Many people feel uneasy when trying to explain time on their resume when they were not working. In part, that’s because it’s long been standard for employers to question a candidate’s lack of continuous employment. Any deviation from back-to-back jobs can be seen as a red flag and make even the most talented and accomplished candidates anticipate how to discuss the gap in a job interview.
However, a majority of workers have gaps in their CVs for reasons including layoffs, family responsibilities, and relocation.
In this article you’ll learn why resume gaps matter to employers and how you can handle this interview conversation easily, effectively, and with confidence.
What Is a Resume Gap?
Employment gaps are times when an individual takes time away from work and can range from a period of several weeks or months to years.
Common reasons for resume gaps include the following:
- Caring for a young child, aging parent, or a sick relative.
- Experiencing a long-term recovery process from an injury or dealing with a serious, chronic illness.
- Pursuing additional education or professional training.
- Relocating to a new city, state, or country.
- Starting a new small business.
- Working as a freelancer or independent contractor.
- Taking time off to study or travel for more life experience.
- Handling various workplace claims, such as discrimination, harassment, and worker's compensation.
- Seeking work without success after a layoff.
- Spending time volunteering, interning, or apprenticing.
- Experiencing personal life circumstances that necessitated time away from work.
If you took time off for personal reasons, carefully consider how specific to be about the details. In particular, you might want to provide a general explanation if the time off didn’t directly enhance your professional credentials, such as by gaining a certification, degree, or access to a verifiable reference. Examples of personal reasons might include travel, studies, or mental health breaks.
Keep in mind that these types of explanations can lead to unconscious bias, no matter how necessary and valid away the time was for you. Therefore, make sure to highlight the most enriching aspects of your time away in your resume or during an interview.
Why Employers Care About Resume Gaps
In March 2022, CNN Business reported that work history gaps aren’t such a big deal anymore. In some instances, that is true, such as when you have been freelancing or attending school.
However, there are still plenty of reasons employers want to understand why you weren't working. Following are some concerns managers cite about employment gaps:
- The candidate does not need nor want continuous employment, which may make the candidate a hiring risk. Any time a manager suspects that someone could easily walk away from their job, they might anticipate employee turnover and the unwelcome need to rehire for the position.
- The candidate was working but does not want to list the job for some reason. An employer may conclude the person lost their job for some egregious reason and fears receiving a poor reference if they list the job on their resume.
- The candidate might have spent time incarcerated, which can be a concern for employers if they don’t have complete information.
Essentially, your resume provides a roadmap of who you are, where you have been, and what you have been doing. Employers want to see real, tangible activities that speak to your character, commitment, and abilities. A linear resume without employment gaps provides an uninterrupted list of those activities and is one fewer question mark the hiring manager needs to consider.
How to Address a Gap in Your Resume
The first and foremost best practice for addressing a gap in your resume is being honest. Lay out the reasons behind the gap and clarify those reasons as quickly and completely as possible. You don’t want prospective employers to stumble on a thinly veiled two-year work gap and must explain it after the fact.
Be proactive from the start. Describe the time gaps in your cover letter. Let hiring managers know you look forward to elaborating about your time away from work during the interview phase.
During the interview, confidently discuss why you were away. Here are some examples of why you might have taken time away from work:
- You realized your career path is no longer aligned with your life goals.
- You were laid off due to budget cuts.
- You were recovering from an injury or illness.
Remember, employers primarily want assurance that the work gap doesn’t mean you are a hiring risk.
Reframe Resume Gaps
Any resume gap can look negative without the right context. Ensure that you reframe your resume gaps to ensure the interviewer understands why you were not employed. For instance, if you received a layoff or furlough notice, an interviewer will easily understand that you were seeking a new position during the time of unemployment.
On the other hand, if you took time off to go to school, employers tend to understand the need to redirect your energy to ultimately find new opportunities.
Finally, if you worked as an independent contractor or freelancer during your unofficial employment periods, share that information, which will reframe your time away from the traditional workforce.
Use a Functional Resume Format for a “Big Picture” Approach
Functional resumes provide an excellent strategy for deprioritizing employment gaps. A high-caliber functional resume showcases your relevant skills, experiences, and abilities over a linear listing of your employment dates and roles.
With a functional resume, you are still sharing your background but presenting it in a way that shows why you will be a high-value asset to the company, regardless of any times of unemployment.
Leverage Networking and Referrals
Make sure you reach out to previous employers to provide sterling references to your work history and character.
You can also reach out to professional recruiters who may have placed you in successful roles or can speak about your reliability and work ethic.
If you did some volunteering during your work absence, ask program leaders to provide a reference for your time working with their organization.
Manage Resume Gaps with Confidence and Ease
As you can see, managing CV gaps doesn’t need to be intimidating. If you are prepared to provide a clear and meaningful explanation, you’ll be in a great position to tackle the job gap discussion with honesty, integrity, and confidence.