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Hey, HR Lady...

Question: I have some “gaps” on my resume that are difficult to explain.  I changed jobs frequently over the past few years because I was confused about my career path.  How do I explain those gaps to a potential employer?
                                             ~Sebastian, Sisters

Dear Sebastian,
You need to explain the gaps.  You need to create a story that makes sense.  If these gaps are not explained well, your potential new employer will most likely be concerned about your ability to stick with it.  You might want to consider “grouping like jobs” on your resume.  For example, if you worked in the retail industry, list that you worked in retail from 2007-2011. 

This looks much better than listing the multiple retail outlets where you were employed.  Most of us have had breaks in our career for one reason or another.  Maybe you were laid off or wanted to stay home to care for your children.  What you list on your resume should depend on what you actually did with your time while you were between jobs. 

If you volunteered or went back to college – list that because that is valuable experience.  You want to demonstrate that you were actively engaged in networking and finding your next opportunity and making good use of your time.  Employers want to follow where you have been chronologically.  Don’t give them reason to pause and pass on your resume due to unexplained “gaps.” 

You can also use a cover letter to logically explain your career path, where you have been and why.  If you don’t explain the gaps – then the employer will come up with his/her own conclusion, which won’t be good.  Another tip is to omit the months on your resume.  For instance, if you held a job from January 2007 to February 2009, simply put 2007 – 2009 on your resume.  Again, it looks better.  

You have to look good on paper to get the interview and the interview has to go well for you to get the job offer.  Practice your story.  It needs to sound realistic and authentic.  I would much rather hear about your volunteer experience than for you to tell me you don’t know what you did with your time off or not have reasonable justification as to why you are no longer working at those other companies. 

The more you practice your “story” the more natural it will roll off your tongue and be more believable to
your employer.

Question: I would like to give my staff a year-end bonus.  What is the appropriate amount to give them?  Do I give them all the same amount or do I vary the amount based on some other criteria?  Everyone has worked really hard and I want to reward them appropriately.  Our company is profitable and I want to share those profits with my employees, but want to know what is customary in this situation.
                                                     ~Katie, Bend
Dear Katie,
Wow, it is wonderful, in this economy you are issuing year-end bonuses.  There are many ways you can distribute an equitable bonus plan for your employees.  You can base the program on each employee’s length of service or a certain percent of the individual’s annual income so that it is fair and equitable.  Remember to follow appropriate tax laws.  Another generous option would be to “gross up” the bonus so the employee doesn’t get stuck with the tax burden. 

Be careful not to set a precedent because once you issue these bonuses employees may come to expect them next year.  Make sure you label it as a “one time only” year-end bonus, so you manage expectations. 

Julie Leutschaft, MPA, MHA is the CEO of The HUMAN Touch, LLC – Human Resources and Career Counseling firm www.thehumantouchHR.com or call 541-410-0631.

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