A slow recovery from the recession can mean a prolonged absence from the job market, causing a work gap on your resume. How you go about addressing it can mean the difference between landing a job and landing at the bottom of the resume heap.

“It’s very important to make it clear you have been using your time productively,” says Matthew Rothenberg, editor-in-chief at TheLadders.com, a recruitment services company.

Simply saying you’ve been looking for work isn’t good enough. On your resume, you’ll have to prove you’ve tried to advance your career, whether it’s by volunteering, networking, advancing your education or doing contract work, he says. Here are some tips to spruce up your resume after a long work gap.

Functional resume pros and cons

The most common way to structure your resume is to list your work experience in reversed chronological order, starting with your most recent job. If you’ve been out of work for some time, you could opt to structure your resume as a functional resume. With a functional resume you would name all of your skills at the top of the resume and then list your work experience below, but not in a reversed chronological order, says Allison Nawoj, a career adviser for CareerBuilder.com, based in Chicago. Any absences in your work history can be addressed in the cover letter, she says.

Functional resumes are often used in cases where your experience is the same from one job to the next. For example, if you are an accountant, you may use a functional resume if the skills and job functions are the same in each job you’re considering. It also makes sense if you are new to the work force and have little work experience.

If you’ve had different job functions in several companies in your work history, then a functional resume could be a red flag for hiring managers, says Charles Purdy, a senior editor at Monster Worldwide, an online job site based in New York.

“When almost any HR person sees a resume organized like that, they know you are trying to hide a work gap on your resume,” he says. “Most hiring managers will look at this and say, ‘what are they trying to hide,’ and will figure it out.”

Be upfront

Purdy says to be upfront in the cover letter about any work gap and more importantly, try to find realistic ways to fill the work gap on your resume. “You don’t have to have gotten paid for it to be a valid builder on your resume,” he says.

Let’s say you’ve been out of work during the last year but have attended networking events, trade shows and even took a continuing education class in your field. All of that can be added to your resume and it shows you’ve been trying to enhance your skills while out of work. Maintaining a career-focused blog or Web page also could count as experience on your resume, he says.

“If you’ve been out there increasing your skills and knowledge of the market, treat those just like paying gigs,” says Rothenberg. Don’t pretend they were paid jobs — but do emphasize the skills because they can be powerful arguments for hiring you, he says.

List work outside your field

Let’s say you were laid off from your job as a marketing manager and had to take a job as a waiter to make ends meet. While it doesn’t boost your work experience in the marketing realm, Alfred J. Mariani, founder of Resumes Etc., a resume-writing and consulting-services company with offices in Connecticut and White Plains, N.Y., says it could actually get you hired in your field.

Companies will have more respect for the former executive that took a job outside his or her career than the executive that stayed out of work and collected unemployment. “It shows you made an attempt to get out there and find employment,” Mariani says.

While volunteering, consulting and networking can help to fill a work gap on your resume, Rothenberg says not to list each one separately on your resume. You’re better off grouping them together under one entry to avoid looking like you’ve been hopping around from job to job.

He says a way to address drawn-out unemployment is to create a hybrid resume that lists all your skills at the top but then lists your work experience in reversed chronological offer. With this structure, you would be able to demonstrate your value before getting into the gap or gaps in your work history, he says.

“A hybrid brings functions to the top and shows what you bring to the table,” Rothenberg says. “You’re able to hook them and they understand the value.”

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