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Nine to Strive, The PayScale Advice Column: Resume Gaps and Disappointing Raises


PayScale’s career advice column, 9 to Strive, is back. This time Industrial/Organizational Psychology Practitioner Muneeb Bukhari is here to help readers explain away gaps on their resumes and what to do when you get a raise that doesn’t meet your expectations.

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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?

Yours truly,

Not As Lazy As I Seem


Dear Not as Lazy As I Seem,

The best method to explain an employment gap is to be honest. Be proactive and confront the situation. Focus on the things that you did accomplish during that time off, whether they directly relate to your next job or not. 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? Relocated?  Whatever it may have been, give a brief explanation about the gap but keep it positive.  There’s no need to get down in the weeds with the details.  The cover letter is meant to help you show off your advanced degree and fifteen years of 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 positions, say so, but make sure to recount how you were staying up to date on best practices and the newest industry trends.  Often times, people 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, no doubt) 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 monetary increase in pay to some of the tangible and 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 your worth: It sounds as though you already know what you’re worth but for those of you who do not, head over to and find out.
  3. Prepare for the conversation: You’ve done your homework, you know what the position is worth (on a national scale), 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.

We’ll be back next week with even more burning questions. And don’t forget to send us your own! Muneeb might be able to help you take your career to the next level… or just learn how to get along with your coworkers.



Muneeb Bukhari
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