I think that a gap of 2 years or more which isn't supported by a justified explaination can be too big when it comes to a resume gap. An unexplained gap can lead the selling of the candidate to be a very difficult and awkward process... thus making the candidate unattractive straight away to the client.
I would look at anyone's resume and listen to any reasons for gaps but I wouldn't necessarily base decisions on whether to send a candidate on to a client based on that gap... I would be interested to hear anyone else's perspective on that.
I work as a Career Coach and am an ex recruiter.. I often advise my candidates on how best to work with recruiters and find this subject a very interesting one.
Good question Tim. There is no definitive answer and often times perception is more important than reality but there are things to look for as to how long a gap is workable.
When to work a candidate with gaps also depends on what the client is looking for, how unique the experience is and how closely that candidate is a match.
In this market I think companies/recruiters are a bit more tolerant of longer stretches so long as the candidate is demonstrating effort and they are keeping up on their skills. However, with some companies openly not hiring candidates who are unemployed, I don't think this is the time to go find yourself...candidates should be getting right back on the horse.
I agree 100% with Christopher, especially now a-days. The only thing is, people can work, just not in their field, at least till things change. My clients like to know peoples skills are up-to-date, a lot changes in two years, so if you can consult, temp or volunteer that would be to your benefit. .The other thing is people can take some kind of classes; there are free ones around, in community centers, churches, unemployment, etc. I know some activity in those two years is better then no activity. Lastly, there are jobs out there (and yes for all ages) just not the ones you may want, but ones that may tide you over for a while, especially during the holiday season.
Only three things make a candidate unworkable in the case of "resume gaps"
1) not being a fit for the position in the first place
2) the candidate being unable to explain the gap properly during the interview process.
3) being presented by a recruiter who is less of a coach and more of a resume pusher who won't really work with candidates beyond the surface BS "interview preparation".