Here's how to excuse the gaps in your CV

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If you want to work in financial services and your CV includes long periods of inactivity and doesn't chart a perfect career trajectory of the kind we described last month, you may be feeling a little sweaty.

Long gaps in a CV never look good. This is particularly so in investment banking, where organizations like Barclays Capital run dreaded Chronological Indepth Structured Interviews lasting many hours, with the intention of unearthing patterns in past behaviour. If you've reverted to tending Dahlias, watching daytime TV, or lying on beaches for many months in the past, the fear must always be that you have the propensity to do so again.

Equally, however, the cyclical nature of the financial services industry, and the cataclysmic nature of the 'financial crisis' mean that most people working in banking do have gaps on their CVs. If everyone with a CV gap were excluded from seeking re-employment in the industry, the choice of candidates would be reduced to a deeply fawning equity researcher, and the niece of a major client.

CV gaps are inevitable and acceptable. It's what you do during them that matters. Here's how financial services careers specialists suggest neutralising their negative impact. Needless to say, you will actually need to do these things, rather than just pretending to have done them.

1) Alpha-male pursuits

A CV gap is not acceptable if the time out of work is spent unproductively. However, the situation changes considerably if you spend the time off doing something indicative of stamina, competitiveness, determination, grit or fortitude.

Hence, Graham Ward, an executive coach, former co-head of European equities at Goldman Sachs, and programme director at the INSEAD Global Leadership Centre, says he's coaching a CEO who's taking a year off to climb Mount Everest.

"Sabbaticals are acceptable nowadays if you can qualify what you were doing," says Ward. "They tend to be fairly well thought of if they include some kind of achievement or have a developmental aspect."

Other possibilities include: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, trekking to the North Pole, or (for low budget options) cycling from Lands End to John O'Groats and swimming the Channel.

2) Educational attainment

It will help too, if you can demonstrate that you used your time off constructively to learn something - particularly if you learnt something that may be relevant to your next job.

Studying the CFA is a cost-effective favourite: it's cheap, shows initiative, and will leave you free to take a new role should such a thing arise. If you have 40k to spare and are aged less than 32, you could also contemplate an MBA at a top school - bearing in mind that this will probably keep you out of the market for two years.

3) Charitable endeavours

These are best combined with 1).

For example, you could spend your time Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity, or hopping between Kingston and Dorking in aid of sick cats.

Kate Grussing, managing director of Sapphire Partners, a search firm with special expertise in placing senior women in what are often flexible roles, says she sees a lot of candidates who've done, "really meaty things," with their time off, such as fund raising for charities and using their skills to help the local community.

"A lot of people in the UK spend their time out in the not for profit sector," confirms Michael Moran, at career coaching company Fairplace.

4) 'Consulting'

Given that most periods out of the market aren't intentional, you'll probably need an income. If full time work isn't available, freelance consulting may be an option and is seen as a valid use of your months out of full time employment.

Moran suggests referring to a consultancy-related gap in a CV as follows: "You can explain that the gap on your CV was taken in order to set up your own consultancy and to sell your services to clients. However, having done this for 18 months, you've decided you're more suited to full time employment."

Equally, Grussing says she comes across people who've helped friends set up businesses while they were out of the market. "The longer the gap is, the more important it is to do something," she says.

And here's how not to excuse the gaps on your CV

If the four points above will help gloss over the holes in your CV, the three points below will highlight them in neon marker. Don't:

1) Lie

It's no good saying that you've been consulting/climbing mountains/studying the CFA/helping a friend with a mail order business if you've been lying on the sofa. You will get found out.

2) Say that you've been looking for work

It may be perfectly true, but if you say you've spent all your time trying to get back into the market, you're not exactly advertising your popularity.

"If you say, "I've spent the last 18 months applying for jobs, you're basically signalling that you've been all around the market and are unemployable," points out Moran.

3) Say that you've been spending time with your family

"It should be deemed acceptable to take time off to be with your children, but if that time off was forced upon you, it would be optimal to have done something alongside it that was equally productive," says Ward. "If you've been laid off, you need to be seen as resourceful and as someone who can pick themselves up in the face of adversity and generate the energy to make things happen."

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