Explaining Gaps on Your Resume

By Alyssa Laffitte on July 21, 2020

There are many reasons why a student or employee might need to take some time off of school or work, from maternity leave to illness (your own, or someone you’re caring for), to taking some time off to travel. But when you’re ready to get back to school or work, how do you explain the gap in your resume to a potential employer? There are many ways to do it. In this article, we’ll discuss how to explain gaps on your resume to a potential employer.

Image via Isorepublic.com

What is a gap in your resume? Why is it important to address it during a job application?

A gap in your resume is a period of time when you are not working or in school, for a variety of reasons. This could be concerning to some employers because they might want someone with more recent work experience. A potential employer might be concerned that you won’t stick around the company for long. However, this doesn’t mean an employer won’t hire you if you have a gap in your resume. It means that you might need to do a little more work to explain what you did during the gap in your resume. During an interview or as part of the written application materials, a potential employer might flat-out ask you to explain any gaps in your resume. Along with your application, you might be asked to submit a few sentences explaining a gap in your resume. You will need to be prepared for these questions, whether they ask in you in person or in writing.

Be honest, but don’t overshare, when you explain a gap in your resume

Potential employers will likely ask you to explain the gap in your resume, whether during an interview or as part of your application materials. When explaining a gap in your resume, you need to balance between honesty and oversharing. It’s important to be honest when explaining the gap in your resume because employers verify employment history. They will know if you are lying about how long you worked at a specific place. For this reason, you should be honest on your resume. But on the other hand, it’s also important to not overshare. You don’t need to explain all the details about why you took some time away from school or work. Only disclose what a new potential employer needs to know. Avoid getting too personal, as your employer doesn’t need to know every detail of your personal life situations. Instead, keep it short and sweet. (A friend of mine once joked, “If your resume gap explanation is longer than two minutes, it’s gotten too personal.”) Similarly, when you give your resume gap explanation, don’t dwell on the negatives. Instead, focus on the positives. A good way to do this is by talking mainly about what you accomplished or learned during that time (we’ll discuss this more later in the article), rather than on the time you lost by taking a gap year. Clearly, it’s important to be honest when explaining a gap in your resume. But it is equally important to not overshare, either.

Additionally, it’s important to know which gaps you need to be addressed. For example, employers might be more concerned about a more recent gap in employment rather than one from many years ago. If you’re applying for a job, they might not be so interested in a gap year that took place during your undergraduate years (or between high school and undergrad). If a gap is THAT old, it might not even be worth mentioning on your resume. You don’t want to waste a potential employer’s time discussing these gaps. Instead, focus on the ones that are more recent or relevant to them. These are the best ways to explain a gap in your resume to a potential employer.

Do something productive during your gap year

If you are still in your gap year, you can improve your resume by doing something productive during your gap year. If you do something productive, it will show that you can still learn and accomplish things even while not in school or work. This “something productive” could be as involved as volunteering somewhere, learning a new skill by taking a class online, or spending time traveling and learning about another culture. These are more concrete things you can mention in your resume and your other job application materials to list them as “experience” or “skills.” On the other hand, you could do something more abstract, such as self-reflection, that can also be helpful to your professional development. While this is not a concrete item you can list on your resume, you can use your gap year to help you learn more about yourself and discover what you truly want to do with your life. If you take this time to reflect, you will come back refreshed and ready to pursue your dream. If you do something productive during your gap year, you will be better able to explain your gap year to a future employer.

Use your gap year as “experience”

Even though you might not have been working or studying during your gap year, you can still gain some experience and skills. As I mentioned before, it’s helpful for you to do something productive during your gap year. You can include the productive things you’ve done and the skills you’ve learned in your resume, under the “experience” and “skills” sections. This will improve your resume! For example, if you learned a skill, like web design, or a program, like Adobe Photoshop, during your gap year, you can add that to your “skills” list. After all, these are valuable skills your potential employer will want to know! Similarly, if you took part in a volunteer experience, you can add that to your “experience” list. Be sure to use action words to describe what you did and what you learned! If you do this, it will show a potential employer that you were productive and that you gained skills and experience even during your gap year.

Create a functional, rather than chronological resume

When you have an extensive work history, you can use a traditional chronological resume. However, when you have a gap in your work history, you should use a functional resume. Rather than being organized by work history, it is organized by skills. You can make each skill its own heading. Underneath that heading, provide an example or two to demonstrate your mastery of the skill you’re discussing. Be sure to use keywords in your descriptions, and don’t be afraid to use concrete numbers about your performance at work, if you have them. (For example, definitely include that you increased your company’s sales or efficiency by X%.) Focusing your resume on your skills will pull the focus away from the gap in your work history.

Even though your resume will be focused on your skills, it’s still a good idea to include at least a short section on your work history and education. Your future employer will still need to see this information. It’s okay to put it at the bottom of your resume, rather than at the top. Similarly, you can start your resume with a brief summary. This will give your potential employer a chance to get to know a little bit more about you before they read deeper into your resume. This is a good way to introduce yourself!

If you have a gap in your work history, consider using a functional resume, rather than a chronological, work history based resume. If you are unsure how to structure your functional resume, you can use this template.

Communicate with your references

Any job you apply for will likely ask you for a list of references. Your references will be people who know you well and who can attest to your work skills, such as a previous supervisor. Potential employers can reach out to them to ask about your abilities in the workplace, and use their testimony as a factor in deciding whether or not to hire you.

When you have a gap in your work history, it’s a good idea to let your references know about it. This way, they will not be surprised if a potential employer asks them about it. Additionally, your references will be able to vouch for your skills and abilities despite having taken some time off. They might even be able to vouch for how much you have learned, grown, and changed since your gap year (and those are all reasons you could be an even better employee after your gap year).

Clearly, you want the people you list as references to be on your team. You want to give them enough information to help you get the job. They can better vouch for you if they know about the gap in your work history.

Be prepared to answer questions about it

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, any potential employer will probably ask you to explain the gap in your work history. They could ask you in person, during an interview, or they could ask you to submit a short statement in writing along with your application. (A cover letter is a good place to address the gap in your work history.) You want to be prepared for this. Before an interview, you should prepare an answer to this question that reasonably explains your gap in work history without getting too personal. It shouldn’t be too long, either. If you’re submitting a statement in writing, make sure it is no more than a few sentences long. Remember: it’s about a balance. It’s also a good idea to mention what you have learned or done during your time off since this shows you have still been productive. It shows you have gained skills that you can contribute to their team. This is the best way to successfully complete this part of the interview or application process.

When you have a gap in your work history, you need to be prepared to explain it to a potential employer (without getting too detailed or personal), whether in writing or in person, during an interview.

Image via Isorepublic.com

Examples of explaining a gap in work history

As you prepare to explain a gap in your work history to a potential employer, it’s good to read examples of how others did it in their resumes. You can do a quick online search for examples of how to explain a gap in work history, whether you were out due to childbirth, illness, volunteering, or traveling. There are several websites that give brief examples of what to write in your resume to address the gap in your work history. It doesn’t even need to be a long explanation. A simple line or two on your resume will be enough. When addressing your work history in your cover letter, though, you can dedicate a few more sentences if you feel you need to further explain. Reading these examples will help you craft your own explanation for the gap in your work history and will better prepare you to explain it to a potential employer in person.

Although a gap in work history might raise some red flags to a potential employer, it doesn’t mean you will have trouble finding a job. You can still show that you are a reliable, competent, skilled employee on your resume, cover letter, and even during your interview. By following the tips mentioned in this article, you will be able to create a resume that highlights your skills, not the gap in your work history. Additionally, you will know how to explain the gap to a potential employer, whether they ask you in person during an interview or in writing as part of the application process. Reading examples of how other people have done it in the past can also be helpful to you. These steps will allow a potential employer to look past the gap in your work history and focus on your strengths as a candidate for the job.

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