How to Explain Gaps in Employment On Your Resume

Employment gaps on a resume are when someone has been unemployed for a period of time. It’s important that employers understand this so they can accurately assess your skills and experience.

Employment gaps are periods of time during which you weren’t officially or formally employed. That can range from a few months to several years. The reason why can vary and might not have been voluntary. This can be a cause for concern unless you explain why it happened. Gaps in employment still need to be addressed, even though they are pretty common.

What is Considered an Employment Gap?

Before you address this time on your resume, it’s important to know if yours applies. Taking two or three months off to look for work is expected, isn’t considered an employment gap, and could be addressed as job-searching. If your time away is closer to 9 months to a year, then employers consider that to be an employment gap. The general rule of thumb is that if it’s been more than 6 months, you will need to explain it.

How To Explain Employment Gaps

When you’re looking for a job, make sure that you’ve included everything relevant to your application. That includes any gaps in employment history. It’s not uncommon for people to leave jobs because they were unhappy with their employer or had a bad boss. However, if you left a job due to personal circumstances, such as moving across the country or taking care of family members, you need to explain those situations.

Related: Tips for Finding Jobs Hiring Near You

6 Steps to Explain Employment Gaps

  1. Be prepared for this question
  2. What should you include?
  3. For a series of small jobs, reconsider using the month
  4. Insert the reason as though it was its own job
  5. Expand if how you spent the time off is relevant
  6. Choose the right resume format

1. Be prepared for this question

“What can you tell me about this gap on your resume?” Be prepared ahead of time since it will almost definitely come up. Make sure you have a good answer ready and an answer for the unspoken question: are you ready to work now? If it’s a family or medical issue, how does the employer know that you don’t need to quit this new job to deal with that same issue again? Be clear in letting them know that you’re available to work now and the other concerns are no longer an issue for you.

Taking the time now to complete a related online certification would also help you show employers why you’re prepared to go to work. That includes certifications for personal development, online enrichment classes, doing volunteer or contract work, or being active in professional associations.

2. What should you include?

You may not need to include the employment gap on your resume if it was a few years back and you’ve had relevant experience since then. In general, it’s recommended to only include the most recent experience. Once you’ve decided which recent jobs to address, then you can determine which, if any, employment gaps will be included.

3. For a series of small jobs, reconsider using the month

It’s customary for each job entry on a resume to include both the date and year. In this case, you can remove the month and only have the year next to each job entry. This usually only works if the gaps in between positions were only a few months and you worked each position for at least a year.

4. Insert the reason as though it was its own job

You were doing something, even if it wasn’t traditional. You still possess the skills you used during that time. The easiest way to address the gap is to include what you were doing instead during that time. The essential part here is to address the issue while still keeping the entry short. This is suggested for anyone who has one long gap in their employment, such as stay-at-home parents, students, or taking time off to travel the world. Anyone who is an ex-offender is recommended to list the state as their employer, then list any professional skills or certifications earned during that period.

5. Expand if how you spent the time off is relevant

The goal of any resume is to highlight your transferable skills, and why they should hire you. In this case, if your time off is similar to the job you’re applying for, be sure to expand on that. For instance, if you took time off to take care of your own child and are now applying for work as an au pair or nanny, then we suggest including what your time off entailed. Your entry might include something like this:

Stay-at-Home Parent, Atlanta, Georgia, 2020-2022

  • Managed daily personal tasks, such as feeding, grooming, bathing, and dressing as needed
  • Prepared three healthy daily meals that were age-appropriate to encourage strong mental and physical growth
  • Entertained using age-appropriate toys to encourage hand-eye coordination and mobility

6. Choose the right resume format

If your employment gap was recently, then you know that the hiring manager needs to focus on your skills instead of your past experience. In that case, we recommend that you rearrange the sequence of your resume to highlight your skills above your job experience. We also suggest using a functional resume format to minimize the gaps.

Related: Types of Resumes and When to Use Them (With Examples)

Good Reasons for Employment Gaps

There are several reasons why people leave their jobs. Sometimes, they move to another city or state. Other times, they take a break to raise children or care for elderly relatives. Still other times, they simply decide to pursue something else. Whatever the reason, it’s important to mention these things when applying for new positions.

  • Laid off by the organization due to company changes
  • Time off to look for a new job
  • Medical leave for yourself
  • Took time off to be a family caretaker or stay-at-home parent
  • Furthering your education, either degree or related license or certificate
  • Moved to a new geographic location, such as across the country or a new state
  • Personal development, such as traveling long-term

Where to Explain Employment Gaps

If you’re looking for work, it’s important to make sure that your resume reflects your current situation. This includes explaining any gaps in employment. You should also make sure that you’ve included relevant skills and experiences.

Be honest

Employers have the power to check everywhere you’ve worked to see if your employment dates are real. A basic employment check is pretty standard, so don’t let something so ordinary be the reason you’re not hired. You have to be honest, but you don’t have to sabotage yourself. Jobs come and go, but if you lie in the initial interview, managers will wonder what else you’re lying about. Putting one line in your cover letter about what you were doing instead will make a huge difference. For example, if you were raising a child: “2020-2022: Raising a family”  would increase the number of callbacks instead of just pretending that those years aren’t missing from your resume. If it is for a personal tragedy, still put a line in on your cover letter.

Related: How to Write a Resume Cover Letter

Practice your job interview answer

While you may have already addressed this in your cover letter and on your resume, still be ready to discuss it in person during the job interview. Stay positive and explain how either you can use the skills you used there for this new position, or how you’re now ready for the next chapter of your life.  No matter why you were out of the workforce, be sure to keep your answer short and impersonal.

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