A flawless resume is every professional’s dream. A fulfilling and laurel-filled stint at a reputed company followed by a meteoric rise at another organization… who doesn’t want their resume to include such glories to make them the most eligible candidate for that next job opening? However, it is equally true that most of us, at some point in our careers, end up taking a break… a gap in employment if you will. The reason could be anything: need for some personal time, caring for a sick family member, having and raising children, or simply wanting to travel the world. The question is, how does one explain gaps in employment or periods of unemployment on a resume?
Explaining Gaps in Employment
When you are applying for a new job, you are bound to mention past work experience in your resume and cover letter. While you are at it these gaps in employment will be hard to gloss over. And gloss over you mustn’t. The best approach to explaining gaps in employment in a resume is by being honest about it.
- For starters, you could gear up by providing some well-structured explanations for that employment gap. Briefly explain why you were unemployed during that period of time and emphasize how this time off work helped you grow as an individual and what skills you got to hone apart from some practical experience you might have garnered.
- Don’t shy away from revealing the real reason why you’d taken that break. Most recruiters appreciate honesty; especially given the number of candidates who try to beat around the bush and glorify their time off work. If you took a couple of years off to raise your kids or look after an ailing parent let it be known. If you were traveling, gaining valuable life experiences, more power to you. If you were freelancing or trying your hand at something new, let your recruiting manager know; it is a sign of your proactive nature. If you were studying or adding certifications to your cartel of achievements, even better.
- Whatever the reason for your gap in employment, an open and honest approach without going into too much detail is your best bet. You don’t have to be apologetic for taking the time off. Don’t forget to highlight the new skills you have added and the valuable lessons you learned during your time off work.
- Ensure you explain the situation clearly, but do not give away a tonne of personal information. The recruiter is really not looking to go into the nitty-gritty of it. Facts will suffice. While you are at it, assure your prospective employer that you aren’t going to take off again; they do not have to worry about losing an employee to flights of fancy. You should be ready to work for them… for the long haul.
Reasons for Employment Gaps – Examples
As mentioned earlier, the reasons for the gap in one’s employment history could be many. Here are a few that hiring managers find acceptable.
- Raising your children.
- Caring for an ailing family member.
- Pressing health issues, or a surgery followed by a long recovery period.
- Going back to school for higher education or expanding your knowledge with certifications and professional training.
- Attempting to launch your own business or exploring a career as a freelancer or consultant.
- Taking time off to travel and explore the world while broadening your perspective.
- Being laid off when your previous company was downsizing. Utilizing the time to find yourself another job that you were the right fit for.
Tips for Explaining Gaps in Employment on a Resume
While honesty is the best approach when it comes to explaining gaps in employment when applying for a new job, there are ways to make them less glaring on your resume. The key is to craft a resume that takes the focus off the gap years and instead turns the light on your achievements and impressive skillsets.
- Don’t go into Details: While you do owe a potential employer honesty when it comes to divulging facts about your professional past, you do not owe them minute details. If your employment gap was to care for a sick relative, you do not need to get into the details of who it was and what the ailment was. Similarly, if you had taken time off to recuperate from an ailment yourself or work on your mental health, the details are yours and yours alone.
- Change the Format: The reverse chronological way of resume writing is one of the most common formats chosen by job seekers. You could instead opt for a format that makes the gaps in your employment less visible. Use a functional format instead if you are more comfortable with it. This format highlights skills and abilities when compared to the chronological format. Here you can list your gap year under the Experience section. Since the end objective is to get a recruiter to focus on your skill sets, this might not be such a bad idea.
- Camouflage the Gap with Dates: Oftentimes candidates, in a bid to provide as much information as possible, tend to include dates and months in their resume when listing their past jobs. You could instead only mention the years of employment in a bid to make a gap less obvious. For instance, stick to 2010-2015 and 2015 to present, to take the attention away from an employment gap.
- Experience Matters: Although you might not have been a part of the active workforce during the time you decided to step back from a full-time career, there is no denying the fact that you did end up garnering valuable experiences and life lessons. Use these to your advantage when crafting your resume. For instance, if you used your sabbatical from a full-time job to freelance or consult, do mention the experience that you gained from your endeavors. It counts. Even if it was helping out on a farm to earn boarding and lodging during your travels.
- Leave Some of it Out: If you’ve been in the workforce for more than a couple of decades, it is all right to leave out a couple of jobs here and there. Especially, if you are applying for a managerial position. In most cases, it is acceptable to limit your years of experience on a resume to 15 years for these positions.
- Be Well Prepared: While it is easy to translate all of this in writing on a resume, do gear up for possible questions on these gaps in employment during the interview rounds. Your best approach here would be to go well prepared to avoid fumbling or seeming apologetic for the gap.
How to Include Gap Year Experience on a Resume
Just because you took a gap year does not mean you discount any of the skills you honed during the time. It is quite likely that you gained valuable experience during your time off and there is every reason why you should highlight, not just include, it in your resume.
If you’re using a functional resume format then you could just as easily slot any experience gained during this gap year under the ‘Experience’ section. If you volunteered during your time off, taught, or worked in a completely different field it should figure on your resume. Your gap year is a testimony to your risk-taking nature, ability to toe the line, and independence, qualities most organizations look for in candidates. All you need to do is dress it up in your resume using some action-oriented terms to quantify your achievements.
If you decided to stick to a chronological resume format, then you could always choose to highlight this gap year experience as international experience or volunteer experience. Recruiters and hiring managers are bound to sit up and take notice.
How do You Address an Employment Gap in a Cover Letter
While there is no reason to fear a gap in employment when applying for a new job, a cover letter explaining gaps in employment will be an added bonus. Chances are you picked up some new skills during your employment gap that wouldn’t otherwise figure in your resume. You could use your cover letter to convey this to your hiring manager instead.
You don’t have to have a flawless career history. As long as you offer a proper explanation in your cover letter there is no reason why you shouldn’t be judged by the same yardstick as other applicants. Remember, being honest and upfront is the key here.
If you took a break to travel and explore the world, make a compelling pitch about it in your cover letter explaining how you benefited from it and what you can now bring to the table as a result of it. If the break was to raise your children and you probably did some freelance work in the meantime, say it in your cover letter. Highlight any achievements gained during the time. If you decided to take some time off following a layoff, explain that the previous organization had to let you go due to downsizing while highlighting your skills and abilities to a prospective new employer.
How you say it, is how it will be perceived.
Sample Cover Letter Explaining a Gap in Employment
Dear Hiring Manager
An Introduction With Impact
(Try and make this as creative as you can to catch a recruiter’s attention. But don’t forget to include important details such as who you are, your area of expertise, how you came across the job posting, and why you want to apply).
A Powerful Body
(The body of a cover letter should describe how your employment history, experience, and skillsets will fit the bill for the current job opening. Don’t forget to include phrases and terms from the job description when you do this. You can also make a bulleted list with your accomplishments. Don’t forget to add numbers in these bullet points to quantify your claims. Explain how you can work towards helping the company achieve its goals and vision. Reiterate why you might be the right fit for the position they are looking to fill).
Sample of How You Could Explain an Employment Gap
(After working for 10 years as a journalist, I decided to explore a new area and devoted time to complete a certification course that I had long been wanting to undertake. During my time away from an active workforce I undertook some freelance writing and editing assignments for various publications and websites. While these were starkly different from the work I had been doing in the last decade, they did provide me the opportunity and exposure to newer avenues while encouraging me to hone my skills as well as work on my own terms).
A Strong Conclusion
(Here, inform the hiring manager that you’re keen on getting interviewed and that you will reach out within a given period of time in case you don’t hear from them. Leave your contact information and thank them for perusing your application).
If the thought of explaining gaps in employment while looking for a new job is leaving you dismayed then step back and take a deep breath. Do not discount the skills and positive attributes you are now able to offer a potential employer.
Gaps in employment are fast becoming a rather common feature in most people’s professional pasts and employers are a lot more accustomed to them that you might give them credit for.
While explaining gaps in employment you might have had in both your resume and cover letter without obsessing over them or sounding apologetic. Explain it confidently and be well prepared to answer any related questions when you go for job interviews.
1). Do employers care about gap years?
Yes, they do. However, most employers are quite accustomed to dealing with candidates with gaps in employment and are a lot more accepting as well. You do need to have a strategic explanation in place to convince them of your devotion to your job and how you might have benefitted from your break. Not to forget, you also have to find a way to assure them that these gaps will no longer be a regular feature that they need to worry about.
2). How long of an employment gap is too long?
Three months. Anything less than that will not need to be explained. But anything longer than three months usually has recruiters and hiring managers seeking answers explaining these gaps.
3). Why is the gap in employment bad?
A gap in employment usually raises red flags with recruiters. One of the first thoughts to cross many minds is that the gap was a result of being sacked. This is why it is important to provide a satisfactory explanation in both your resume as well as the cover letter, apart from being prepared to field numerous questions regarding this break during a job interview.
4). How to explain a lengthy employment gap?
Emphasize why you took a step back from a full-time career in the first place. Keep it positive when it comes to explaining the motivation behind your decision to quit. Highlight any activities or courses you might have undertaken during your time off from the workforce and how these have shaped you in the last few years.