How do you explain the series of employment gaps in your resume when hunting for a new job that you so much desire? What exactly do employers want to see to say that you have a good resume? And what does a perfect resume template look like?
Job hunting is a grind. It’s so time-consuming and stressful that people who are withering away in jobs won’t look for new ones because it’s too much of a hassle. The reward of having a new job doesn’t seem to be enough motivation for those who count the minutes until quitting time because getting their resume ready, contacting references, and applying for opportunities just seems like too much work. Plus, you’d have to explain why you took two years off from working all over again and that’s just painful.
Whether you are a woman whose company just went belly up or you are a stay-at-home dad looking to get back into the workforce, having to rally your wits to prepare your resume for a new job hunt can be daunting, especially if you have gaps in your work history.
If you are about to embark on a job search, use this guide to help you explain all forms of employment gaps in your resume and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Why Does Explaining the Employment Gap in Your Resume Matter?
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Who cares if you have a gap in your work history and does it even matter? These days, employers are starting to understand that work sabbaticals and time away from career building are not unusual.
In some cases, you might not even be asked about a few months away from work. For every employer who is modern and forward-focused, there are three more who are stuck in olden times who think that you need to climb the corporate ladder slowly and steadily and with unrelenting passion. Try to avoid those kinds of companies.
If you aren’t exploring gaps in your work history for a potential interview, at least do it for yourself. Reflective exercises can be profoundly inspiring and can help you make sense of your previous experiences so you can make the most of what’s coming next for you.
How to Explain a Short or Lengthy Employment Gap in Your Resume
Reflect on Your Experiences
Even a 3-month gap in your work history can stir questions from the human resources department or manager interviewing you for a position. With so much focus on how irresponsible Millennials are these days (not true, by the way), employers are weary of hiring people who seem “flighty” and “unorganized.”
There was a time when job-hopping was seen as unreliable, but there are ways to turn those experiences into meaningful growth opportunities for yourself.
Take some time as you prepare your resume to consider why you had a gap in the first place. If you have multiple gaps of more than a few months, consider why that might be. Do the work of getting to know your own work habits and if you quit those jobs, ask yourself what you learned by quitting and consider what you might have learned or done differently if you had stayed.
If nothing else, a gap in your work history is an excellent opportunity for reflection and change-making. When you reflect, you give yourself plenty of things to say to a potential employer about why you left a particular job.
If you got a small business loan and tried to start a business, be honest about what you took away from that process. Make the response about what you learned during your downtime and not about why you left in the first place. You get to control your response.
Make Meaning of Your Time Away from Work
There are several questions you can ask yourself about your time away from career building. Even if you are relatively inexperienced, you can still participate in this exercise. Consider who you are when you aren’t at work and why being you is important in the world.
Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
There’s more to life than work, although every employer on the planet would have you believe otherwise. You don’t have to make things up to impress employers. Instead, consider how you interpret your younger self’s decisions.
We often feel ashamed about the ways we acted when we were younger as if we are still those people. We forgot that every day changes us, and we present to the world in new ways.
If that really is the case, then you can take an objective look at the person you were when you made the choice to quit and make meaning out of that experience. Talk about what you learned, how you would change things in the future if a similar situation occurred, and how you have taken responsibility for yourself since walking out on that job.
If you are returning to work after time at home with children or caring for a sick parent, or nursing yourself back to health after a bout of illness, you can talk about how you see yourself as a person now and what you learned in dealing with the struggles associated with being home, sick, or a caregiver.
Employers want to get to know you and if you share other areas of your life that impact your career, they’ll see a whole person.
Focus on Other Projects You Worked on
Even if you have been widely unemployed for years, there’s absolutely no doubt that you worked on other things. Rather than focus on the fact that you had no paid employment for a while, talk to potential employers about other ways you worked on improving yourself.
Continuous improvement is a new way of living in the world and employers want to know you are investing in yourself in positive ways. When asked about gaps in your work history, explain why you were unemployed in the first place, but then focus on all you did with your time.
Did you read books? Write? Travel? Support friends or family? Invest in a course or masterclass? Research new opportunities? Volunteer in the community? Do home improvements? Move? Exercise? There are a million ways to fill up the hours in the day.
If you didn’t do anything but hiding in bed under the covers, find a way to talk about how you were taking care of your mental health. Don’t be afraid to say that you were taking care of yourself in the best way you knew how and now you are ready to return to work and continue to build your career.
The truth is that we put so much emphasis on our careers to be the way we identify in the world that it’s hard for some to wrap their head around breaks in employment. If we don’t have jobs, society makes us feel like we are not contributing, and we are not worthy. That’s a lie.
Lots of amazing people don’t work. They are independently wealthy, have come into money, or choose not to rely on the traditional means of supporting themselves – and they are perfectly wonderful people.
In a world where ambition is touted as a virtue and lack of employment must mean something is wrong with you, we find ourselves struggling to make time to find ourselves in this world. All work and no play do not equate to a good life. So, if you took time off to play with your kids, grow a garden, or travel the world, be honest with your interviewer.
No job is worth lying for, even if you really need this job. Ensuring you start your new working relationship off on the right foot is the most important thing. You should not be embarrassed about the reasons why you have been away from the working world – many people in the career world wish they could take the time you have taken for yourself.
The reasons why you were unemployed are not as important as what you did with your time and what you learned. Finding a way to present that case to a potential employer is the best way to explain those gaps in your resume, but you shouldn’t have to bend over backward to focus on something that wasn’t: focus on something that was.
Despite how long you have been out of the workforce, you still had time in the workforce. Be honest about what you have done and how those experiences make you capable for what’s coming next.
What to Do If Employers Don’t Buy Your Explanation of Employment Gaps in Your Resume
The trouble with having an employment gap in your resume, or several for that matter, is that employers will make a great deal of assumptions about you, without you in the room to defend yourself.
Whenever you send a resume, be sure to send a cover letter – yes, people still send cover letters. It’s often your one and only chance to make some kind of impression beyond your resume and some employers still won’t read a resume without an accompanying cover letter. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you even get started; be sure to include a cover letter.
Within your cover letter, take a short paragraph to explain the gaps in your resume. You might say, “Over the past three years, I have been working to provide a meaningful foundation for my children at home.” Or you might say, “After losing my job six months ago, I decided to take some time for myself and travel with my spouse.”
One line introducing the gap should suffice. Then, go on to explain why now is the time to return to the workforce.
“While caring for my children, I developed a lot of organizational skills and become exceptional at time management. I recognize that in addition to my education and previous experience, time management and organizational skills are two things any good company needs, and I want to contribute to the effectiveness of your organization.”
And what if employers aren’t picking up what you’re putting down? Keep looking. You don’t want to have to conform yourself to fit with a company – you can find a company that will welcome you with open arms and embraces what you have to offer.