Your journey to discovering your career path can be full of twists and turns. Sometimes, life circumstances can result in gaps in your work history. In this guide, we will teach you all about how to include and explain gaps in your employment to keep your resume looking and sounding strong!
There are many reasons why a person may experience gaps in their employment.
These can include layoffs, ill family, or furthering your education.
The problem then becomes when and how to bring up this gap in your work history.
When deciding whether or not to mention a gap on a resume, consider the following 3 factors:
The general rule of thumb is to only mention gaps if they are very recent or extended over a long period.
If you have already returned to the workforce and are looking for your next job, you can likely avoid including the gap.
Are you writing a resume with little to no work experience at all? Check out our guide on How to Write a Resume with No Experience (with Examples).
You should always try to reserve mention of employment gaps for your resume rather than your cover letter.
A resume cover letter is a supplemental document that introduces the applicant to the employer.
Cover letters typically include information about work history, skills, certifications, and achievements.
They may also describe the applicant’s career goals and why they will make a good addition to the employer’s team.
Bringing up employment gaps or focusing on your periods of unemployment will not do your cover letter many favors.
In fact, this can be a turnoff to employers who are looking for attention-grabbing information that makes them want to read the rest of the resume.
In some cases, there may be little to no way around mentioning the gap in a cover letter depending on the circumstances of the gap.
If you have to mention the gap in your cover letter, try to focus on how you furthered your skills or found your passion during your time away.
You always want to tie the sentiments in your cover letter back to your professional strengths.
When deciding whether or not to include an employment gap on a cover letter, you should ask yourself the following question:
How relevant is my employment gap to my career goals?
If you purposefully took the gap to further your education or career, it may be worth mentioning.
If this is not the case, then the cover letter is not the place to discuss your unemployment.
Sometimes, the circumstances of the gap may make omitting an explanation from your cover letter difficult.
The following two scenarios may require a brief explanation of a gap in your cover letter:
Here is an example statement discussing a career gap in a cover letter:
“I left the workforce from the dates of January 2017 – October 2018. I chose to take this gap in my employment to care for a sick family member as their primary caretaker. Thanks to the lovely staff at a local nursing home, I am now able to continue furthering my career.”
Why It’s Wrong: This example explains the reason behind the gap. However, it fails to emphasize any personal or professional growth that occurred during it.
“I became the primary caretaker for a sick family member from the time of January 2017 to October 2018. During this time, I worked closely with a medical team. This allowed me to hone my communication, teamwork, and organizational skills.”
Anytime you write a cover letter, you want to focus on your strengths and talents.
This corrected example shows how the applicant was able to use the experience to their benefit.
Focusing too much on why you left the workforce will not allow you to emphasize your more important characteristics to employers.
Instead, focus on what you learned or what skills you gained.
Employers will inherently have questions concerning employment gaps.
The key to getting past this part of your resume effectively is understanding how to explain and frame your gaps.
To explain a gap in your work history, keep the following in mind:
When you need to maneuver around an employment gap, you never want to mislead or confuse the person reading your resume.
If you had a long gap, chances are you sought out unpaid experiences.
These may have furthered your professional growth, education, or passions.
These opportunities can include:
Here is an example of how to use unpaid experience to explain an employment gap on a resume:
May 2016 – January 2018
During this period, I took a break from my employment. During my time away, I sought out extra opportunities to build out my resume. I participated in volunteer work and completed a major personal project that led me to a new career path.”
Why It’s Wrong: This example lacks specificity, thus lacking valuable information. Additionally, this kind of information would be better suited in a separate volunteer work section.
The Humane Society, Front Desk Volunteer
May 2016 – January 2018
Completed an independently-led project to improve the shelter’s digital database system.
In this example, the applicant organizes the information more clearly and highlights personal achievements.
They describe how their personal project helped improve the shelter, showcasing their work ethic and drive.
The applicant could then fill out this entry with more of their responsibilities in their volunteer role.
By creating this separate volunteer section, there is also more opportunity to describe other volunteer experiences as well.
Pro Tip: When describing any type of experience on a resume, you always want to use the most compelling language possible. Use our list of 350+ Action Verbs to Make Your Resume More Effective.
Having one employment gap to work around is one thing.
If you have multiple gaps in your employment, you may need to do some serious resume editing.
There are two key methods for formatting your resume to de-emphasize the fact that you have more than one gap in your work history.
These 2 methods are:
Generally speaking, you will likely need to opt for changing your format altogether.
However, editing your dates of employment may do the trick in some scenarios.
Editing your dates of employment will only work if your periods of unemployment were short and sandwiched between times being employed.
To edit your dates of employment, the key is to remove the months and days from the dates.
Here is an example of changing your dates of employment to take attention away from multiple employment gaps:
Server, Dave and Buster’s
June 28, 2020 – March 1, 2021
Front Desk Receptionist, Lee’s Dental Associates
January 13, 2016 – December 9, 2019
Why It’s Wrong: These work experience entries provide exact dates, making the length of the employment gaps overly apparent.
Server, Dave and Buster’s
Mid 2020 – Early 2021
Front Desk Receptionist, Lee’s Dental Associates
Early 2016 – Late 2019
The applicant in this example is currently in an employment gap, with their most recent job ending in March of 2021.
They have an additional gap between 2019 and 2020. By eliminating exact dates, these gaps are less obvious.
However, it is important to note that this can come across as misleading or dishonest to employers.
In situations involving multiple gaps, our recommended approach is to change your resume’s formatting style.
There are 3 main types of resume formats:
Hybrid resumes will likely be the best option for applicants dealing with multiple gaps in their employment histories.
A functional resume may also be a useful alternative.
These formats will allow them to focus more on their skills and talents, while also drawing attention away from their employment gaps.
Need extra help choosing the best resume format for your needs? Read our guide on How to Choose the Correct Resume Format (with Examples).
If you are switching careers, you will want to show the work you have done to make the switch.
This will often come in the form of showing examples of how you have improved your skills during your gap.
This can include:
Creating a strong resume despite employment gaps is all about positive framing.
To present a strong resume that contains gaps in your work history, you should:
Having gaps in your work history does not have to be a death blow to your chances of landing a job.
Here are five key takeaways to remember about including employment gaps on a resume:
For more help crafting your ideal resume, check out our free resume guides and examples!
Ed is a co-founder of Easy Resume. His background in scaling teams at tech startups over the last decade has given him extensive experience and knowledge around how to hire top talent and build successful teams. He enjoys mentoring, coaching, and helping others reach their career goals. When he's not writing about career-related advice, he's playing with his dog, Lilo, or going on long hikes in upstate New York.
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