Career Advice: Explaining a gap in your résumé

Manish Shah
Manish Shah of SymphonyIRI Group

Manish Shah

Title: Senior vice president for information technology

Organization: SymphonyIRI Group

Shah is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about résumé gaps, educational needs and moving out of consultancy. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com and watch for this column each month.

I had to leave my job as a network administrator for health reasons. I'm fine now but I am having a hard time getting back into the workforce. What should I tell prospective employers about that two-year gap? It feels like a private matter to me. Every industry has an ever-changing landscape, and with the advancement of technology, it is beginning to be a challenge for people to have a work-life balance. Reflecting on oneself is an important aspect of career development, and it's absolutely justifiable to take time off to rejuvenate -- whether it's for health, family or any other reason.

My perspective on managing your career after a professional hiatus is that the most appropriate way to address the interviewer is to be as forthright and honest as possible without disclosing your personal circumstances. This assures both a personal and a professional connection. In this day and age, I think it's absolutely fine to have gaps in your résumé. From my perspective, it's not as negative as it used to be, as long as you convey strongly how your personal experiences make you the best possible candidate for the position. It's always advantageous to be optimistic, so use the gap to your advantage.

I've been working at a midsize corporation for 12 years, working my way up, taking training at every opportunity, and learning from those around me as much as possible. I'm now a senior manager reporting directly to the CIO, who is rumored to be planning to retire in the next year. I feel that I have a lot of good ideas to bring to the position and that I really understand our business and its needs. But I've heard scuttlebutt that I can forget it because I only have a bachelor's degree in computer science. Is a master's the next step for me if the scuttlebutt is right? If you've been managing your career correctly, there's absolutely nothing holding you back from potentially obtaining that CIO position. You've focused on your personal career development to get to where you are now, ensuring that you're able to move up every step of the way. What's stopping you now? Hopefully, you've been creating a track record of success for yourself and have engaged in mutual dialogue with your seniors so that you're not at a point where you're unsure as to where you stand in regard to the natural progression of your career.

Career development is all about how responsible you've been with your career and has very little to do with the organization's responsibilities. If you know where you stand, if you know you've managed your career appropriately to get to where you are right now, and if you reflect on your track record and feel that you are qualified to succeed your retiring CIO, make that declaration and go for it with full force. The best way to manage your career from here on out is to never be afraid to step up and take challenges. That's how we all learn and grow.

Focus on the things that you can control and show progression. Always be sure that you're in a position to create win-win situations between what your company needs to be successful and what you need to succeed. The point is that even if you don't get the CIO position, it'll be a great experience for you, and you'll know what to expect the next time you feel up for the challenge.

I've been a consultant for the last five years, and I'm tired of all the travel. While that does seem a rational reason to seek a permanent position somewhere, I can see that it isn't enough to win over a prospective employer. If you were interviewing someone like me, what would you want to hear me tell you about my desire to work for you? As long as you're able to bridge the differences between consultancy and having a steady position, you're good to go. Working in IT, I often see consultants who are looking for a solid position in which to contribute consistently to a single organization. I recommend you use your consulting experiences and successes to your advantage to position yourself as a diversified candidate. Keep in mind that people in tenure usually don't have as diverse and adaptive a background as yours. They've been in their position for years, without a chance to broaden their experience base. Know that you may be able to adapt to change more than they can. This is one quality I look for in candidates I interview. I'm not saying that employees with tenure don't have their good points, but as an employer, I seek to compose a staff of mixed professional backgrounds. This gives the organization a competitive edge.

Use your successes in the consultancy role and bridge it to the company with which you're interviewing. Explain how your experiences molded you into a diversified "tool," which enables you to go broader and deeper into the organization than someone who has established longevity in a role. In today's work environment, your diversity and flexibility are imperative traits. The best quality in managers is the ability to adapt to different resources. As someone with a consultancy background, you can become one of the most valuable resources for a company in today's dynamic work landscape.

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