m ready to walk away. Ready to spend more time on things that matter to me: my partner, my friends, my family, my passions.
I’m ready to see the world. I travel frequently already, but dragging myself across the country for 48 hours to talk through a PowerPoint deck isn’t quite the same as wandering across a foreign countryside or marveling at the ruins of an ancient city. If the world is a book, as the old adage goes, I have read only a few pages.
I’m ready to disconnect. Modern work technology is a mixed blessing. While I’ve had the freedom to work from home, or anywhere else, I also wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without my phone or going anywhere overnight without my laptop. In spite of the freedom they provide at times, these tools often feel like a ball and chain.
I’m ready to be active. Every Monday through Friday, I spend 8-12 hours hunched over my laptop. Based on the research I’ve read recently, this sedentary routine is expected to take approximately 5,000 years off my life.
Most of all, I’m ready to feel free. Even if just for a few months, I want to feel unconstrained by work. Today, I dream about work. I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself unable to sleep, my mind racing with anxiety. And on the rare occasion that I have been able to take a vacation beyond just a long weekend, I’ve always returned to a deluge of built-up e-mails, phone calls, and meeting requests, ensuring that my first week back in the office is absolutely brutal. “Maybe,” I’ve found myself wondering, “it would have been better to not take a vacation at all.”
It’s time for a resume gap.