Resume gap. Even the phrase is scary, calling to mind yawning chasms void of all light and sound—and any hope for a new job. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Knowing how to explain gaps in employment during an interview isn’t as difficult as you may think.
There are dozens of reasons why you might have gaps in your resume. Good news: If you know how to explain it well, it won’t hinder your job search.
In fact, according to the Monster Future of Work: 2021 Outlook survey, 49% of U.S. employers said that resume gaps are becoming less of a red flag as a result of current market conditions. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to talk about your spotty work history.
Whether you just graduated into a down jobs market, got laid off or furloughed, took time off to raise kids or take care of a family member, started a job you hated and quit without another job lined up, traveled the world, or something else entirely, it is all about how you explain your experience that’s going get the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager.
Even if you feel awkward about your resume gaps, trust us—shedding light on the situation will be better than simply leaving it to an employer’s imagination.
Here are three tips that will help you learn how to explain gaps in employment your resume and come off as the great candidate that you are.
1. Be positive
You might have been hoping that the folks interviewing you would take a quick look at your resume and completely miss the fact that you didn’t work for two years—but, we’re sorry to report, that’s not going to happen. When figuring out how to explain gaps in your employment history, you can almost always find some value in it.
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As you’re preparing for your job interview by practicing your answers to the most common job interview questions and researching the company, try to identify a few things you gained from your time away. Whether it’s a stretch of freelancing experience, a handful of new skills you picked up during your time off, or a realization of what you’re really passionate about, there’s often a way to frame resume gaps as a period of personal and professional growth rather than just downtime.
Focus on how your experience contributed to your professional development. Shift the focus away from a gap in work to what you learned and accomplished and the transferable skills that will make you a great hire for this job.
2. Be proactive
If you worked at all or volunteered during the gap, include it on your resume. Demonstrate how you stayed active and learned some new skills.
Did you pick up freelance work, take a part-time job, start your own business, or work on a passion project? Include it in your resume and cover letter. (If you freelanced and had multiple clients or projects, you can group it together under a catch-all like “freelance web developer.”)
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Just like with the full-time jobs on your resume, don’t just list your responsibilities—show what you accomplished. If you went back to school, took one-off classes to learn new skills, or completed certification programs, add it to the education section on your resume along with the dates.
3. Be honest
This is a big one. Lying about your resume gap is a really, really bad idea. Don’t change the dates of employment so it looks like you’re still working at the company or shift them so it seems like you have a shorter gap. Employers can verify your career history, and you could get fired for lying on your resume. Honesty is always the best policy.
If someone asks why you left your job, be honest without talking badly about your previous employer or boss. If you were laid off, explain that the company had budget cuts or restructured and that you were let go. Keep it positive and say that you enjoyed your time at the company, learned skills, and that you are proud of what you accomplished.
Transition by tying what you learned and accomplished into why you would be great for the job at hand. If you quit your job without having another lined up, explain what you learned and achieved, what you are looking for in your next job and role, and why that led you to apply to this job.
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If you left to be a stay-at-home parent, take care of a family member, were sick, or even quit to travel the world, you can simply say that without diving into details.
There are so many reasons that someone’s career trajectory might have a gap of a few months or a few years—a good employer should be focused on the here and now. After all, the most important thing should be the value you’ll bring to the company.
How to explain employment gaps on your resume
Follow these steps to explain gaps in your employment history:
- Spend your time unemployed preparing to return to work
- Determine which jobs you need to include
- Try to disguise small gaps by omitting the month
- Use a resume style or format that makes the gap less obvious
- List the reason for longer employment gaps as its own job
- Include experience gained during the gap when relevant
1. Spend your time unemployed preparing to return to work
The first thing you should do to explain employment gaps on your resume is to try to spend the time you are unemployed preparing yourself for returning to work. You can do this by using this time for professional development such as earning certifications relevant to your industry, taking continuing education courses, being active in professional associations and spending time doing volunteer or contract work. Doing this can help give you positive experiences you can use to fill employment gaps when writing your resume.
2. Determine which jobs you need to include
Next, you need to determine whether your employment gap needs to be included in your resume. It is not always necessary to include every job you have had in your resume. If you are a professional who has several years of experience and your employment gap occurred early in your career, it may not be necessary to include the job you had before your gap in employment.
Generally, you should include only your most recent and most relevant employment experiences in the employment section of your resume. Once you determine which jobs you need to include in your resume, you can determine which employment gaps you need to explain.
3. Try to disguise small gaps by omitting the month
Next, if the gaps in your employment history are only small gaps that occurred in-between jobs you can disguise these gaps by omitting the month from the date of each experience. Instead, simply list the years you were employed in each position. However, this method of disguising gaps in employment on your resume usually only works well if the length of the gaps you are trying to disguise are less than a year in length and you worked in each position for a period of more than one year.
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For example, if you were employed in one position from August 2015 thru January 2017 and didn’t begin your next job until August 2017, you can disguise this employment gap by listing the dates of your first job as 2015 – 2017 and the dates of your next job as 2017 – Present. However, while this can help you make it through the initial consideration round with your resume, you will likely still be asked about specific dates during an interview, so be prepared to explain the reason for your gap in a positive manner.
4. Use a resume style or format that makes the gap less obvious
Next, you can also try to make employment gaps look less obvious by using a resume style or format such as the functional resume format. A functional resume format focuses more on your skills and achievements than on your experience. You can include sections in your resume such as a career summary statement and key accomplishments to help make the positive experiences you have the primary focus of your resume. Then, include your employment section toward the end of your resume. You can also combine the functional resume format with step three to minimize the impact of small employment gaps.
5. List the reason for longer employment gaps as its own job
You will usually need to address longer periods of gaps in employment more directly in your resume than you need to with small employment gaps. If you have an employment gap that was more than a period of one year, then this gap will still be obvious on your resume even when only listing the years or when using a functional resume format.
You can overcome this by including what you were doing during your employment gap in your experience section as if it were a job itself. However, you can keep the entry brief so it doesn’t distract the person reviewing your resume from more relevant experience. For example, if you spent four years as a stay-at-home parent until your child was ready for pre-school, then you can include this time in your experience section like this:
Full-time parent, Atlanta, GA, 2008 – 2011
Took time away from professional career to raise young children and manage the household
6. Include experience gained during the gap when relevant
If you can relate the experience you gained during your employment gap to the position you are applying for, then it may be beneficial to include more detailed information in your employment gap entry. You can include specific examples of daily activities and responsibilities you had during your employment gap that are relevant to the duties or responsibilities of the position you are applying for.
For example, if you have an employment gap of two years because you took time off work to be a full-time caregiver for an elderly relative and you are applying for a position as a nurse, the employment gap entry in your experience section may look more like this:
Full-time caregiver, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 2017 – 2019
- Took time away from professional career to act as a full-time caregiver to an elderly relative
- Assisted relative with daily tasks such as feeding, bathing, dressing and grooming
- Administered medications as prescribed three times daily
- Checked vital signs on a regular basis to gauge recovery progress
List of good reasons for employment gaps
Employment gaps can occur for both voluntary and involuntary reasons. When explaining employment gaps on a resume, you want to try to show a good reason for the gap. Gaps in your employment history may exist for several good reasons, including:
- Time spent looking for a new job
- Being laid off because of organizational changes
- Taking time off to be a stay-at-home parent or caregiver
- Taking time off for a medical leave
- Time spent furthering your education
- Time spent gaining certifications or licensing
- Relocating from one geographic area to another
- Gap years spent on personal development
How you spend your time while unemployed and how you explain your employment gap in your resume is usually more important than the reason for your gap in employment. So, when explaining employment gaps on your resume try to focus on the positives gained from your unemployment gap rather than any negatives.
Related: Writing a Cover Letter: Tips and Examples
Where to explain employment gaps
In addition to knowing how to explain employment gaps, you should also know where to explain them. Generally, there are three places you should address gaps in your employment: your cover letter, your resume and during an interview if asked about it. While there are ways to minimize the appearance of employment gaps on your resume, it is still important for you to be honest and forthcoming in explaining gaps in your employment.
Your cover letter is a great place to explain significant gaps in employment because it allows you to go into detail about how you used your time unemployed to prepare to return to the workforce. Explaining employment gaps in your cover letter and resume also shows recruiters and hiring managers that you are honest and trustworthy, which can help make you stand out from other candidates.