How To Explain Employment Gaps On Your Resume

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Table Of Contents

Employment gaps aren’t necessarily the resume killers they used to be. During the pandemic, millions of workers–primarily, mothers of young children–found themselves forced out of the workforce due to school closures and a lack of childcare options. Other workers dropped out of the workforce due to temporary layoffs, business failure, or illness.

Taking time away from work has become so widespread that LinkedIn introduced a Career Break feature offering 13 ways to explain employment gaps, including caregiving, career transition, and health. However, total acceptance of resume breaks is still some ways off–in a recent blog post, LinkedIn’s VP of Global Talent Acquisition Jennifer Shappley notes that 1 in 5 hiring managers still say that they reject candidates who have taken extended time off from work.

So, if you have an employment gap on your resume, you’ll need to present it carefully. With some planning, you can help hiring managers see the whole of your career path, not just a few zigs and zags.

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What Are Employment Gaps On Resumes?

Employment gaps on resumes are significant breaks in employment. These gaps may last months or years. Typically, people have employment gaps because they took time off to care for children or family members, go back to school, or travel for extended periods.

Workers may also experience involuntary employment gaps during economic downturns. During the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, the number of long-term unemployed more than quadrupled. A historic number of people were out of work for 27 weeks or more.

How To Address Employment Gaps On Your Resume

First things first: always tell the truth on your resume, cover letters, and job applications. Lying on resumes is common–but so is getting caught. A ResumeLab survey showed that 93% of people know someone who lied on a resume. About a third of the folks who lied on their CV got caught, leading to a revoked job offer, loss of work, or a reprimand.

With those odds, it’s best to be honest about employment gaps on your resume. Here’s what you can do instead of stretching the truth:

Omit Dates 

If you’re out of work for a few months, you can easily manage the gap by leaving off the full dates of your employment. For example, let’s say that you got laid off in January 2021, but didn’t land another job until August of that year. Your employment dates would look like this:

  • Manager, ABC Corp (2021-present)

  • Assistant Manager, XYZ Company (2019-2021)

Just be aware that you may be asked to share your full work history at some point during interviews. Have a plan for how you’ll talk about resume gaps even if it doesn’t come up until later in the interview process.

Choose A Different Resume Format

The traditional resume format is chronological, focusing on your work history and educational background. Typically, you list your most recent work first, followed by each previous job. This is a fine format to use if you’re trying to highlight a lot of relevant work, but it’s less than helpful if you need to downplay an employment gap.

But the chronological resume format isn’t the only game in town. You can also choose a functional resume format, which focuses on your skills and qualifications, or a combination resume, which includes both skills and work history.

Join The Break Community

Use A Resume Profile or Summary Statement 

In the olden days, most resumes started with an objective, e.g., “To obtain an entry-level RN position at a Magnet-status hospital system where I can continue to develop my nursing practice and critical care skills.” Now, you’re more likely to find a resume profile or summary statement at the top of a resume.

What’s the difference between an objective and a summary statement? Profiles and summaries tend to be longer–say, two to three sentences instead of a single line–more comprehensive, and contain more keywords from the job listing.

Using a summary statement helps you avoid getting caught in a filter by the applicant tracking system. It also highlights your experience and skills in a way that hooks hiring managers’ attention and makes them want to learn more.

Include An Explanation

Depending on the company culture at the employer you’re targeting, you might consider being upfront about your employment gap. This can be a risky gambit–but it also allows you to share what you’ve learned during your time away. For example, if you’ve volunteered, completed a certification, or taken classes during your career break, you can highlight that in your resume.

Even if you’ve been entirely dedicated to the reason for your break, consider what you’ve learned during that time. Don’t sell yourself short–your life experience is also valuable.

Here’s an example:

Primary Caregiver, Home (June 2020-September 2024)

Cared for firstborn child 24/7 from birth through entrance into preschool. Managed feeding, facilitated growth, and taught empathy, social skills, and toilet training. Developed top-notch time management, multitasking, and project management skills.

You can also use your cover letter to explain employment gaps if you choose.

If you need help with your resume, it may be beneficial to work with an expert. You can check out our guide to the best resume writing services. These resume writing services are affordable and the experts can assist you with any employment gaps.

How To Explain Employment Gaps On Your Resume In An Interview

Once you’ve figured out how to present employment gaps on your resume, talking about them during a job interview will be much easier. Just remember to:

Keep It Brief

You don’t need to provide much detail about your time off. Prepare a simple, true explanation, e.g., “I took time off to complete my degree, and after writing my thesis and doing an internship, I’m ready for a full-time job in my field.” Then move on to the next part of the interview.

Demonstrate Growth

If you learned new skills, gained experience that’s useful in your job, or developed talents that you didn’t possess previously, be sure to mention these during your job interview. It’s also important to make sure that the hiring manager understands that you’re ready to work. For example, if you took time off to care for a sick family member, you might mention that they’re on the mend, thankfully, and that you’re excited to get back to work.

Focus On The Positive 

Regardless of why you were out of work, try to showcase the benefits of your time away. Even if you didn’t build your work-related skillset, you may have learned other soft skills like communication, multitasking, time management, etc.

Reasons For Employment Gaps 

Common reasons for employment gaps include:

  • Caregiving responsibilities, such as taking care of minor children, aging parents and grandparents, and other family members
  • Parental leave related to the birth or adoption of a child
  • Illness, including chronic conditions and short-term disability
  • Education, including finishing a degree, completing a certification, or participating in a coding bootcamp
  • Job termination or layoff

The Bottom Line

As employment gaps become more common, it will be easier to explain them to hiring managers. Be confident, transparent, and positive, and you’ll be on your way to landing your next role and closing the gap.

Ready to start looking for your dream job? Job seekers can search for and apply to jobs for free on ZipRecruiter.