By Lauren SauserJune 18, 2016

How to Explain Gaps in Your Resume

When applying to jobs in software development, as in any other profession, you should expect to compete against other highly qualified applicants. A common concern we hear from incoming students is that their previous work history or gaps in their resume will hinder their job search. Even with demand for software developers at an all-time high, it’s essential to consider how your past work experience will affect your hireability going forward, particularly as you interview for your dream job.

Almost 80% of Code Fellows students have no prior experience coding, and yet almost all find steady employment as developers after graduation. They come from backgrounds in finance, hospitality, engineering, retail, and more; and collaborate to support each other’s specializations.

“You’ll need to take some lessons in professionalism from your previous jobs and be able to relate those experiences to your potential career in software development,” Dave Parker, CEO of Code Fellows, said. “If you didn’t like your previous bosses, or working with other people, remember that a career in coding is not without leadership structure or complex communication with people.”

Prior to any interview, solidify how your existing work experiences continues to deliver value: imagine it as the foundation of the patience, cool-headedness, and people skills you’ll need as a coder. Search out internships or volunteer opportunities that build upon your existing technical skills, and use these as a reflection of your talents and intention.

“If you find that you’re really good at coding, your previous professional and academic experience won’t matter as much after six months in a new role,” Parker said. “Possessing a new set of skills will help you to hit the reset button on your career, and will provide new opportunities. With that said, it will not erase your work history.”

If you have an erratic work history before learning to code, focus on universal skills (communication, attention to detail, efficiency, etc.) that you will bring to your next job, and practice discussing how these traits have been sewn into your professionalism.

As a way to hybridize previous, non-technical experiences with newfound software skills, our students build and maintain coding projects as a part of their coursework. Having a portfolio of current work (however small the project) will help overshadow your previous non-technical experience and give you talking points when interviewing for your first software development job.

“I worked with some elementary schoolers who wanted to celebrate their next birthday…when they happen on Mars,” Emily Kapor, a Code Fellows graduate, said. “I worked out the space math and built a functioning app. It’s not a super-serious, monetizable project, but think of it as proof-of-concept. The project shows what I’m capable of.”

Passion projects help employers get a unique look at each applicant, and indicate the creativity with which you approach coding. They also offer something that a diploma or cover letter can’t.

More and more businesses are starting to look past college education and assess candidates based on skill, not degree. In response to a weak correlation between success at university and success later in life, Ernst & Young, Penguin Random House, and others have announced the removal of degree criteria from their job applications. The companies have placed greater emphasis of the potential, creativity, and specialization of each applicant.

With this in mind, the fastest way to leave your work history behind is to understand and focus on what you want next—to be a great coder! Get started with our one-day coding crash-course, Code 101: Intro to Software Development & Careers in Tech. Or, if your resume already includes some software development, consider testing into Code 401: Advanced Software Development, where you can specialize in JavaScript, iOS, or Python.