March 31, 2020

How to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume

Having a gap in employment on your resume can be intimidating when it comes time to apply for new jobs. Hiring managers generally look for candidates who show they’re dedicated and consistent, and these gaps in your work history might leave your resume overlooked. The reality is that many of us take time off work for reasons that sometimes are out of our control or that are intended to better ourselves. Maybe you took a few years off to raise your child, or you decided to go back to school to actually improve yourself to be able to earn more with your next job.

Having a gap in your work history doesn’t have to mean you give up on the application process altogether. Learning how to explain this lapse in employment is the best way to ensure you don’t get passed up on a great opportunity. Taking time off doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It gives you a new perspective, and research even suggests you’ll come back more motivated to work than before. Let’s talk about the best ways to handle different situations, and the best way to navigate this tricky area during the application process.
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When You Don't Need to Mention It
First, we need to talk about some situations where you don't need to bother explaining an employment gap on your resume. There is no formal requirement to include your entire history on your resume, and if your gap in employment was decades ago, feel empowered to leave it out completely. 

If you’ve been employed since your lapse in employment, you don’t need to formally call attention to it. While you should never lie on a resume, you don’t need to discuss any gaps in employment that happened years ago or after having worked elsewhere since this time.

Formatting Your Resume
If your employment gap is recent, you should include it on your resume to avoid getting called out during the verification process. You might also need to be specific on any job applications that ask about your work history. There are some resume formatting tricks that can make these gaps less noticeable to hiring managers, especially if they’re short gaps. 

First, don’t list the months you were employed if you were at a company for several years. Instead, just list the years. For example, instead of listing “Receptionist, May 2013 - August 2015” simply put “Receptionist, 2013 - 2015.” You can also use a resume format that doesn’t draw excessive attention to the dates of employment. Avoid bolding the dates or listing them on their own.
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Another option is to skip some experience from your resume. As said before, you don’t need to list every single job you’ve had before applying for this position. After being in the workforce for many years, it’s acceptable to only put the most recent and applicable experience on your resume. Your college job waiting tables doesn’t mean much to hiring managers after years of working in an office!

Finally, consider including other experiences during the gap in your history. If you spent time freelancing, volunteering, or consulting professional, these are perfectly acceptable things to include on your resume to show you were active during this time you weren’t formally employed.

Addressing the Gap
No matter how you arrange your resume, sometimes it’s better to explain these personally to hiring managers. This is especially true if you weren’t active in your field or taking a class during your time of unemployment. Being forthright, honest, and clear with future employers is always a good idea. 

The first line of defense is to use your cover letter. You don't’ need to bring the situation to the employer’s attention if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, but a line about how you left to care for a family member, and you’re excited to jump into the field again can go along way. Be brief, and don’t let it overshadow your other experience. 
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Finally, you might be addressed about the gap during your job interview. It’s best to practice your response in advance so you aren’t caught off guard. Be honest, but don’t feel pressured to go into detail. Sometimes life happens, and as long as you’re clear about wanting to do your best work, you shouldn’t burn any bridges. Always try to focus on the positives.

Returning to Work
It’s not impossible to return to your field after a break in your career. As long as you keep the focus on the positive things you accomplished during your gap in employment, you’ll be able to work the application in your favor. It’s always a smart idea to emphasize your commitment to this position, and how motivated you are to continue your career growth. If you’re the right fit for the job, your enthusiasm will speak for itself.

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