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Explaining Gaps in Your Work History

Posted On11/13/2015

ContributorShirin Miller

Time off isn’t uncommon

There are many reasons employees leave the job market for a span of time. Women and men take time off to raise their kids, a relative may fall ill, you get laid off, you decide to go back to school, you want to travel abroad, etc. Whatever the reason, potential employers won’t automatically put your application to the bottom of the stack if you have a gap in your work history. However, how well you address the issue of your time off is crucial if you want to be a front runner when applying for a job.

Don’t call attention to your time off

You should know that you don’t have to disclose the specific reason for your absence. Whether you fall ill or quit your job, you don’t have to provide any details. With that said, not saying anything at all can actually worsen the situation. A recruiter or employer may suspect a personal meltdown or incarceration. Additionally, an employer is allowed to ask you your job history. Being more forthcoming about the reason will prevent you from bringing undesired attention to your time off. Candidly stating your reason can establish a rapport of trust and openness.

Structuring your resume

Traditional advice is to use a functional resume, rather than a chronological one, if you’re trying to minimize a gap in your employment. However, most recruiters and hiring managers know this trick – and they hate it! Functional resumes make their jobs harder, as they make it more difficult for them to discern the amount of experience you have. You’re better off going with a more traditionally structured resume and explaining a gap in a cover letter (if requested) or an interview. You can also consider listing the length of time you worked for a company instead of the dates to draw attention away from gaps, but only resort to this if you think the gap is problematic enough that you wouldn’t get the opportunity to interview because of it.

Some people choose to include the time off on their resume and creatively list their responsibilities during this time as if they were an actual postiion. If you choose to do this, you can get creative in your title (e.g. House Executive or Multi-tasking Caregiver) but this is taking a risk if you are applying to a more conservative company. If you volunteered while you took time off, you should include this on your resume like a regular position, listing your duties and accomplishments. Be sure to include “Volunteer” in your title so your prospective employer understands.

Explaining gaps in your cover letter and interview

Explaining recent gaps is usually best handled in your cover letter and the interview. The essential step here is to keep your discussion of it brief and positive. You should always emphasize what you learned, how you improved during your time off, and what you have to offer. Even if your time off wasn’t career-related, you can be inventive with working it in. For example, if you took time off to take care of kids, you definitely learned about time management. Also, if you traveled in a country where you were speaking a second language, your negotiation and patience were most likely exercised and strengthened.

If you don’t feel comfortable discussing the reason for your time off, you can simply say that you had to attend to “personal obligations.” Also, you should add that while you took time off you kept abreast of trends in the industry, read related blogs, and whatever else you did to keep yourself updated. Always bring the focus back to what you have to offer and what your strengths are. In the end, if a company isn’t forgiving of your time off, it may be to your advantage that you find out early in the application process—you might find a better fit with another employer.

Preventing gaps in your career

If you’re currently unemployed but are able to work, you can remain competitive in the job market by keeping your knowledge current by learning new skills, or updating old ones.

  • Consider signing up at a staffing company to get temporary or contract work. In addition to keeping a paycheck coming, you can gain valuable experience and might even learn a few new things about what you really want to do!
  • Rethink your strategy: certain kinds of companies are much more willing to overlook what other companies wouldn’t. Family-owned companies and smaller companies are some options.
  • Volunteer. Even if you cannot find something in your industry you can still gain experience. Your work can be put on your resume like a job, listing your duties and accomplishments.
  • Join a professional organization within your industry and attend meetings to network.
  • Keep abreast of current trends in your field by reading trade journals, relevant books, and industry news.
  • Take a course at your local junior college or online to learn a new skill.
  • Create your own business. If you have hobbies, consider selling your products online (eBay, Craigslist, etc.), at a local flea market or consignment shop.

Get started on your next step today by visiting our jobs listings.