How to Explain Employment Gaps on a Resume in 2021

How to Explain Employment Gaps on a Resume in 2021

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!

Written by Ed Moss • Last updated on May 27, 2021

Do I Need to Mention a Gap on My Resume?

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:

  1. Recency of the Gap: Did the gap occur in the past 12 months or was it further back? You can generally omit gaps in your employment that happened a long time ago.
  2. Length of the Gap: How long did the gap last? Gaps can occur for varying lengths of time, from only a few weeks to several years. Longer gaps are more likely to need further explanation, while shorter gaps often do not.
  3. Employment Since the Gap: Are you returning directly from the gap? Or have you already returned and started building your employment history back up? Returning from a gap may need extra explanation on why you have chosen now as the time to continue your career.

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 in 2021 (with Examples).

Do I Need to Explain the Gap on My Resume or in My Cover Letter?

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.


Beautiful resume templates to land your dream job

When to Explain an Employment Gap in a Cover Letter

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:

  1. The gap extended over a long period with minimal recent employment to make up for it.
  2. You have decided to change career paths during the gap and your previous employment is not directly relevant to the job you are applying for.

Here is an example statement discussing a career gap in a cover letter:

Incorrect:

“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.

Correct:

“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.

How Do I Explain Gaps in Employment

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:

  • Be Honest: If complications at a previous job caused your gap in employment, don’t try to lie about this. Getting fired or laid off happens to even the best of us. The key is to tell new employers the truth and explain how you have bettered yourself since then.
  • Be Upfront: Do not go out of your way to try to hide or mask an employment gap on your resume. Employers are more than likely going to find out one way or another. Being upfront with this information gives your ample opportunity to share your side of the story.
  • Be Positive: Try not to focus on the negatives associated with your employment gap. Instead, emphasize was you learned or gained from the experience. Explaining gaps is all about learning to frame that period of your life positively.

When you need to maneuver around an employment gap, you never want to mislead or confuse the person reading your resume.

Executive Assistant

Highlight Unpaid Experience

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:

  • Volunteer Work: Volunteer or community service work is still important life experience, even if you were not paid for it. Showing examples of volunteer work on your resume can help explain what you were doing with your time away.
  • Internships: Many applicants will make the mistake of not listing internships as work experience. Always inform employers of internships completed during your gap. This is especially true if the internship is directly related to the job you are applying for.
  • Personal Projects: Personal passion projects can show employers your ability to carry out a project from start to finish. Highlighting these on a resume can also help to explain a decision to change careers as well.
  • Freelancing: Perhaps during your time away you gave freelancing a try. This may have provided you with some supplemental income. Including your freelancing work is important, as it shows employers your drive to keep working even during time off.

Here is an example of how to use unpaid experience to explain an employment gap on a resume:

Incorrect:

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.

Correct:

Volunteer Experience
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 in 2021.

How Should I Format My Resume if I Have Multiple Gaps

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:

  1. Editing your dates of employment
  2. Changing your resume format

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.

Edit Your Dates of Employment

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:

Incorrect:

Server, Dave and Buster’s
June 28, 2020 – March 1, 2021
Description

Front Desk Receptionist
, Lee’s Dental Associates
January 13, 2016 – December 9, 2019
Description

Why It’s Wrong: These work experience entries provide exact dates, making the length of the employment gaps overly apparent.

Correct

Server, Dave and Buster’s
Mid 2020 – Early 2021
Description

Front Desk Receptionist
, Lee’s Dental Associates
Early 2016 – Late 2019
Description

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.

Executive Assistant

Change Your Resume Format

There are 3 main types of resume formats:

  1. Reverse-Chronological: This format focuses on work experience, detailing your most recent job first and working backward from there.
  2. Functional: Functional resumes shift the focus of the resume away from work experience and onto skills, unpaid experiences, and education.
  3. Hybrid: A hybrid resume will combine elements of both of the first two formats to fit the specific needs of an applicant.

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 in 2021 (with Examples).

How Should I Explain Gaps in My Employment if I’m Switching Careers?

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:

  • Training: Training programs will often provide you with certificates of completion. Certifications are a great way to further your education without going back to a full university.
  • Education: If you returned to school to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or higher degree, be sure to highlight this on your resume.
  • Internships: Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door for a new career path. Seek out internships in your new field and include these on your resume.
Executive Assistant

How Can I Still Present a Strong Resume with Gaps in My Employment

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:

  • Be Prepared: Understand that the employer will have questions about your gap. Think of what they may ask ahead of time and be prepared to give positive answers.
  • Don’t Get Defensive: Being sensitive or defensive over a gap will only hurt you in the long run. Maintain a sense of confidence and self-assurance while discussing or writing about gaps in your employment.
  • Re-Focus on Your Strengths: Always find ways to tie your experience during a gap back to your professional growth and strengths.

Final Takeaways

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:

  1. Never try to hide information from employers. They will find out one way or another, and your level of honesty will impact their reaction.
  2. Frame gaps in your employment positively and focus on your strengths.
  3. Consider using an alternative resume format that focuses less on work experience, such as a functional or hybrid resume.
  4. Always include unpaid experiences that are relevant to your career goals.
  5. Keep a sense of self-confidence! Employers want workers who are self-assured and capable, not self-doubting.

For more help crafting your ideal resume, check out our free resume guides and examples!

Ed Moss is an author for Easy Resume

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.

View Author ProfileLinkedin

Get inspired with more resume examples

More advice that will accelerate your career path

15+ Key Healthcare Skills to List on Your Resume in 2021 (With Examples)

Healthcare is a massive and important industry that contains all sorts of professionals. To land a job in healthcare, you must understand what relevant skills employers are searching for. In this guide, we will cover key healthcare skills to include on your resume and why doing so is so important.

Read this career advice article

15+ IT Skills to List on Your Resume in 2021 (With Examples)

IT is a massively growing industry with tons of potential for professional growth. It’s no wonder why so many applicants are flocking to these jobs! In this guide, we will cover what IT skills are and offer you examples of some of the top skills to include on your resume.

Read this career advice article

50+ Key Technical Skills to List on Your Resume in 2021 (With Examples)

Including technical skills on a resume is an absolute necessity. These types of skills show employers your quantifiable qualifications. In this guide, we will cover exactly what a technical skill is and some of the best examples to include on a resume.

Read this career advice article

20+ Key Computer Skills to List on Your Resume in 2021 (With Examples)

With the world becoming more digitally focused, having strong computer skills is more important than ever. In this guide, we will cover what computer skills are and which ones are best to include on your resume.

Read this career advice article

Read our how-to guides on making your resume perfect

How to Write a Resume Header

Your resume header is the very first thing an employer will see. Not only does it need to contain the correct information, but it needs to stand out as well! In this guide, we will teach you how to write the ideal header for your resume.

Read this resume guide

How to Write Your Resume in Reverse-Chronological Order

When setting out to write the perfect resume, choosing a format is an important decision. Reverse-chronological resumes are the standard format, so knowing how to craft one is key! This guide will teach you how to write the best reverse chronological resumes.

Read this resume guide

How to List Contact Information on Your Resume

Learn how to format contact information on your resume and what information to share with the hiring manager.

Read this resume guide

How to Write a Two-Page Resume (with Examples & Tips)

Don't know whether you should write a one-page or two-page resume? Find out when it is appropriate to write a two-page resume and learn how to write it correctly.

Read this resume guide

Professional resume templates to help land your next dream job.

Choose from one of our many resume templates to help you stand out from your competition.
Create your resume,
fast and easy.
Edit this Resume