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How best to explain employment gaps on a resume

How best to explain employment gaps on a resume

Artwork by: Irina Troitskaya

  • Do employers care about gaps?
  • How to explain gaps in employment
  • 1. Be honest
  • 2. Leave off the month
  • 3. Emphasize your recent experience
  • 4. Highlight your achievements
  • 5. List a gap as a job entry
  • 6. Think outside the box
  • 7. Provide details in a cover letter or interview
  • Key takeaways 

If you have an employment gap on your resume, it can feel daunting to apply for your next role. However, there are ways you can address the gap and frame your time away in a positive light. Discover how to explain employment gaps successfully to land your next job.

Employment gaps can happen for a number of reasons. Some people leave the workforce to go back to school, care for their family, or spend time traveling. Others may experience unemployment because of layoffs or downsizing. Whatever the reason, we’ll show you how to explain employment gaps with examples you can follow. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss:

  • Whether hiring managers care about employment gaps

  • How to explain gaps in employment on a resume

  • Examples of how to address gaps professionally

Do employers care about gaps?

An employment gap is a time in your work history when you didn’t hold a professional position. Gaps can range from a few weeks to many years. Employers don’t usually have concerns when they see a small gap in a candidate’s resume. If a gap is less than a year or from over 10 years ago, it’s best not to bring attention to it by mentioning it on your resume. 

When an applicant has multiple gaps or a years-long absence from the workforce, however, employers generally want to get more information. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to mention it on your resume; you could also explain the gap if asked in an interview. However, if you’d like to address it with your resume, we have a few strategies you can use. 

Statistical Insight

Two in three workers have employment gaps

If a gap in your work history has you feeling stressed, consider this: About 68 percent of workers have experienced a gap in employment, according to an Indeed Flex survey. The top reasons for gaps include family responsibilities, layoffs, and relocation.

How to explain gaps in employment

Fortunately, there are many ways you can address gaps in your work history. When you explain a career gap honestly and thoughtfully, you can even show an employer why it makes you a stronger candidate.Consider these tips and examples:

1. Be honest

It’s best to be honest about a period of unemployment. Most employers verify candidates’ work histories, and they may even call your former employer to confirm your employment dates. If you’re caught lying on your resume, it will be much worse than if you’d explained the gap right away.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to address every small employment gap in your resume. Hiring managers expect a streamlined document targeted at a specific role and know that a resume isn’t a comprehensive record of your professional career. Strategies such as simply using years for employment dates (below) or only including recent, relevant experience are totally fine.

2. Leave off the month

If you have a gap of less than one year, you can downplay it by leaving the months off your employment dates. Instead, only provide the years you worked in each position. This format allows you to keep the focus off your gap while remaining honest.

Omit months of employment from your resume

Sales Representative, 2022 – 2023 Gap Inc.

3. Emphasize your recent experience

In some cases, it’s not necessary to include an employment gap at all. Regarding years of experience on your resume, if you’ve had steady employment for the last 10 years, don’t include gaps that occurred before this period. Most employers only care about your recent experience. Including early career gaps on a resume can detract from your recent accomplishments.

4. Highlight your achievements

Your employment gap doesn’t diminish your past career achievements. After your resume summary and before your work history, add a brief section to highlight your great accomplishments. This additional section can showcase your strengths and value rather than your recent unemployment. In this section, include between three to five bullet points with highlights from your previous jobs. Be sure to align them with the job you’re currently targeting and include metrics whenever possible.

Add a section for accomplishments

Career Achievements

  • Wrote the most-read article for a website, getting over 250,000 page views in one year.

  • Surpassed quota for five quarters in a row, improving output by 37 percent.

  • Became the critical point of contact between cross-functional teams for major projects.

  • Earned two promotions within one year for a strong record of leadership.

5. List a gap as a job entry

Include a long employment gap as its own job entry on your resume. Provide the dates of the gap and state what you did during this time. For example, if you provided care to an ill family member, you can include a job entry for your time as a caregiver. These are some other examples of gaps you can include as a job entry on your resume: raising children, focusing on community work and volunteerism, pursuing education, and traveling. Other examples are working on a personal business or project and  recovering from an injury or illness. If this isn’t relevant to your current job search, keep this entry brief.

List a gap as its own job

ABC Nonprofit, Savannah, GA  Community Organizer, May 2022 – April 2023 Facilitated community events and activities in a volunteer role. Coordinated efforts across teams to ensure projects were completed on time. Trained other volunteers and served as a point of contact for new team members

  • Orchestrated event planning for Gala Night, an annual fundraiser with over 500 attendees.

  • Streamlined volunteer onboarding process by developing documentation outlining training procedures.

6. Think outside the box

If you left the workforce for another reason, such as a layoff, think deeply about what you did while you weren’t working. Even small efforts can make a big difference on a resume. Did you volunteer at your child’s school? Did you learn a new skill or earn a certification? Did you pursue a hobby? Any of these can become a tangible experience on your resume.

Most people accomplish more than they realize during their time away from work. If you’re stuck about what to highlight on your resume, make a list of everything you learned or achieved during the gap. Consider how you can describe those experiences on a resume. For example, you can describe focusing on a job search as professional networking.

Think outside the box to describe a gap

Various Organizations, Ithaca, NY Professional Development Student, August 2022 – February 2023 Pursued professional development opportunities to increase knowledge and experience within the marketing industry. Established and maintained new professional relationships with colleagues in the field. 

  • Earned certificates in Digital Marketing and Content Marketing from Coursera.

  • Networked with fellow marketers at Gartner Marketing Symposium.

7. Provide details in a cover letter or interview

If you feel like your employment gap needs further clarification, explain the absence in a cover letter or an interview. In a cover letter, keep the information concise. Provide a few sentences about your gap and describe what you learned during this time.

During an interview, a hiring manager might ask about your gap. Rehearse what you plan to say and aim to cast this unemployed time in the most favorable light. Speak confidently about how much you grew during your time away. Show enthusiasm for reentering the workforce and getting your next job.

Need more help explaining a gap on your resume? Build a professional, optimized resume using Career.io’s Resume Builder and keep the focus on your strengths and value!

Key takeaways 

  1. Never lie about employment gaps on a resume. Be honest about your time away from the workforce.

  2. On your resume, you can downplay an employment gap by leaving the months off employment dates and/or focusing on recent achievements.

  3. For longer employment gaps, you can include job entries to address why you took time away and what you did during this time.

  4. Feel free to provide more details about your gap in a cover letter or during a job interview (if asked).

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