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Nine to Strive: Overcoming Resume Gaps and Negotiating Lackluster Offers


It’s time for another installment of Nine to Strive, PayScale’s career advice column. This week, we’re talking about the dreaded resume gap and how to react to a salary offer that doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Ready to dive in and take the corporate world by storm?

Have you ever wished you had a personal career guru to guide you through sticky work situations? Just send your questions to and Muneeb Bukhari, Industrial/Organizational Psychology Practitioner, will provide you with the help you need.

 Nine to Strive Get Expert Advice from PayScale

Dear Muneeb,

Do You Know What You're Worth?

What’s the best way to explain employment gaps on your resume? I’m currently between freelance assignments and have a one-year gap between now and my last job. I’ve been on several interviews lately, but potential employers don’t like such a long time between jobs. How can I make them see past that and appreciate the fact that I have an advanced degree and 15 years of experience? –

– Not as Lazy as I Look

 Dear Not So Lazy,

 The best method to explain an employment gap is honesty.  How you present yourself now is indicative to how a potential employer may perceive you.  Be proactive and confront the situation.  The two areas where a proactive approach can be most effective are in the cover letter and interview. 

 Cover Letter:

 The cover letter is your first opportunity to change the way they think about you.  This is your chance to frame the employment gap in your own words.  Did you take time off to travel?  Were you taking care of a sick loved one?  Did you go back to school?  Whatever your reason, give a brief explanation about the gap but keep it positive.  There’s no need to get down in the weeds with details.  The cover letter is your chance to show off your advanced degree and experience.


 If you’re asked again about the employment gap, restate what you wrote in your cover letter, but now in further detail.  Fifteen years of experience and an advanced degree doesn’t sound like an individual who is likely to accept entry level offers.  If you were being picky about the job you accepted, say so, but also tell them how you were staying up to date on best practices and industry trends.  Often times, those who have been unemployed for long periods of time will promise the world to future employers.  Don’t fall into that trap.  If you over promise and under deliver, you stand the risk of doing more harm to your career.  Reframe the conversation in a way that shows you were selective about your career path and have been looking for an organization with the right fit as opposed to a quick paycheck. 

Dear Muneeb,

After years of being underpaid, I was finally offered a raise! The bad news is that it isn’t as high as I think I deserve. How do you go about negotiating a raise without seeming ungrateful? I know what I’m worth (thanks to PayScale, of course) and the number my company is offering isn’t enough.

– Show Me the Money

Dear Show Me the Money,

Negotiating for a raise is one of the more difficult things we do at work because it is our attempt to justify a tangible increase in money for some of the sometimes intangible successes we have at work. It can be very personal and emotions can run high, so make sure to be as level headed as possible and follow the steps below:

Before the conversation…

1. Do your homework.

Before you ask for a larger raise, find out how your organization is doing financially.  If your company is struggling yet you were still offered a raise, now might not be the right time to ask.  On the other hand, if things are going well and you feel you’ve had a hand in that success then the time might be right to renegotiate. 

2. Find out what you’re worth.

It sounds as though you already know what you’re worth but for those of you who do not, take the PayScale Salary Survey and find out.

3. Prepare for the conversation

Now is the time to build your case.  If the stars have aligned in your favor, begin preparing for the conversation.  Outline or bullet your S.M.A.R.T. achievements and how you have been pivotal to your departments success.  Think of your narrative and practice the direction you want to take the conversation. 

Things to be cognizant of during the conversation…

1. What your boss thinks

You can get a sense of how the conversation might go if you ask your boss what they think of your work.  Depending on their feedback, you should be able to get an idea of how successful the negotiation might be.

2. Contingency plans

If you do not get the pay increase you were looking for, think about other possibilities (more vacation, a corner office, flexible work hours, etc.).  Little wins add up, so don’t feel defeated if this is your only option.

After the conversation…

1. Show appreciation

Whether or not you got the raise, be the bigger individual and show your boss some appreciation for their willingness to give you the opportunity.

2. Develop yourself

If your organization offers professional development, take it!  This will only help to sway the scales in your favor next time you are up for a raise.

3. Document

If you were told no, then document all of your SMART achievements and have them ready when you build a new case 6 months or a year from now.  It will be very tough for your boss to say no when roll out that long list.

 Tell Us What You Think

Well, that’s it for this week. Send your questions via email ( and he’ll get you headed in the right direction. And of course, follow both PayScale and Muneeb on Twitter.

More From PayScale

Nine to Strive: PayScale’s Advice Column

Nine to Strive: Avoiding Plateaus and Switching Careers


Muneeb Bukhari
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