Employment gaps are a natural part of life. Many people have gaps in their employment, especially within the past few years of unexpected events. It is not uncommon for people to take time off for various circumstances, such as attending school, caring for family members, illnesses or simply being laid off.
Searching for a new job is nerve-racking enough. If you have been out of work for an extended period of time, this can be a difficult topic for you to discuss on your resume and in interviews. It is normal to feel nervous about discussing employment gaps, but there are ways to handle this situation that will help you feel more confident and prepared.
What Defines a Gap in Employment?
Employment gaps are periods during your professional life when you did not have formal employment. A gap in employment can range from several months (generally speaking, anything less than 3 months is not considered a gap) to several years.
If you have long-term employment gaps on your resume it can be a cause for concern if you do not explain the reason carefully. Essentially, the reason for the gap is not often the focal point; what matters is how you present it in your resume and interviews.
Resume Tips for Gaps in Employment
One of the most important things you should do while searching for a new job — especially when you have employment gaps — is to make sure your resume is written in a way that showcases your current skills and experiences while not hiding the fact that there have been gaps.
Tips on How to Handle Gaps in Employment on Your Resume
- Consider a different resume format that is not chronological, such as a functional or combination resume. These formats are more flexible and allow you to emphasize what is most important for the job you are applying for, rather than where you have been and when.
- Showcase skills, accomplishments, and certifications gained during the gap period, even if they are not related to the job description. This shows that you have been proactive, even if you have not been formally employed. This can also be the place to mention if you went back to school.
- List volunteering, odd jobs, and projects that happened during this time. This shows your initiative to want to work or help out on your own.
- Consider listing longer gaps in employment as its own job. If you have a gap of over a year, it will probably stand out in your resume regardless. Always be clear about these longer gaps. It might be useful to briefly explain what you were doing as if it were a job itself. For example, if you were taking care of an elderly parent and spent a few years helping with long-term care, then you could mention something like this:
Full-time elderly caretaker, Location, 20XX – 20XX. Took time to help an elderly parent with long-term care needs.
Although all these things will help your resume look more appealing in the initial job search, you will likely be asked to talk through the gaps in your resume in an interview.
Do not fear! Learning how to talk about your resume and explain employment gaps will help you feel confident about interviewing.
Interview Tips for Gaps in Employment
Interviewing for a job after not being employed for a substantial period of time can be daunting. The most important thing to remember is that proper preparation prevents poor performance. In other words, being prepared and practicing for an interview is crucial.
Tips on How to Discuss Gaps in Employment During an Interview
- Be prepared to talk about it. If you know you are going to be asked about gaps, practice your answers. If possible, practice with someone who has had a similar experience so that you can get feedback on how well your responses work.
- Be honest about it. Do not lie or make up an excuse that could potentially be discovered as false and hurt your credibility with the interviewer. If you were fired or laid off, do not make up a story about why. Simply explain what happened and how you have been working on improving yourself and finding a new job.
- Avoid being negative. In addition to being honest, your attitude about your gap will be as important as the reason for the gap. For example, blaming a past manager for being fired will reflect poorly on you, not that manager.
- Share what you are comfortable explaining, especially if it was due to family issues and illnesses. You do not have to explain in explicit detail why a certain gap in employment might have occurred, but make sure the interviewer has an understanding of what happened before moving on to other topics.
- Once all your gaps have been explained, focus on what you have been doing since. Highlight the transferrable skills you have learned or the unconventional accomplishments you have achieved (ex: childcare/caregiver).
How you explain your gaps in employment is usually more important than the reason for your time away from work. It is also important to remain transparent and positive during the interview process. If you are feeling uncertain about the next steps in your job search, our team is here to help.