Crafting a resume can be a daunting task, especially for those who have gaps in their work history. It’s natural to feel anxious about how potential employers might perceive these breaks.
The good news is that a resume gap doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. In fact, it can be an opportunity to highlight other valuable skills and experiences you’ve gained during your time away from the workforce.
Whether the gap was for personal development, education, travel, family, or any other reason, it often equips you with unique attributes such as resilience, adaptability, and a fresh perspective. These qualities are highly sought after in the professional world.
The key is to use your resume and cover letter to tell a compelling story about your break, focusing on how it has prepared you for the job you’re applying for.
How to address an employment gap on a resume
If you have a gap on your resume, don’t lie about your employment dates to cover it up. Instead, consider one of these strategies.
1. Explain gaps as their own experience.
The second tip is to include a brief explanation of any gaps as their own experience. This could be a short sentence explaining the gap, along with any relevant skills you may have acquired or put to use during that time. Even if your time away was for family reasons, you can note the experience that you gained during that time.
Giving a brief explanation will instantly clear up any questions that a recruiter may have about the employment gap.
2. Minimize appearance of gaps by including only years of tenure.
An easy way to minimize the appearance of small gaps in employment is to include only years, rather than months, on your resume. This helps prevent potential employers from making assumptions about why you were unemployed and instead focuses them on the larger picture of your work history.
3. Provide more information in your cover letter.
Don’t be afraid to provide more information or context in a cover letter, if needed. A cover letter allows for more flexibility than would be possible within the confines of a traditional one-page resume format.
By including additional details here, you are able to add further clarity around any areas which may need further explanation without feeling like it takes away from the overall professional story presented by your resume experience section.
4. Include education, certifications, or personal projects you worked on during your time off.
If you did anything to further your career during your time off, whether it be additional education, certifications, or personal projects, be sure to include that.
These can help fill those gaps and show potential employers that you used those times productively and are ready for the next big thing!
5. Use a different format.
If none of these options work for your situation, consider using a different format for your resume altogether. Although chronological order (most recent to oldest) is the most common resume format, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right fit for everyone’s situation.
For example, you can opt for a resume format that highlights job experience most pertinent to the role rather than just listing all prior roles chronologically, which may draw attention to any existing gaps.
How to explain gaps in employment in an interview
If you’ve made it to the interview process— congrats! Your employment gap may come up again in conversation, but it’s no reason to fret.
Keep the following tips in mind.
1. Be upfront and honest.
The first thing you should do if you’re asked about gaps in your employment history is to be upfront and honest.
There’s no need to try to hide it or make excuses— just be honest about what happened. For example, if you took some time off to care for a family member, simply say that. If you were on sabbatical, say that. Honesty is always the best policy.
2. Reframe your gap as a positive.
You might worry that employers will see your gap as a sign of unreliability or lack of ambition. However, there are ways to reframe it that can make your gap into an asset.
Here are a few examples to keep in mind.
Reframing a gap due to a sabbatical
If you’ve taken a break from work to travel, this is an opportunity to highlight the skills and experience you gained during your travels. Employers are often looking for candidates who have transferable skills such as problem-solving, creativity, resourcefulness and resilience— all great qualities which can come out of taking some time off.
For example, if you spent some time abroad working on projects with local communities or businesses, be sure to emphasize the interpersonal skills you developed while working with others.
Reframing time spent job searching
If you took an extended period of unemployment due to a rough job market, don’t feel embarrassed. Instead use the opportunity to showcase how proactive and determined you are when pursuing new opportunities.
Emphasize that you were actively taking the time to find the right role and company for you— not just taking the first job that was available.
Highlight any additional activities or classes you took during that time. This works as evidence that even though there weren’t many jobs available at the time, you still took advantage of every opportunity for growth that presented itself.
Reframing caring for a loved one
If your employment gap came from caring for children, a family member, or an elderly relative, this can be seen as evidence of your commitment and loyalty. You could also focus on how it has made you better prepared for the role you applied for. In addition to helping care for someone else, chances are good that you acquired useful communication, management, and leadership skills during this period too!
Reframing a business failure
Finally, if your gap was due to business failure, highlight what lessons you’ve learned from this experience. Discuss how they’ll help make you successful in the future. This could include anything from managing stress or dealing with tight deadlines more effectively to honing your marketing and sales techniques. All of these are valuable insights which could prove invaluable in future roles.
The bottom line
Gaps in employment don’t have to be a dealbreaker when it comes to finding a job. By being upfront and honest about why there’s a gap in your employment history and sharing any skills or experience you might have gained during that time, you can demonstrate that you’re a great candidate for the role.