The length of the gap and the activities that preceded it and followed it are important contextual factors. If the gap was a brief and atypical blip on the screen, no harm is apparent. Longer gaps are more noticeable than shorter gaps, and a series of gaps, however brief each is, is even more problematic.
In some cases, using a functional resume may be one approach to minimize long or multiple gaps in employment. This entails not listing any dates for work-related activities, but describing them as a series of work functions, such as sales, management, customer relations, and so on.
There are some who feel a functional resume is a red flag, but a lot depends on what the person did during the gap and the other sets of skills and experiences he or she developed outside the gap. If a person was incarcerated or in a drug rehabilitation program,, that does raise a potential problem and these issues will have to be addressed carefully. Some employers are more tolerant and understanding of applicants going through rough or difficult times than others.
If a person had a disability or illness of any type that precluded her or him from gainful work, that too is an important issue that will need to be thoughtfully weighed. If a person chows to raise a family, care for an ill family member, or cites other helping reasons, there is far less negativity associated with these reasons behind a gap.
A lot will also depend on the type of position for which one applies. A gap in employment is less damaging if the sought position is an entry-level one, or one in a new field.
For example, if one worked as a salesperson for an entry-level position as a customer service representative in a supermarket chain, the gap would not be scrutinized as much as if the person applied for another sales position. Some employers favor continued experience in the same field, while others may want a person with a fresh or different background.
In this example, the gap could be minimized if the person engaged in any kind of customer contact or public interaction activities, even if they were not remunerated. For example, many organizations have board members and committee designees who use and develop customer service skills such as problem solving, conflict resolution, staff communication, and so forth. A gap based on unemployment never looks great, but given the state of the economy, it should not seem unreasonable, especially in industries that have been hard hit by economic downturns.
The issue of the gap may or may not be raised in an interview, but the applicant should be well prepared to address it in an open, constructive, and non defensive way. When unemployed, it is helpful to engage in positive and healthy activities and achievements, such as joining a health club, continuing education, attending seminars, and so forth. Being a couch potato is perhaps the worst-case scenario when having gaps in employment. Ultimately, employers are more interested in what employees can do for them now, not in what happened in past employment.
A confident, comprehensive assessment of one's skills and assets can overcome many gaps, especially when presented in a way that appears to benefit the company or organization doing the hiring.