Explaining a big gap in your employment on your resume

When explaining a big gap on your resume – be honest and succinct.

A big gap of several months to a year on your resume signals a red flag for companies that are considering hiring you.

People always have a good reason for taking a break from work. Often it’s a personal issue that’s difficult to discuss.

Million dollar question — how to remove the big question mark from a recruiter’s mind and explain the gap in a way that keeps you in the running for the job?

Short answer — explain the gap in one or two lines on your resume in the space where the gap occurs.

Common employment gaps that most employers understand

Generally, a gap of one or two months on a resume is not a big deal. For larger gaps, recruiters and employers are usually understanding of the following reasons:

  • It takes time to transition between jobs
  • Taking a vacation between jobs or contracts
  • Taking time off work to start a family (the most common reasons for a resume gap)
  • Adopting a child
  • A death in the family
  • Health reasons such as a serious illness or accident (either personal, or that of a spouse or child)
  • Caring for elderly family members

If none of the common explanations apply, then an absence of five months or longer is a red flag that you may be an unreliable employee. Whatever the reason for a gap on your resume, it’s best to offer a short explanation in the resume itself.

Stay positive, be brief

If you needed the break for a difficult personal reason, keep your explanation brief and professional.

If you’re nervous about how to explain the gap, remember that this is a great opportunity to build trust with your potential employer. The Tell Me About Yourself Checklist helps you get into a positive frame of mind so you’ll be ready for tough questions about your work history.

It really helps if you make sure that you are in a positive frame of mind. See: Mind hacks to calm your thoughts and feel more confident, even if you’re feeling nervous.

How to explain a really big gap on your resume

  • If you or someone in your family were critically ill, or you lost a loved one — Don’t into great detail about these reasons. A sentence on your resume about what happened is long enough. Generally, employers are very understanding of this type of gap.
  • If you were starting a family or adopting a child — A sentence on your resume explaining a pregnancy or adoption is enough explanation. Employers are understanding of this type of gap as well.
  • If you experienced a mental illness like depression — You’re not required to disclose a mental health issue (or any disability) unless it will interfere with your ability to carry out the functions of the job that you’re applying for. MentalHealthWorks.ca explains what to say during a job interview.
  • If you did volunteer work during your time off — Volunteer work is real work experience that will impress many employers. It is a great source to get professional references for your work and it might even lead to a full-time paid position. You might want to reach out and network with people familiar with the organization you volunteered with that would appreciate your experience and maybe know of related jobs.
  • If you worked a job that is unrelated to your actual field — You might have a gap on your resume because you left out a job you didn’t think was relevant to your field. Include it on your resume with a brief explanation.
  • Internships are real job experience — Maybe you took a job as an intern because it was the only job you could get at the time.  Being an intern is definitely resume worthy. So don’t leave it off your resume, even if it seems like unimportant work. An internship shows that you are willing to work hard even without pay.
  • Explain how you keep your skills fresh — point out positive things you did during the gap to improve your skills such as learning a programming language or online training courses you participated in.

Honesty is the best policy

Above all, be honest about you career experience and never lie about dates. Provide solid references that can speak to the work experience you do have, and let it be.

Warning: Never share overly personal information on your resume or in an interview. Always keep the focus on the positive aspects of your work history.

Are there any other ways to deal with a big gap on your resume that I haven’t touched upon? Please share your advice in the Post a Reply section below.

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