How To Fill a Hole

In times past, a chronological gap in your employment history was a big red flag that something was wrong with you.  The good news is, these days it’s not only not an issue, the person sitting on the other side of the interview table can probably empathize.  Whether it was a few months after a lay-off, or a few years while taking care of family matters, facing the issue head-on is much better than trying to hide it.

While you will want to address long gaps briefly in a cover letter, then give a more detailed explanation during an in-person interview, there are also things you can do during that down-time to make it less more productive.

Still, how you handle that “hole” is an indication to the potential future employer of how you handle adversity.  Making constructive use of your down time can go a long way to show that you are a motivated professional, and can also actually enhance your value for your next position.

Here are a few things you can do while looking for your next opportunity.

1.  Enhance your Education.

Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn, but never had the time?  Is there some part of your chosen profession that you know you could do better, but have never had time to concentrate on?  Perhaps now is that time. When the job market is tight, enrollment in graduate schools always increases, but short-term programs and individual classes can also be valuable.

2.  Work as a contractor or temp

While most people are looking for a full-time, permanent position, a lot of job growth is occurring in contract or short-term positions.  There are currently a number of companies that specialize in placing scientists in short-term positions, some of which may become permanent.  Seek out these companies in your area, and register with a couple of them.  You can always turn down placements when they are offered, or you can accept them and keep your skills fresh while continuing to look for the next step in your professional career. There are lists of staffing companies and  staffing services available online.

3.  Take on short-term consulting projects.

You can also create your own projects.  Your former employers can be great sources of project work, since you are already familiar with their projects, processes, and personnel.  As long as you left on good terms, offer to work as a consultant.  If you can approach them with a specific project deliverable and timeline that you know they need, you have a good chance of getting the assignment.  You can also look for adjunct teaching positions – if you only teach evening classes, you are still free to job hunt or accept a job during the day.

4.  Volunteer.

Not quite as good as paying work, is there a volunteer position that allow you to exercise some of your professional skills?  This is a great idea to try your hand at new skills, since the risk is much less if something goes wrong.

All these strategies show you continuing to be engaged and involved with your profession, doing something professionally useful with your downtime, and adding to or enhancing the set of skills you have to offer to a potential employer.

Can you think of others?  Feel free to post them in the comments below.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a scientific communication consultant and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.


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