Explaining gaps in employment can be intimidating, but there are a couple of effective methods you can use. In this article, I’m going to show you how to explain employment gaps in your interviews, resume and cover letter… with word-for-word examples and sample explanations.
Let’s get started with the interview first…
Explaining Gaps In Employment In Your Interview
Explaining gaps in employment is really just about knowing what reasons are okay to share, and which ones you should tell a white lie about or not share. And then being upfront and comfortable with your answer.
These are all good sample reasons for having a gap in employment:
- Caring for a sick family member
- Caring for a young child
- Any medical or health issue
- Taking time off to relocate and find a job in a new state/city
- Pursuing further education or going back to school
- Pursuing any other type of professional training
- Taking time off to travel, study, work on a solo project, etc.
- Trying to start a business or freelance career
- You were laid off, your former company downsized, etc… and you had trouble finding a job after
- You were actively searching but had trouble finding a job (NOTE: I’ll cover this in detail later but you need to make it sound like you were being selective in your job search and waiting to find the RIGHT fit. That sounds a *lot* better than saying, “I was looking everywhere but couldn’t find a single company that would consider hiring me!”
Once you have your reason prepared… Here are the general steps to follow when explaining gaps in employment in the interview:
- Explain the situation clearly but briefly. They don’t need a ton of personal details. Just give them the core facts.
- Show that the situation has ended or is no longer a factor, so they won’t be worried you’ll have to take another break from working. If they hire you, they want to know you’re 100% ready to work for them.
- Reiterate your interest in their position and bring the focus back onto this job interview and this position.
Examples Of How To Explain Employment Gaps In An Interview:
Sample explanation 1:
I had to resign from my previous position to care for an aging family member. I did this for the past year. Since then, my siblings and I have hired a full-time caregiver so I no longer need to be present, and am fully available to work now and in the future. So I’ve begun job searching and I’m focused on finding a sales supervisor or manager position that will help me advance my career further now.
Sample explanation 2:
I was laid off nine months ago. I started my job search immediately after, and I’m looking for sales supervisor or sales manager positions now to continue advancing my career. I’ve had a number of interviews but haven’t found the right fit yet. One thing I’m looking for is a chance to mentor and train team members, and manage a team directly. I saw that mentioned on the job description for this position… can you tell me more about that?
Two Things To Remember When Answering:
1. You need to sound like an in-demand job candidate…
If you’re explaining a current gap in employment, you need to sound like you’re being selective and that you’re focused on making sure you find the best fit for the long term, rather than just accepting the first job you come across. That’ll make a 6 month gap (or longer) sound a bit better. If you’ve been job hunting during your employment gap, you don’t want it to sound like you haven’t had a single interview in the last few months. That’s never a good idea. If your gap in employment is related to health, travel, a family member’s health, etc…. then it’s fine to say you haven’t had any interviews.
2. Be upfront and honest…
Gaps in employment happen, and good hiring managers will realize this. If you’ve made it into the interview, there’s obviously something they liked on your resume. So when it comes to explaining gaps in employment it’s best to be honest and upfront.
You probably won’t lose out on the job by explaining the situation. You will definitely lose out on the job by lying or seeming like you’re trying to cover something up.
Explaining Gaps In Employment On Your Resume
Okay, maybe you’re still writing your resume or having trouble getting interviews. How do you explain gaps in your employment on your resume so you can GET interviews in the first place?
Here are a few ways you can explain (or hide) gaps in employment:
- List years instead of months for previous positions. (e.g. “2014-2016”). I’ve used this method in the past when I had a couple of small gaps between jobs (by a small gap, I mean 2-3 months maximum). This won’t work if you have too many gaps though, or gaps longer than one year.
- If your gaps are longer or more frequent, consider providing a brief note on the resume listing your reason for the gap in employment. Just list it like any other job. Put your previous positions with the dates you held them. And for your gap, you’d have dates there too, and a one-line explanation (“I took a hiatus from work in order to care for an elderly family member in need”).
If you use these strategies, consider going onto LinkedIn and making the same changes there too. If these options don’t work for you, write a cover letter! This is a good idea no matter what. In your cover letter, explain what happened in detail and draw their attention to the gap so that you can tell them the full story instead of allowing them to make assumptions (you’re usually better off attacking controversial topics head-on).
That’s how I’d explain gaps in employment on a resume. Also, nobody can tell you with 100% certainty what will work in your industry, with the specific circumstances of your gap in employment (dates, length, reason for the gap, etc.)
So TEST things out. Send out 10 resumes one way, and if nobody’s responding, change something up. If it’s not working, you can’t just keep doing the same things on auto-pilot. That’s how you end up not finding a job.
It’s usually better to be upfront than hide employment gaps
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.
No matter what you do, there are some employers out there who won’t like the fact that you have a gap in your employment. That’s okay… Companies like that aren’t worth your time. We’re human. Things happen. And there’s more to life than working nonstop for 40 years. So don’t get discouraged if a few companies say they’re not interested, or just don’t respond. I guarantee those are the same companies you do NOT want to work for anyway because they’re going to have horrible vacation policies, bosses who question you every time you take a sick day, etc.
Note: These Tips and Sample Explanations Will Also Work on Job Applications
Sometimes a job application will say, “please explain any gaps in employment.” The advice resume advice above also work for job applications. Follow the same “rules”, be clear and upfront, and you’ll be fine when applying for jobs.
The one adjustment I’d recommend making on job applications (and cover letters): Be clear and direct, but don’t give too much information. The only goal of your job application is to get you into the interview. If they’re concerned about employment gaps, they can ask more in the interview. And that’s where you should be very honest/open and explain things further. That’s where you can gauge their reactions, decide how much to share based on their responses, etc. You can’t do this in a written explanation.
So, by writing too much info on a job application, you might do more harm than good. It’s better to discuss this type of thing in person, so limit your explanation to 1-2 sentences for each gap in employment on your job applications, cover letters, etc.
Final Advice on How to Explain Gaps in Employment:
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 straightforward (chronological) resume format, and be ready to answer questions and explain yourself further in the job interview.