Many of us take time off, for one reason or another, from working. Sometimes, it's by choice—maybe you were raising a child, traveling, taking care of a sick relative, or went back to school. In other cases, your time off from work may occur because you were laid off or fired and it took time to find a new job.
What is the best way to explain an employment gap on your resume and during a job interview? It depends on the situation and what you did while you weren't employed.
Do You Need to Mention a Gap on Your Resume?
If you haven’t taken a break yet, you can plan it carefully to ensure a smooth return to the workforce. If the gap was in the past, and you’ve been employed since it occurred, you don’t need to call it out on your resume.
What to Include on Your Resume
There is no requirement that you include all your experience on a resume. That’s especially true if you’ve been in the workforce for many years.
If you are looking for a midcareer position, an entry-level role from decades ago is probably not very relevant.
It is very important not to lie on your resume—about an employment gap or anything else. If you lie on your resume, it will probably come back to haunt you. Employers verify work history, and if you put incorrect information on your resume, it’ll be discovered.
4 Ways to Make Employment Gaps Less Obvious on a Resume
1. Use Years on Your Resume: When listing dates on your resume, you don’t need to list the month/year if you were in a position for over a year or if your position spans multiple years. For example, you could say 2017 – 2019 (rather than May 2017 – August 2019) for a position.
Then, if your next job began in November 2019, you can list it as 2019 – Present, which makes the nine-month employment gap less obvious. Here's an example of how that can look:
Store Manager, XYZ Store
2019 – Present
Sales Associate, ABC Store
2017 – 2019
As you can see, the resume doesn't specifically say when the candidate started and ended employment, which can cover a brief employment gap. However, if you're filling out a job application you'll need to be more specific. You'll also most likely be asked about the dates during a job interview, so be prepared to answer accurately.
2. Consider a Different Resume Format: You can format your resume to minimize the visibility of gaps in your employment history.
For example, you can put the dates in plain font instead of bold. Or, you can use a smaller font size than the one you're using for the company name and your job title. These small design and formatting choices can make a big difference.
Start your resume with a summary statement and career highlights section, so you are highlighting your skills and accomplishments, rather than what you did when.
Or consider using a functional resume, where you highlight your skills and qualifications at the top, followed by your chronological work history.
3. Omit a Job (or Two) on Your Resume: You don’t need to include all your experience on your resume, especially if you have been in the workforce for years. It’s acceptable to limit the years of experience you include on your resume to fifteen when seeking a managerial or professional position, and to ten years when looking for other positions.
4. Include Other Experience Gained During the Gap: What did you do while you weren’t employed? Did you freelance or consult? Take a sabbatical? How about volunteering? All those experiences count as work and can be included on your resume. List them as you would your other jobs — with job title, company name, job description, and dates of employment.
If you took a class, you could list that in the education section of your resume. If you participated in a gap year experience, you could include that information on your resume as well.
Explaining an Employment Gap During a Job Interview
Explaining a gap in employment during an interview can be tricky. The best approach is usually to address the issue in a direct and forthright manner.
Prepare an Explanation
Provide a clear rationale for taking time off if the break was voluntary. If you took time off to deal with a particular issue like caring for a sick relative or completing coursework—and you are ready to return to full-time employment—make it clear that the reason for your time off from the workforce has been resolved.
If you were laid off due to a workforce contraction, it would be important to provide any evidence of strong performance as you explain the circumstances surrounding the downsizing.
Focus on Your Skills
If you are now targeting a job that requires different skills or competencies, then you might emphasize how your strengths are better suited to the job at hand. If you have taken action to correct any problems that led to your dismissal, you should mention the steps you have taken to strengthen your abilities.
You should avoid any negative characterization of your former employer because many prospective employers would take the employer's side.
A proactive approach providing evidence of your competence, and any positive recommendations from previous jobs, can be helpful.
Whenever possible, secure recommendations from supervisors, colleagues, and customers confirming your competence. Incorporate these into your LinkedIn profile when feasible. Of course, it will be more difficult to make a strong case if you were fired due to performance issues.
There are ways you can almost seamlessly return to work after a career break. Make sure that you emphasize any constructive activities during your gap period, such as volunteer work, workshops or coursework, consulting, or freelance work.
Finally, exude enthusiasm for returning to work and make a very strong case for why your target job would be exciting for you and an excellent fit.
As of April, more than 20.6 million jobs have been lost in the US as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic—more than double the Great Depression and unprecedented in terms of unemployment rates in the United States. If you've lost your job due to COVID-19, you may be wondering how you'll explain this employment gap to potential employers. In this article, we discuss what an employment gap is and how you can address employment gaps to hiring managers when you start your next job search.
What is an employment gap?
An employment gap is any time in which a person is not employed at a job. This period of time can be weeks, months or even years depending on the person's situation. People can have an employment gap for several reasons including going back to school, staying home with children or traveling. During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever have lost their jobs as a direct result of the closure requirements that all non-essential employers have faced. This unprecedented time will result in millions of individuals having employment gaps on their resumes.
How to address employment gaps as a result of COVID-19
If you've lost your job as a result of COVID-19, you may be concerned about how you will explain this employment gap to future employers. Here are several ways you can address the employment gap on your resume professionally and effectively.
Remain focused and positive
Losing a job is a challenging experience and can leave many people feeling discouraged about finding a new job. This is especially true for people who have never had an employment gap on their resumes before. However, it's important to remain focused and positive during this time and not let your employment gap interfere with your job search. Remember that millions of other individuals around the world are experiencing the same thing and that you are not alone in your current unemployment.
Be honest with potential employers
More people than ever have been or are being laid off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and employers are aware of this situation and the unprecedented job loss millions are experiencing. While you may be tempted to leave out your employment gap on your resume or make up an excuse as to why you were out of work, instead be honest with potential employers about your employment gap. Many employers will likely be understanding about employment gaps due to COVID-19 and will not hold this against you when considering you for a position at their company.
Include a note in your resume about your job loss due to COVID-19
To ensure hiring managers understand that your employment gap is a direct result of COVID-19, you may want to include a brief blurb on your resume or cover letter explaining this. Doing so may help potential employers quickly see why you are out of a job and may also prevent hiring managers from dismissing your resume due to an employment gap.
Take initiative while unemployed
While being unemployed is certainly not ideal, you can use this time to expand your knowledge and skills related to your career. For example, you could take a free online course or volunteer your time to your community. You can also contact mentors or former employers to see if there are any projects you could help out with on a freelance or part-time basis. Staying active and involved in your career despite being unemployed shows future employers your commitment to focusing on solutions and growing professionally.
Explain your job-seeking efforts
When interviewing for a job position, be sure to explain that you have been actively searching for jobs and building skills while being unemployed. This shows employers that you took initiative after being laid off and didn't let your job loss prevent you from being productive and taking initiative. You can also discuss any project-based assignments you worked on while unemployed or any educational or vocational learning you did to further your career. The goal is to portray yourself as someone who continued to be productive and resilient despite the loss of a job.
Update your resume
When you have an employment gap on your resume, it's important to ensure that you thoroughly portray your skills and abilities in the job section for previous jobs you've held. Be specific about your skills, accomplishments and awards and highlight them in both your resume and cover letter. The better your resume is, the more likely potential employers will consider you despite an employment gap.
Call on your network
If you've built a network of professional contacts throughout your career, now is the time to use it. Reach out to people in your network and inquire about open jobs in your field and whether they would be willing to put in a good word for you with potential employers. Going into a job interview with the recommendation from a trusted professional in your field can help increase your chances of being seen in a positive light despite employment gaps.
Ask previous employers to be your references
Many job applications ask for professional references who can vouch for your ability to perform the job that you're applying for well. If you can list your most recent employer as well as other employers you've previously worked for as references, it will show hiring managers that you still have a good relationship with these employers and were not laid off for negative reasons. And, if the hiring manager calls your most recent employer as a reference, the employer can explain to the hiring manager that you were laid off as a direct result of COVID-19.
Set goals and practice self-care
While having an employment gap can be challenging when applying for jobs, it's important to remain diligent if you aren't hired for the first few jobs you apply for. It's important to remember that employers are also trying to sort out the best steps to take for their business, which may affect hiring timelines.
Set a daily or weekly application goal to stay on top of relevant opportunities and reward yourself in small, meaningful ways when you've met your goal. Stay patient and positive by taking breaks, practicing self-care and investing in skill development as you search for jobs.
If you have a gap in your employment history, the first thing to know is that you are not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of people have been unemployed at some point in their working-age lives. How should you explain a gap in your employment history during an interview? In this quick video below, Indeed recruiter Leslie explains how you can customize your answer based on your situation and how you spent the time you were not employed.
(Keep reading below for more in-depth tips on how to answer questions about an employment gap.)
How to talk about employment gaps
There are a few easy-to-follow guidelines for how to address gaps in your employment history:
1. Be prepared to talk about it
Having a gap on your resume won’t necessarily prevent you from moving successfully through the interview process. But potential employers will expect an explanation. Take the time beforehand to work out how you can address the gap in a way that projects confidence and positivity.
2. Be honest
You want to be truthful without going into unnecessary detail. A basic template for your answer could be: “I [ reason you were not employed ] . During that time, [ what you did during the gap ] . Returning to work was top of mind during that period and I’m ready to do that now.”
Here are some examples of how you might fill in that template based on your situation:
If you left the workforce to be a caretaker
“I spent some time as the primary caretaker in my family. During that time, I was able to be there for my family but always knew I wanted to return to work. I’m ready to do that now.”
If you were laid off
“My former employer underwent a restructuring that resulted in my position being eliminated. To be honest, it was a difficult time. But I left with the confidence that I had developed important skills there and built strong relationships with my managers and colleagues. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to apply those experiences in my next job.”
If you were fired
“The company and I had different expectations. In reflecting on that experience, I realize there are some things I could have done differently. I learned a great deal, and I’m excited about the opportunity to bring that maturity to my next job.”
If you took time off for personal reasons
“I was able to take some time off work to focus on myself. It was a time that prepared me to take on new challenges. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities that lie ahead, such as this position.”
3. Fill the gap
While you don’t need to go into detail about what caused your employment gap, you should give specifics on how you spent that time.
Mention anything you read to keep up on the industry, how you stayed in touch with colleagues, or what you’ve done to prepare for your re-entry. Also bring up any freelance work, volunteer or community positions you’ve held, classes or events you’ve attended, or any other way you’ve advanced your professional skills. The goal is to convey that you’ve been engaged even if you haven’t been formally employed.
4. Keep it brief and exit if you need to
Many people take time off for one reason or another. Sometimes, these reasons are personal and something you prefer to keep private.
Once you’ve addressed the gap and explained what you did during that time, steer the conversation back to your desire and ability to do the job you’re interviewing for. You can do this by asking a question of your interviewer once you’ve answered their question.
If the conversation continues in a direction you are not comfortable with, you have the option of saying: “I’d prefer not to go into more detail. I am very interested in sharing details of my work experience, however.” From there, you can supply another anecdote from your work history that makes you qualified for the position.
You may consider ending the interview at any time by saying, “I’m not comfortable with where our conversation is headed so this may not be the right fit. Thank you for your time.”
Every person has their own reason for stepping away from the workforce. While some lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, others chose to become full-time, stay-at-home parents, or to focus on something outside of their career for a while. If you’re one of these people and have decided it’s time to re-enter the workforce, addressing a gap in employment can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. The way companies view employment gaps has changed a lot in recent years, and many are becoming more open-minded than ever when it comes to who they hire and understanding why candidates may have taken gaps. Our team of recruiters can guide you through the process of finding new employment, regardless of how long you’ve been out of work and for what reason. For candidates, being open about your search and starting point will be key to making the first step back into the workforce.
Addressing employment gaps on your resume
So, you’re ready to dust off your resume and get in front of potential employers. The best way to approach your employment gap on a resume is determined by how long of a break you took.
If your employment gap is more than a year, our recruiters recommend adding one line to briefly explain why in the summary portion of your resume. Keep this message professional and short with your explanation, listing what you were doing and for how long. But if your time away from the workforce was extensive, you could list your gap as if it were your last employer. For example, you could list “Stay-at-home parent—2009-2015,” instead of just listing your most recent employment from 2009 on your resume. There is no need for additional details like this if it has been less than a year since you were last employed. You can always provide more details during a phone call or interview.
Addressing employment gaps in an interview
Your potential employer should already be aware of your employment gap during the interview phase of the hiring process. That does not mean you should ignore it in conversations with them moving forward. Be upfront about your gap in work during the interview. A good time to do this is when talking through your previous work experience. Know what you would like to say ahead of time and keep the conversation positive. You can also transition the conversation to ways you kept your skills fresh and relevant during that time and why you would be a great fit for the opportunity.
What job is best for you?
Every candidate returns to the workforce differently. Our recruiters can help place candidates in accounting and finance, administration, HR, IT, sales, marketing and operations, education and healthcare IT roles, and candidates have the choice of moving forward with full-time, part-time or temporary employment opportunities. Temporary assignments can range from helping a client for a day while someone is out due to illness or is on vacation, to an open-ended assignment that could last weeks, or even months, depending on the client’s needs and your availability. These can be great options for someone who needs a flexible schedule or is just wanting to stay busy a few days a week. Substitute teaching is another great option for jobseekers re-entering the workforce. Substitutes with Morgan Hunter Education have control of their work calendars, picking when and how often they would like to fill-in. Starting with these options would allow you to try new things and find the direction you want to pursue. Rejoining the workforce can also act as a transitional point in your career. Working on a temporary basis will allow you to see the different opportunities available and the companies hiring in Kansas City right now – as well as what they offer and how these opportunities could allow you to freshen up your skills before jumping right in.
Part-time employment isn’t the only path back into the working world, though. Employers are still willing to hire someone with a gap in their employment history if they have the right skillset for the job. If you’re ready to go back to work full-time, keep an open mind and remember to stay positive. Take some time to look at each job posting and make a list of things that stand out to you both positively and negatively.
Work with a recruiter to find the right fit
Working with a recruiter can be one of the most beneficial tools for returning to the workforce. We’ve built relationships with our clients, so they trust us and listen to what we have to say about candidates. Working with a recruiter while trying to re-enter the workforce allows us to highlight your skill set and explain your job history and gaps to our trusted clients. We understand that re-entering the workforce can be intimidating, which is why our team of recruiters at Morgan Hunter take the time to help find opportunities that fit what you’re looking for, help prepare you for an interview and practice with you to get back in the swing of things.
Returning to the workplace can be a painless process with the right help. If you’re considering returning to work—whether it’s been five months or five years—Morgan Hunter can help. To speak with one of our recruiters about job openings or tips for refreshing your resume after a gap in employment, contact us today!
Rachel Hays is a recruiter with the Administrative team of Morgan Hunter, serving Kansas City-area employers to help them meet a range of hiring needs, from temporary staffing to direct-hire placements. Share your thoughts on Facebook, LinkedIn or on Twitter @MorganHunterCo.
When I was laid off in January, in addition to the usual concerns, like “How quickly will I find a new job?” and “How will we pay the mortgage?” I also worried about having yet another employment gap on my resume.
Because I’d taken a timeout from my career to raise my children, I already had a Grand Canyon-sized gaping hole on my CV. I feared that with this layoff, employers would think I was taking more breaks than an aging rock band.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s April statistics, 9.8 million Americans are unemployed, so I know I can’t be the only one wondering how to downplay my downtime and play up my skills.
Curious about how to best address my widening gap, I turned to a pair of experts for some much-needed advice. Here’s what they said.
Whatever the reason for your time away from work, career coach and author of The Essential HR Handbook Sharon Armstrong says honesty is always the best policy.
“Don’t hide it; explain it,” Armstrong advises. “During the entire process of conducting a job search, maintain your integrity and demonstrate it. Jobs come and go, but being known for being truthful—and conversely, deceitful—can last a lifetime.”
Here’s an example: When I went for an interview in February, I was certain the gap would come up, and it did. When I told the potential employers the truth—that I’d wanted to be home with my children and felt fortunate that I was able to do so—an excruciating silence followed. In an attempt to lighten the mood, I joked that during that time I’d done some freelance work, but I also spent a fair amount of my day tackling mountains of laundry. What happened next surprised me: They laughed and thanked me for my honesty.
“You have no idea how many people come in here and fumble through telling us about some extended project they were working on,” one of the interviewers scoffed.
Though I was relieved they found my response refreshing, I wished my answer had been a bit more polished, which leads me to my next point:
Stuttering and stammering your way through your first sit-down is as unimpressive as showing up late or calling your female interviewer “sir.” Just as you’d prep to discuss your previous positions, employers are going to ask about your time off, so be ready to address that as well, says human resources director Victoria Di Santo. (In fact, one application I recently completed stated, “If there is a gap of more than three months on your resume, be prepared to discuss.”)
“I’ve heard a lot of people say they’ve taken time off to raise their children or care for a sick parent,” Di Santo notes. “Others have taken a sabbatical and traveled the world, really successful people, too, who just needed to recharge. Corporate America can burn you out if you let it, and sometimes you just need to take a break so you can return refreshed. Employers understand that. Life happens.”
Whether you managed a household, co-chaired an event that raised much-needed funds for charity, or trekked across the globe, chances are you picked up some important skills along the way—think communicating persuasively, becoming a master organizer, or adapting to unknown situations. Identify them, think through how they apply to the job at hand, and craft a short, compelling statement you can use in interviews.
“Again, be honest—it’s very possible to get solid experience in non-traditional settings: volunteer, community work, or running a home,” Armstrong says. “Hopefully you have done some volunteer work, stayed up-to-date with your industry, or done some professional development. Mention those activities that reinforce the job you are going for.”
While the thought of discussing how you came to be unemployed, especially if you were let go or fired, might make you uneasy, don’t panic. Resume gaps are not as uncommon as job seekers might think, Di Santo says.
Armstrong agrees. “If a company doesn’t understand what has happened to our economy since 2008 and the impact on individuals, well, you likely don’t want to work there anyway.”
While answering questions about any period of unemployment can be uncomfortable, know that you’re not alone. Being prepared for whatever comes your way and having confidence in the skills you’ve attained during that break can go a long way to bridging the gap with poise and professionalism.
While motherhood is undoubtedly a noble and demanding profession, truth is, taking time away from the office to raise kids can, and often does, derail your career somewhat. In fact, the hole that at-home time leaves in your employment record tends to present such a widespread challenge for mothers that it’s been given its own name: “the mommy gap” (although, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that many dads are stay-at-home parents, too).
But that’s not to say you should just give up on your admirable quest to re-enter the workforce. It just means that in order to find a job after years of parental leave you might, unfortunately, have to do a bit of extra work to market yourself as the outstanding hire you are. And while there’s a lot involved in this process, it all begins with an update of your resume.
Our recommendation? Start by using a reputable resume builder to simplify the job of (re)writing this important document, and then follow the tips below to ensure the mommy gap doesn’t get in the way of your next big break.
Say it like it is (and own that gap)
Too many moms choose not to acknowledge the gap in their career chronology on their resumes. Rather than leaving it up to employers to guess the reason behind your lengthy absence from the workforce, be open about it – after all, there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. In the work history section of your resume, cover the employment gap by simply stating that you were raising children during this time. Choose language that makes it clear that staying at home with the kids was entirely your decision and the number one reason you left your last job.
Use the tools at your disposal
To explain away the gap in your work timeline, you can now draw on a handy resource pioneered by creative agency Mother New York. This tool makes it that much easier to acknowledge your time spent as a stay-at-home mother on LinkedIn by giving you the option to list “Mom” as a job title on your profile and connect this to the company The Pregnancy Pause. Printable resumes and cover letters that achieve the same objective can be created, too – just download the campaign’s specially crafted toolkit. By making use of this new standardized approach, you can treat parental leave like the full-time position it is and effortlessly fill the gaps in your chronology.
Write a killer summary statement
While there are certain standard resume rules to follow, there’s room to use this critical job search tool as a powerful storytelling device, and the summary statement, which sits right at the top (after the header), serves as the opening paragraph. Use it to set the scene by focusing on your accomplishments, qualifications, competencies and enthusiasm – all the things that make you a great fit for the role, despite your work hiatus. If you used your at-home time to solidify and realign your career goals, tell this story here. You can briefly touch on the gap in your employment timeline in the summary statement, too, but the idea is to spin it as being inconsequential to your ability to do the job.
Highlight the many other ways you used your parental “leave”
Most moms who step away from paid work for several years don’t just spend that time changing diapers and reading bedtime stories. Maybe you did an online course, joined a professional organization, started a blog, freelanced or consulted part-time, or volunteered at a local charity. These are all valuable experiences that would have undoubtedly equipped you with a heap of relevant skills, and they deserve a place on your resume. Future employers will be looking for evidence that you’ve kept your skills and knowledge of the industry fresh, even while away, so be sure to list all activities that prove you’ve stayed in the game, so to speak.
Rethink the structure of your resume
There are a number of ways in which you can reorganize your resume to keep the emphasis on your suitability for the role and off the mommy gap. For example, you could:
- Opt for a combination format that first outlines your key skills and the technology you’re proficient in, and only then delves into your work history.
- Move your education section higher up, above your work experience section, to highlight continued training completed during your time away.
- Create a separate section for volunteer experience and part-time work, accompanied by descriptions of your duties that use strong action verbs, to make sure this information stands out to the reader.
- Identify a common theme that you want to put the spotlight on, and then weave it through every element of your resume, with concrete examples.
Whatever you do, exude confidence
If you doubt your own ability to successfully re-enter the workforce, a hiring manager might pick up on your apprehension. You want to convince a future employer that you are 100% capable of hitting the ground running in a new position, so you need to believe this yourself, too. The fact that you put your career on pause for a while for child care purposes doesn’t inherently make you a less gifted employee or less suitable candidate. So, change your mindset, ooze self-confidence, and leave no doubt in a recruiter’s mind that you are the right person for the job.
LiveCareer offers assistance to job seekers at every step of the journey. Access free resume templates and resume examples, plus a cover letter builder and advice on how to answer interview questions of all stripes.
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, chances are you’ve probably experienced at least one employment gap in your work history. Legitimate events may have kept you out of the workforce for some time. You may have been laid off, experienced an illness, taken care of a family member, traveled, or changed careers.
If you have gaps in your employment history, your potential employers might have some questions about these gaps. Their skepticism is reasonable. Most employers would rather avoid candidates who seem to be “job hoppers” or who have a history of job loss due to poor performance. If you’ve spent some time on the sidelines, they’ll want to know why.
Use your cover letter to address the employment gaps that may show up in your resume. Here’s how.
Express your employment dates in years.
In your “work experience” section of your resume, list the start and end years only, not the months or days. This will spark fewer concerns that you’ll need to explain away.
Mention non-family-related gaps directly.
In your cover letter, directly address that gaps that you’re comfortable discussing. For example, if you left your job to start a business, but it never got off the ground, share this proudly. A bold move like this showcases your willingness to take risks and try new things. The same applies to overseas volunteering, artistic endeavors, and other career side-trips that might showcase your strengths as an employee.
Keep family-related gaps to yourself.
While you may openly address your professional gaps in employment, it’s best to keep your personal gaps to yourself. For example, if you left the workforce to raise your children, you don’t have to share this with anyone. In fact, the law protects you from employers who ask during an interview. In cases such as these, keep the conversation focused on your qualifications and skill sets.
Highlight your mid-life career shifts.
If your employment gaps took place when you decided to switch career paths, build your cover letter around this narrative. Explain the reasons behind your decision. Outline the details of your journey from one field to the next. If your new career involved any kind of study or training that took the place of full-time work, state this clearly. Again, be proud of the risks you’ve taken and the accomplishments you achieved by leaving the workplace for a while.
If you really were fired, be careful.
If you did leave the workforce for a while due to performance or unreliability, tread carefully. In this case, it’s best to refrain from mentioning your employment gap in your letter (and in your interview) until you’re directly asked about it. When that happens, be ready to shed a positive, diplomatic light on the incident and explain what you learned during the process.
For more on how to explain your work history to potential employers, rely on the tools and guidelines from LiveCareer.
If you’ve got gaps in your work experience the first thing you should be aware of is that you’re not the only one. Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of people were unemployed at some point during their lives as workers. What can you do to explain an absence in your employment record during an interview?
Keep on reading for detailed tips on how to address questions regarding gaps in employment.
What is the best way to discuss gaps in employment?
There are a few simple tips for addressing the gaps in your employment experience:
1. Be prepared to discuss it.
A gap in the resume isn’t going to stop you from advancing to the next interview. However, potential employers will want to hear from you about the reason. Spend the time to determine how you can solve the issue in a manner that reflects confidence and optimism.
2. Fill the gap
While you don’t need to be specific about the reasons behind your gap in employment you should provide specifics about how you used that time.
Write down any books you read on industry trends and how you kept in contact with your colleagues or the things you’ve done to prepare for your return. Include any work you’ve done on your own, volunteer or community roles you’ve had and any classes or events you’ve been to, or any other way that you’ve improved your professional capabilities. The aim is to demonstrate that you’ve engaged in your work even if you’re not officially employed.
3. Be honest
You should be honest without going into excessive detail. A good starting point to answer this question is: “I [reason you were not employed [reason you weren’t employed]. Then, tell me [what you did in the time gap [what you did during the gap]. The thought of returning to work was at the top of my mind at the time and I’m willing to get back to work today.”
These are some instances of how you could complete the template according to your specific situation:
If you were laid off,
“My previous employer was subject to an overhaul that led to my position being cut. In truth, it was a challenging period. However, I left feeling confident that I’d learned valuable abilities there and developed strong connections with my supervisors and colleagues. I’m eagerly awaiting having the chance to use the lessons learned in my next position. .”
If you were fired
“The company and I were not on the same page. When I think about the incident, I’m realizing there are points I would have changed. I gained a lot and am looking forward to the possibility of bringing the same experience to my next job. .”
If you quit the workforce to become a caretaker
“I was the primary caregiver for my family. It was during this time that I was able to provide for my family, but I always was aware that I would like to go back to work. I’m ready right now. .”
If you had time off to attend to personal issues,
“I had the opportunity to get some time off from work to concentrate on my own. It was a moment that prepared me to tackle new opportunities. I’m extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities which lie ahead like this one. .”
4. Be brief and leave in the event that you must
A lot of people take breaks due to one reason or another. Sometimes, the reasons are personal, and something you would prefer to keep secret.
After you’ve addressed the issue and described what you did in the time frame, you can steer towards your motivation and capability to perform the job that you’re applying for. This can be done by asking questions to your interviewer after you’ve answered the question.
If the conversation proceeds in a direction you’re not comfortable with, then you can say: “I’d prefer not to discuss more details. I’m keen to share specifics of my experience at work, however.” Then you could provide a second story from your professional history which makes you suitable for the job.
It is possible to end the conversation at any moment by declaring, “I’m not comfortable with the direction our conversation is taking therefore this might not be the best fit for me. Thank you for your time.”
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a work history where jobs fall sequentially with greater and greater responsibility and without gaps between gigs. Those whose work history is a little rocky or spotty need to explain why as best they can on their job applications.
A gap in employment history is not the albatross it was a few decades ago. Those in younger generations bounce from job to job more frequently, and some are comfortable with leaving one job without their next job lined up. While it is true, gaps in employment are not as bad as they once were, leaving them unexplained is an easy way to make one of the most common job application mistakes.
Why You Might Have Gaps in Employment
People can leave the workforce and come back later. Some parents choose to stay home with preschool children and then re-enter the workforce once the children spend their weekdays at school. Others leave to care for a parent. Once caregiving becomes too difficult, the caregiver may need professionals to take over which then allows the caregiver to return to employment.
Furthermore, some leave the paid workforce to volunteer full-time. You could turn your volunteer job in a full-time position, but if you don’t, these are just some of the common situations when people justifiably leave employment without having another job to occupy next.
While there may be a perfectly legitimate reason for a given person’s gap in employment, a hiring manager does not know the gap is legitimate unless an applicant explains so.
A manager is left to assume the worst. Why else would an applicant omit an explanation of why they were out of work for six months? A year? Two years? The manager thinks that if there was a good reason for the gap, the applicant would explain.
How to Explain a Gap in Employment History on a Job Application
Unless the applicant pool is very weak, a hiring manager will not bother digging deeper on an application that leaves out such critical information. The manager likely has dozens of other applications to sift through and cannot waste time trying to piece together an applicant’s work history when it should be documented clearly and concisely.
Applicants should make their application materials as easy to read as possible.
Hiring managers do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time on any one application, particularly when they are screening to see which applicants meet the minimum qualifications outlined in the job posting.
Come prepared with answers if you've been fired.
Obviously, not all gaps in employment are easy to explain away. Some gaps happen for bad reasons, including an applicant’s termination from a previous job for cause. You should prepare how you will answer the question of why you have been fired. It is better for the hiring manager to find out from you than from your previous employer.
Explain what you learned.
If the job application form allows for a detailed explanation, explain what happened and what you learned from the situation. This will show how you have grown from the unpleasant past experience and are unlikely to make the same mistakes again.
As an example, an applicant who was fired in the past for repeatedly missing work without calling in sick could say they now take showing up seriously and always schedule planned leave two weeks ahead.
This does not absolve the applicant from past behavior, and the termination may still compel the hiring manager to pass on the application, but the applicant takes the issue head-on which a hiring manager must respect.
In some circumstances, an employment gap is not caused by an employee’s choice or poor performance. Employers sometimes go through reductions in force, and employees are the casualties. In some reductions in force, employees’ performance is not considered when decisions are made about who stays and who goes. Employees get caught up in processes that are designed to be as fair as possible; however, good employees lose their jobs along with the organization’s “dead wood.”
No matter whether your employment gaps are for good, bad or neutral reasons, always explain them. Leaving the gaps up to a hiring manager’s interpretation is always a mistake.
When it comes to explaining an employment gap, we often say too much or too little — here’s how to provide just the right amount of details.
You took some time away from your career, and that’s OK. Maybe you tended to a sick family member, catered to your kids, pursued another degree, or traveled the world. Whatever it might have been, you’re now ready to jump back into the workforce.
If your resume reveals any gaps in employment, expect hiring managers to inquire.
Of course, what seems like a simple question will be paired with a simple answer … right? You know why you took that time away from your career. But can you clearly explain your decision and how it worked to your advantage? After all, you’re vying for a job against candidates who might boast more recent experience.
Instead of getting caught in a bind of stress and fumbling your words (we’ve all been there), enter your interview prepared to master your employment gap explanation.
Here are six tips to help you overcome the inevitable “What have you been up to?” interview question.
1. Don’t overshare
If not properly prepared, a moment of panic could lead to you to divulging way too much information.
Does someone who’s been sitting behind a desk for 10 years straight, want to hear every detail of your six-month adventure through Asia? Does he or she need to know how you afforded it? Or that a brutal breakup sparked it? Probably not.
Nor does the hiring manager want to know the nitty-gritty details of the diapers you’ve changed or how awful little Tim is before bedtime.
If you’ve faced challenges and were forced to take a gap in employment due to tragedy or hardship, be careful here too. Sometimes people — especially mere strangers — don’t know how to respond when it comes to grief, so spare them. And you certainly don’t want to break down in tears during your interview. Try to keep those details to yourself — or between you and your therapist.
2. Offer an explanation
You definitely don’t want to overshare, but don’t cloak yourself in mystery, either.
Instead, find the right balance. Explain you took time off to spend with your kids, needed to decompress after several high-pressure years in your field, or that you faced little choice and owed it to your mom to help her out. There’s no shame in that.
By explaining why you elected to call it quits for a while (without oversharing), a hiring manager will likely feel more comfortable knowing what happened — and that you didn’t just run away.
Important note: Remember there’s a difference between explaining and justifying. Don’t get stuck feeling like you have to justify why you stepped away from your career. You’re not out to prove anything.
3. Highlight new skills
Unfortunately, changing a diaper in under a minute doesn’t count as a new skill set (though that is a commendable feat).
Be sure to mention any volunteer work, classes, certifications, or even conferences you attended during your employment gap. If none of those options are relevant, know you probably picked up a new soft skill.
General soft skills include communication, adaptability, problem solving, and critical observation. Remember to show, not tell. Offer concrete examples and situations that show how you learned to better communicate or how you became more comfortable adapting to unexpected situations.
Being able to show you’ve grown during your employment gap is respectable, so don’t forget to highlight it.
4. Emphasize why now’s the time
If you stepped away from your career without a concise timeline tied to your reasoning, explain why you’re choosing to re-enter the workforce now instead of, say, a year from now.
Again, be concise and don’t feel like you have to justify your decision. Simply let the hiring manager know that you’ve done what you needed to do during your time off and now you’re ready and raring to get back to work.
5. Be confident
You need to be 100 percent confident in yourself and your employment gap explanation. If you show uncertainty in your decision, the hiring manager might feel a little unsure, too.
Don’t downplay what you’ve been up to, either. You only cared for your sick mother? That’s a heavy task. You only took care of your two kids? That’s no easy feat. You only went back to school for your master’s degree? That’s a big deal. Own your decision and explain it clearly and confidently.
6. Move on
At this point, you’re probably wondering how long this explanation is going to last.
There’s no reason to dwell on your employment gap. Sure, it’s right there on your resume, so prepare to address it, but don’t feel as though you need to acknowledge it for more than a minute or two. Again, offer an explanation, highlight the positive outcomes of your decision, and explain why you’re ready to strike up your career again. Don’t overshare and don’t spend time trying to justify your decision.
Chances are, the timespan of your employment gap is a lot shorter than the amount of experience you actually have, so there’s no need to let this brief moment of time define you or what you’re capable of bringing to a company. Go ahead and move onto your previous experience and all those awesome accomplishments you’ve already banked.
Now that you know how to explain gaps in employment during the interview process, make sure you’re presenting it effectively on your resume with these six tips.
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