How to Explain the Employment Gap

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Feet near 'Mind the Gap' on subway.

Explaining an employment gap in your resume can be extremely challenging. It’s something that may raise flags to employers, so you will almost always be questioned about it. Whatever the reason for your absence from the workforce, a potential employer will typically want an explanation. While a gap in employment isn’t great to have on your resume, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker. It’s just important that you approach it correctly, and we’ll explain the best way below.

Keeping Busy

If you’ve just begun your gap in employment, in this paragraph we’ll provide some suggestions on how you can make that time still matter to an interviewer. If you’re now looking for employment after a gap, you may want to skip to the next section. We’ll begin by discussing what you can do during that absence to make the explanation easier down the road. Whether you’re taking care of a sick family member or if you’ve fallen victim to layoffs there are a few steps you can take to help no matter the situation. The best possible thing you can do during this employment gap is show that you are staying busy. This doesn’t mean you should say that you’ve been job searching the entire time. While it may be true, it’s not going to win you too many points with a hiring manager.

What you really want to do is show growth and dedication to work, even if you’re not employed. Any certifications, courses, conferences or anything of the sort show that you are interested in getting back into the work force. It also shows that you’re staying active in the industry, which most companies like to see. At the very least, try to stay active on LinkedIn and social media by sharing (or writing) relevant articles. Also, if you are able to, picking up any part time or freelance work can help your case as well.

Mind the Gap

When the time comes to explain yourself, the best policy is honesty, and it begins with your resume. Don’t go out of your way to hide the employment gap. At the most, you could use years instead of months to describe positions worked. However, this is only appropriate if you have a lot of experience with multiple companies. Anything else may come across as deceptive to the employer, and you risk losing trust before you even interview. If you think the gap is extensive enough that it warrants an explanation before the interview, you may want to mention it in your cover letter.

When it comes to the interview, honesty is again the best policy. It’s reasonable to assume (and likely) that the gap will be brought up during the interview.  For this reason, it’s best to just assume you will have to address it. When it’s brought up, the best approach is to give a succinct answer about why it occurred, without going into too much depth. If you were caring for a sick mother, that should be enough of an answer. You may get prompted for more information, particularly if you were laid off or let go. In any situation like this, it’s important not to bad mouth your past employer. This will just make you look bad and hurt your chances even further.

Getting Back in the Workforce

Landing an interview while having a gap in your resume is half the battle. If you’ve made it this far, there is clearly something the company is interested in. At this point, you want to put them at ease about why that gap exists. A great way to accomplish this is mentioning any skills and/or knowledge you kept fresh during the gap, as we previously suggested. Also, make sure you are honest about the reason for the gap. While lying may get you to the next step in the process, it won’t get you the job. Companies do reference checks, and will find out if you’ve hidden something.

If you’re struggling to find something, and it’s been a while, you may have to make concessions. The longer the gap goes on for, the worse it looks on your resume. You should certainly begin by going after the jobs with compensation you’re looking for. As time goes on however, you may want to consider looking outside of your typical expectations to get back into the workforce. From there on you can build up to where you want to be. It’s important to remember every company is different, and may care more or less about the employment gap. Keep your head up, explain it accordingly, and you’ll be re-entering the workforce in no time!

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