How to Talk About Gaps in Your Resumé
Do you have gaps in your employment history? If so, do you know what to say if a recruiter or an interviewer asks you about them?
Job seekers have gaps in their resumés – ranging from a few months to several years – for many reasons. Personal reasons include stopping paid work to raise kids, care for an ill family member or recover from a health issue. People also put work on hold to pursue training or education, relocate to a different city, travel, start a business or pursue an independent project. Some people have gaps because they couldn’t (or chose not to) find a job immediately after being laid off or fired. And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people lost their jobs due to business shutdowns.
Recruiters will notice if your resumé has significant gaps, and there’s a good chance they’ll ask you what happened. Why are they interested? Companies prefer to hire people who are productive, proactive and motivated, and large gaps in a resumé will arouse their curiosity. How you explain the holes in your employment history could affect your chances of getting hired.
Emphasize the positive
Think of your resumé and cover letter as personal marketing documents that “sell” a recruiter on your skills and qualities. Your goal is to make a good impression and make it through to the next step: an interview.
If you have gaps in your resumé, you’ll want to be strategic about how you position yourself to potential employers, even before you meet a recruiter or attend a job fair. For example, you can prepare your resumé and cover letter in a way that emphasizes the positives and downplays the gaps. You should never lie about your work history. Instead, call attention to your skills, qualifications, experience and accomplishments. Here are a few ways to put them front and centre while making gaps less prominent:
Write a functional resumé: Typically, the work experience section of a resumé is written in reverse chronological order, with the most recent job at the top. In a functional resumé, you organize your experience by job functions or areas of expertise instead. This is not always effective – recruiters know that people may use this structure to obscure gaps – but depending on the job, it may be appropriate.
Write a hybrid resumé: Start with a short profile or summary that describes your key attributes, competencies and accomplishments – whatever’s most relevant to the job you’re applying for. This may catch the recruiter’s attention before they see your work history. Next, add functional and reverse chronological sections for work experience. Don’t mention any negatives, like being fired or downsized.
Omit certain jobs: Gaps are less obvious if you leave out some of your former jobs. You could remove jobs you did before the gap, for example, so that your work history is continuous from that point on.
List your education first: You can take this approach if your employment gap was recent – otherwise, it will land at the top of your resumé (unless you’re following a hybrid structure). If, however, you don’t have much formal training or education, you’ve learned your skills on the job rather than at school, or your education is unrelated to the job you’re applying for, consider listing work experience first.
Explain the gap: You can include the reason for the gap right in your work history (volunteer role, full-time parenting, academic studies, compassionate care leave, skills upgrading, etc.). Add one or two lines that explain what you were doing or what experience you gained and include the dates as you would for a job.
Whichever approach you take, don’t leave out the dates. A recruiter will interpret this as evasive or careless. You can de-emphasize the dates by leaving out the months and just keeping the years, and by using a plain font or a smaller font.
Write a great cover letter
Your cover letter is an opportunity to draw attention to your skills and strengths, so don’t just write a generic note like “Please find attached my resumé.” In three or four paragraphs, highlight the positives mentioned above and demonstrate knowledge about the company and the position. If you want to explain your resumé gaps, write one or two lines about each, and reiterate your qualifications and enthusiasm for the position.
Update your LinkedIn profile
It’s common for recruiters and employers to look up job candidates on social media. Now that you’ve written your resumé, update the “Experience” section of your LinkedIn profile to match. For each job you’ve had, include the employer, your title and a brief description of your role. You can also upload your full resumé as an attachment.