Updated, improved version of this article available here: http://careersidekick.com/explaining-gaps-in-employment/
This article is inspired by an email I received from a reader. I cut the personal details out. Here’s the main idea:
‘I live in MD but want to relocate to FL where my fiancee has a job offer. I have an unemployment gap of nearly 9 months and I feel I have more things working against me at this point. I’m unsure how to tailor my resume for relocation and the proper way to explain my gap.’
The relocation question is answered in this article, which provides a useful strategy for anyone setting up their resume to apply for jobs out of state.
1. List dates in years, not months.
This gives you some leeway. If you held a job from October 2009 to October 2011, just list it as ‘2009-2011’ on the resume.
This will raise less questions while your resume is being evaluated. Once you’re in the actual interview process, it’s a lot easier to explain gaps. The goal here is just to avoid having your resume thrown in the ‘junk’ pile before you get a chance to interview and explain.
2. Do some consulting!
Go get a freelance client (use craigslist, Upwork, former contacts, whatever it takes). Not only will this build your experience and confidence during a gap in employment, it will also allow you to put ‘Consultant’ on your resume during that time. This isn’t the fastest or easiest way I recommend when somebody asks how to explain gaps in employment, but it’s useful to keep in mind and it can be very effective
3. Sound like an in-demand candidate.
When asked why you haven’t found a job yet, explain that you’re being selective and want to make sure you find the best fit for the long term, rather than just accepting the first job you come across.
This will turn the tables on the company. Instead of looking at you suspiciously, they’ll start thinking, ‘Uh oh.. are we a good enough company to get this person?’
See how the tables have turned now?
4. Be honest and use it to your advantage.
Gaps in employment happen, and good hiring managers realize this. If you make it into the interview, it’s usually best just to be honest when speaking with them.
If you took time off to care for a sick family member, tell them. If your company downsized and you’ve had difficulty finding a new job that fits your skill set, tell them about the layoff at your former company (refer to tip #3 here though. You don’t want to sound like you haven’t had a single interview in the last few months).
At the end of the day, who wants to work for a robotic hiring manager that won’t consider hiring somebody with slightly different circumstances than the average candidate? If a company won’t consider you, move on. There are thousands of companies out there.
An employment gap can even be used to your advantage at times. If you take 4 months off to travel the world, you’ll have a great story when you come back and hiring managers might even be jealous when they hear what you’ve done. You could tie some of the things you learned into your job-related skills and show that you continued to develop even while away from the office.
This type of thing also sets you apart from other job candidates. There are 10 candidates for each job that have a completely ‘normal’ work history with no gaps or career changes. Use it to your advantage if you’ve taken a slightly different path!