Updated, improved version of this article available here: http://careersidekick.com/explaining-gaps-in-employment/
Having a gap in your work history isn’t automatically a deal-breaker when applying for new jobs, but if you approach the issue in the wrong way, it could negatively impact your job search.
The two times this issue will come up is during an interview, and on a resume. This article will cover the job application and resume. If you need help explaining your employment gap in the interview, use this article.
I always give the same resume advice to candidates with gaps in their work history: Be straightforward rather than trying to hide dates or other pieces of information. Hiring managers are usually going to be able to tell if you’re hiding something.
Your resume should feature a chronological work history on the first page that includes job titles, company names, key responsibilities for each role, and yes… dates of employment.
You should avoid using a functional resume or any other resume format that separates your skills and employment history. Many people recommend this format specifically for people with employment gaps, but hiring managers can see right through this tactic. Avoid this type of resume at all costs.
Not convinced yet?
I won’t even submit a resume in this format to the clients I recruit for, regardless of whether the candidate has gaps in their work history or not. This is because hiring managers simply don’t like to see resumes presented in this way due to the fact that it forces them to guess which jobs involved which skills/abilities.
Depending on the reason for the gap, you could choose to list some specific details right in the chronological work history section of your resume. Here’s an example:
2012-2013. Exited the workforce to care for a sick family member full time.
2009-2012. Sales Manager, XYZ Company. (list responsibilities here)
2004-2009. Sales Associate, ABC Company. (list responsibilities here)
If the reason is too difficult to explain in this brief manner, consider using a cover letter rather than explaining it fully on your resume.
I’d still suggest putting something on the resume, even if it’s quite brief. This will show the hiring manager that you’re straight-forward and will increase the chances that they’ll read your cover letter or take the time to interview you.
In either of those cases, you’ll be able to provide them with a more complete explanation of why you weren’t working.
Remember that the purpose of your resume is to get you a job interview. Including a bit of information about your employment gap is definitely serving this purpose, even if it doesn’t fully explain the situation.
If it was a temporary issue that kept you out of work (such as a family illness), it’s a good idea to explain how the issue has been resolved or changed, either on the resume or in a cover letter.
The hiring manager will be wondering if you’re now able to work full time or whether the issue is ongoing. They’ll be thinking “what has changed now?”
During your gap in employment, if you did anything to stay current within your field, you can list this on your resume too. This could include completing a degree, teaching, performing research, writing, starting a company, etc.
Don’t be apologetic about your work history. Taking time off is not something to be ashamed of. Not every company will want to interview you, but some will. Stand by your decisions and choices, present your skills with a straight-forward resume format, and be ready to answer questions and explain yourself further in the job interview.