How to handle gaps in employment
Article by Vladimir
What can cause
the most devastating damage to your work history? Not working at
all, of course. Unfortunately, periods of unemployment leave
permanent scars on the beautiful face of your resume. However,
there are ways of presenting this circumstance to your future
employer in a less unpleasant manner.
We’re going to
compile all important information about addressing employment
gaps in your resume, so it won’t be seen as a negative event, if
not even a positive one.
employers see gaps?
hiring managers are human, just like you and me. They are aware
that a gap in professional history can originate from most
benign situations but they also know that it can represent an
issue which will interfere with goals of the company.
don’t want to leave to your potential employer’s imagination to
find the scenario for your gap. He might think you’re lazy and
that you don’t want to work. Or that you’re not capable of
finding a new job. Or that you have a criminal record and that
you spent some time in jail. In any case, he could think that
there’s some problem and that you’re hiding something. Instead,
you need to explain what happened in a most positive way
possible, so the hiring manager can reach only three definite
- You had a
good reason to exclude yourself from the workforce for some
time, but that issue is now definitely resolved –
Remember, the hiring manager has concerns that the reason for
your absence is reoccurring and whether you will leave the
next job for the same reason. Your mission is to persuade him
that this is not the case.
absence didn’t erode your professional capabilities –
If you were out of job for some time, a recruiter might wonder
how it reflected your knowledge, capabilities or work
attitude. You have to convince him and give him proof that
your edge is sharp as it ever was, maybe even sharper.
- You are
very eager and excited to work again –
People who don’t work for some time often lose their
enthusiasm and abandon themselves to depression and
melancholy. Nobody wants that kind of coworker. So, your
appearance, presentation and overall impression has to be like
you’re fresh out of college, hungry for success and
your employment gap unaddressed and wait for the interview to
explain it. In most cases, recruiters are going to imagine worst
case scenario and, with plenty of other candidates, there’s a
good chance you’ll never even come to the interview to explain
Gaps in your
professional history can be the result of different
circumstances. Let’s name the most common ones and see how to
handle each of them:
leave – This is one of the most
common reasons for gaps in the working history and the easiest
to explain. It’s enough to be straightforward with the
employer and tell them that you wanted some time off to raise
your children. Nobody will consider this a disadvantage as
long as you make sure to fulfill two requirements:
– You made all arrangements for childcare after you
start working. The place to address this issue is cover
letter. Do it in one sentence, without details.
– You haven’t forgotten how to do your job. More on this
downsized/restructured and you were laid off –
In this time of recession, it’s not unusual to see this
happening. Recruiters know that but questions remain: how come
you didn’t avoid it, why the company didn’t transfer you to
another department etc. In order to resolve that tension and
to show that it was completely out of your hands, be sure to
– All achievements, rewards and any other
indicators of your good work performance.
– References from your previous employer – In case
of downsizing, all employers are willing to give good
references to employees.
- Illness –
This is a reason for absence that has two aspects. One is if
you have recovered from a serious health problem. In that
case, just state that in the cover letter and offer contacts
of medical institutions where that health problem was treated.
Be sure to stress out that you recovered 100% and that this
will in no way influence your work ability. Do not go into
aspect is if you have an ongoing health issue that can affect
your ability to work. Be sure to explain that in your cover
letter and note what can be done to minimize the impact of the
illness to your job. Leave this for the end of the cover
letter or interview so you have a chance to leave a good first
- You were
fired – There’s not much you can
do about avoiding this popping up in the conversation. Be sure
to stay honest, no matter what. State why you were fired in
the cover letter, but be sure to note what you have done from
that point to ensure that won’t happen again. Maybe you worked
on your skills? Or you had to go to the psychologist to
resolve some issues? We’ll talk about that later in this
article. But, whatever you do, don’t blame the employer. It’s
very possible that your future employer will empathize with
your previous company not with you.
- You quit
because you couldn’t stand your employer –
In this case never, and I mean NEVER, state the real reason
why you left the job. Your future employer doesn’t have any
reason to think you’re going to treat him differently than you
treated your previous one. Instead, state that you quit
because you wanted to improve your skills/educate further and
prove that with your resume. We’ll see how to do that in the
- You were
in prison or in rehabilitation –
This situation requires some serious damage control. The
circumstance that you were in jail or recovering from
drugs/alcohol abuse can’t be overlooked and is a major
rejecting factor. The only thing you can do is to try to
explain in the cover letter what you did from the moment you
went into jail or rehabilitation center that will ensure that
such incident is never going to happen again. Also, if you
choose to state some additional education or work experience
you gained during prison time, be sure to put “government” or
something similar for employer and not “Prison”. It will look
or time off – Be very careful
when saying that you were traveling or taking the time off to
recharge. In most cases, applicants use that to cover more
negative aspects of their gap in work history (they were fired
or couldn’t find the job etc). That’s why these reasons are
notorious among recruiters or hiring managers. But, if you
really travelled, be prepared to answer specific questions
about your adventure. A large group of employers even look at
a travel-time in a very positive manner. During your long
trip, you sharpened some of your most important character
attributes and that’s definitely advantageous. There’s nothing
wrong with taking time off, it’s just that most candidates lie
care of sick family member – This
is a very common reason for being absent from the workforce.
It’s important to stay positive in your explanation of the
employment gap. By no means you should involve emotions or
take a defensive or apologetic attitude. It was your right as
a human being and you should act as that. Do not apologize for
something you consider the right thing to do.
What you were
doing during your employment gap?
No matter if
the gap in your work history is voluntary or forced, in order to
show to the employer that you preserved the sharpness of your
edge, you need to prove that you were working on
self-improvement instead of doing 8-hour shifts in front of a
There is a
couple of ways to stay active and up-to-date and to reflect that
in your resume, so your employer won’t see that gap as a lost
time. Here are the most common ones:
- Name all
certificates, licenses, trainings, courses and degrees you
obtained during your absence from the workforce and try to
connect them with the position you’re applying for. This
is a big deal. It shows to your future employer not only that
you were proactive and were actively seeking ways to lift your
skills to a new level, but also that you were focused to a
- What you
did for living during your employment gap? Some
consulting? Contract work? Freelance? Maybe you did some
volunteer or community work? All these activities are a
perfect match for your gaping gap. Stick them into Unrelated
experience or Other experience section of your resume with
regular dates, positions and company names, as it was a real,
paid job, and, voila, your gap is gone.
- Name all
seminars, conferences and other gatherings in your field of
expertise you attended during your employment gap. This
is very important as it shows to your future employer that you
remained connected with the guild, up to date with the
industry standards and haven’t fallen back in lethargy. This
shows that you’re professionally fit almost 100% as the day
you stopped working.
- Write down
all publications, articles and blogs related to your
industry that you published during the gap. This
indicates that you had to dig deep under the surface of your
industry and can even turn the gap to be beneficial as you
became more of an expert on the given topic.
- If you
were taking care of your newborn, be imaginative about that
experience. Don’t forget that you
singlehandedly took care of family financials, pairing of busy
schedules, mentoring your kid etc. These are valuable
experiences and should be mentioned in Other experience in
your resume. Describe it as you would any other job, just
don’t go into details.
thing you could do in the meantime is starting your own
business. You have to mention
this in your resume as it is known that self-employment
develops a wide variety of skills crucial for later job
very important that you show your potential employer that you
didn’t just exist in limbo and wait for a miracle to happen
during your employment gap. All aforementioned items could help
you persuade a recruiter or hiring manager that you are as sharp
as you ever was, up-to-date and enthusiastic about your next
in purpose of justifying employment gaps
There are only
a few recruiters and hiring managers that won’t notice and ask
questions about a glaring gap in your working history and it’s
just because they overlooked it. Everybody else will righteously
ask you about a hole in your marketing document.
To avoid that,
you can use different formats of your resume in order to cover
up the gap. Let’s see some Pros and Cons of resume formats in
the situation of discontinued employment history.
resume format – It’s the most
common resume format where previous employments are lined up
in a reverse chronological timeline. This format is most
suitable for individuals who consistently climbed in ranks in
the same industry. It’s easy to follow and recruiters are used
to this format. However, if you have a black hole in the
timeline of your employments, maybe you should consider
another format since chronological resume is merciless to work
history gaps. It shows them in their full meanness and will
definitely raise a brow or two.
resume format – This is the
format of resume which begins with Summary section and
continues with Skills and Achievements followed by work
experience not in chronological order. While a lot of authors
recommend this format if you’ve got large gaps in work
history, since they can be successfully masked, have in mind
that recruiters and hiring managers also know this. In fact,
if a recruiter receives a functional format resume, he’ll
almost immediately know that you’re hiding something.
Sometimes, it’s automatic redirection to “rejected” pile. You
don’t want to risk this. Avoid functional format.
resume format – This format takes
the best from both worlds and combines it into an honest
statement of what and when you did, but emphasizing your
positive sides before the gap comes into consideration. Hybrid
format starts with Summary, Skills and Achievements sections
followed by reversed chronological timeline of your work
experience. This way, you emphasize excellent stuff you’re
proud of in your work history, but you’re not “forgetting” to
note a gap later on. This is highly desirable resume format
for those who have gaps as it fulfills the basic purpose of a
resume – to highlight positive and diminish negative items
from your professional life.
In some cases
people tried explaining the gap by combining a resume and cover
letter. While it may sound as a good idea, this is highly
undesirable since recruiters are a people of habit. If they
expect to see a resume and find out that it’s some mixed bag
document, they will, in most cases, dismiss that as not
of your resume is a much broader topic than just seen from a job
seeker’s with a gap in employment history point of view. Because
of that, I’m going to deliver an article completely focused on
resume formats very soon.
guidelines in a situation of employment gap
your resume (besides choosing an optimal resume format) may be
crucial in highlighting or masking the time of your
unemployment. That’s where the following tips will come handy,
so try to apply them:
- List years
in your dates of employment, omit months –
If your gap happens to be inside of the one calendar year (not
spreading to two consecutive years), the easiest way to
conceal it is to omit months completely from your dates of
employment. By doing that, nobody can notice that you were
unemployed from July to October, for example.
- Do not
omit dates completely – Be sure
not to omit completely some form of dates of your employment.
It’s an automatic red flag in a recruiter’s book and,
furthermore, it may imply that your experience dates from
’70-ties or ’80-ties.
- Do not
extend periods of employment on your resume just to cover
the gap – If you’re tempted to
add a couple of months on the date your employment was
terminated and a couple of months before you started your next
job, resist it. Your future employer may check those dates and
you’ll never get a job then. In addition, during downsizing,
HR Departments first browse job applications in order to find
any inconsistencies in them and those employees are first who
are laid off.
- Start a
resume with Summary section – The
Summary section is a great resume opener for various reasons
and, regarding treating employment gaps, it’s absolutely
irreplaceable. With Summary section you grab the attention of
the recruiter or hiring manager with the most positive info on
your previous work. When the gap is noticed they already have
a great first impression and are more willing to “forgive”
gaps in employment history.
multiple jobs under the same heading –
This one may come handy in a situation when you had several
similar positions for shorter periods of time within different
companies and a gap between them. If you group your similar
experiences under one heading and present just the global
period of employment for that group of positions, your gap
will go unnoticed.
references and quotes on you –
When you leave your previous job, be sure to ask for written
references of your good performance. In a situation of
employment gap, it’s particularly useful to have good
references from the job you had just before the gap. It helps
persuading a recruiter or hiring manager that the termination
of your employment there wasn’t your fault. Also, take notes
of every annual appraisal conducted in a company you work for.
Later, you could use some positive quotes of your superiors
from the appraisal of your performances and incorporate them
into your work experience section to show proof of the quality
of your work.
write “- present” in employment dates if you don’t work
anymore – If you are not employed
in the present moment, do not try to conceal that by adding “-
present” at the end of date of your last employment.
Recruiters can check that easily and if they catch you in the
lie, you can say farewell to that job.
- Don’t bold
the dates, write them in smaller font –
You don’t want to put a flashing sign in bright colors that
says “I HAVE AN EMPLOYMENT GAP HERE, COME TAKE A LOOK” in your
resume. So, try to make the dates of employment blended into
other text in your resume, so they don’t attract attention.
You can write them in smaller fonts and you should definitely
not bold it, in contrast with position title and company name.
mention the gap if it was in the distant past –
General rule for the jobs you had more than 15 years ago is to
write only title, company name and period of employment
without any details. Nobody’s interested in what you did 15
years ago. If the gap occurred between 10 and 15 years in the
past, you’re free not to mention it and to cut your
description of work history to that period in the past.
- Omit the
job you were fired from if it was irrelevant and is not the
last job you had – If the job you
were fired from is not relevant for your current job
application, omit it from your work history. You may want to
make an additional section “Unrelated experience” and list
irrelevant jobs, maybe even without dates of employment.
That’s because “Unrelated experience” is often overlooked. The
logic is: “If you, the applicant, say that it’s not relevant,
why me, the recruiter or hiring manager, should lose my
precious time on that”.
spin – This is a general advice.
When you look at your finished resume, it shouldn’t be
noticeable at first glance that you have a gap in employment
history. To be sure that you did it right, give your resume to
someone who isn’t acquainted with the development of your
career and ask him what catches his eye after 30 seconds of
looking at it. If the answer is the gap, you’re doing
something wrong. The point is to create a spin that will make
the recruiter concentrate on positive items in your resume and
not the gap.
- Do not
explain or mention a gap in your resume, the place for that
is the cover letter – Even there, do not go
into details. Be brief and honest. Try to persuade the
recruiter that the reason for the gap is over and that you’re
eager to start again. Don’t be emotive about it. Also, by no
means should you take an apologetic or defensive attitude.
Just describe the facts.
- Do not
lie! – I repeat this in almost
every article about resumes I wrote and it still doesn’t seem
to be stressed out enough. Do not lie. Negative consequences
may be huge. Even if you land a job, there will always be a
Damocles’ sword above your head. Just don’t do it. Don’t lie
in your resume.
- Try with
smaller companies – Large
companies have strict policies on background checks of their
employees-to-be. That’s why it’s more probable that the real
reason for your employment gap will be found out, no matter
what you did to conceal it. With large work history gaps it
might be better to apply for a job at a smaller company which
doesn’t have such rigorous background checks.
for questions about the gap in the interview –
If you have a gap in the work history, and you passed the
screening of your resume, be sure to come to the interview
prepared for a conversation about that gap. Prepare the same
explanation you wrote in the cover letter. Be calm and manage
cold facts. Leave emotions out of this mini speech. Be brief,
honest and don’t go into details.
- Don’t be
bitter, be enthusiastic – One of
the main issues to handle is to stay positive in communication
with the recruiter on the topic of your employment gap. This
is very important as nobody wants to work with depressed and
desperate people. Also, it clearly shows that you’re over it
and that you’re ready for new professional challenges, what is
a sine qua non for getting employed anytime soon.
If there is a
single, most important takeaway from this article then it would
be “Be prepared”! Prepare during your unemployment. Prepare your
resume. Prepare your cover letter. Prepare for questions in the
interview on your employment gap. Prepare to show positive and
enthusiastic attitude. Prepare to receive a job offer. Prepare
If you have any
experiences regarding employment gaps, whether you’re a job
seeker or an employer, please share those valuable pieces of
real life situations in the comments.
Good luck with
your job hunt!
is the market leader in career development and job
search services. We help candidates as well as train
companies on correct and proven interview techniques
and methodologies. Whether you are a candidate or need
to teach your "team" on how to hire talented and
qualified people, let MVPSource turn you into the next
MVP (Most Valued Professional).
Here for a free Email quote
for a Interview Coach