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How to explain a resume gap

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

They're common but how do you address the years-long gap in your employment record without being counted out as a candidate?

Resume gaps are quite common and people have them for a variety of reasons: parental leave, caring for a family member or loved one, completing a degree, being let go and struggling to find employment, economic crisis and so many more. The gaps may be just a short period of time, or be much longer like months or years which are more likely to need some explanation during your next interview.

If you approach the explanation of your resume gap with honesty, transparency and ethicality, you can shape a narrative that tells your career story rather than waving a giant red flag to your potential future employer.

1. Don't lie on your resume

Your resume, because of the lacking job experience for a time, may cause recruiters and hiring managers slight worry. Rather than being flustered by their inevitable questions, take the time to direct their attention toward the narrative you've shaped to help them understand the situation better.

If you have several gaps in your resume, focus on the most recent and sizable as that is what's most pertinent to your interviewers. It's advisable to provide an explanation for any gap that's longer than a few months.

Don't fabricate work experience to fill in the gaps. Similarly, don't try and mislead them by including only the years you worked for a company rather than the month and year. Remember, almost every employer runs a background check on candidates that will unveil the truth about your employment history, so stay ahead of the ball and control the narrative as much as you can.

Always be sure to update your LinkedIn profile to match what you have on your resume. If you have the time, optimize your profile to make the most of the real estate you have on your profile.

2. Prepare your explanation

I always advise clients to practice before every interview, and this is an even more important step if you have a gap that you'll be addressing. Remember that your resume caught their eye and they want to get to know you more. Whether the interview will be taking place virtually or in-person you need to prepare what you're going to say to effectively communicate your story and reinforce your qualifications and skills that set you apart as the best candidate for the job.

So you know you need to prepare, but what do you say? There's no formula for the perfect explanation, but do your best to speak with confidence, clearly explain the reason the gap and affirm that what happened is in the past. Always bring the conversation back to your experience, skills and enthusiasm for the company and position you're applying for.

Formulating your spiel in this way portrays you as the professional, articulate, stable and dedicated potential employee that you are and avoids being overshadowed by a nebulous hole in your employment gap.

Remember, that you should not disparage a former employer during a job interview, no matter the circumstances during the end of your tenure at that company. Keep things professional, positive and forward-focused.

3. Highlight how you spent your time

When possible, let your interviewers know how you spent your time while you weren't working. Employers just want to be assured that you still have the pertinent skills for the job you're applying to.

Share any volunteer experience, classes or degrees you completed or the consulting or freelance work you completed while also seeking full-time employment. All of these things demonstrate a strong work ethic and reflect a value add. They also fill the gap, which is a great thing!

4. Don't botch your cover letter

You might think that your cover letter is the perfect place to explain the gap. This might be appropriate in some very rare situations, by 99.9% of the time, your cover letter isn't the place to get into the nitty-gritty details of your work hiatus. This might come off as defensive and immediately focuses even more attention to the gap itself rather than your qualifications and skills.

Rather, provide a concise, well articulated and more conversational alternative: "Following my tenure with X, I spent five months with my mother during her chemotherapy treatment and recovery. I was thrilled to return to work and began my position as X with Y company where I..."

Explaining a resume gap, although it seems like a daunting task, shouldn't scare you. If you approach your interviews with enthusiasm, positivity, thoughtfulness and integrity, smart interviewers will recognize talent when they see it. Do your best to make it impossible to not recognize your skills, personality, dedication and experience that makes you an incredibly competitive and hirable candidate.

Everyone has a story shaped by both their professional and personal experiences so remember that your resume gap doesn't have to be a hindrance to your career goals. Take a deep breath and believe that you can do this!

If you're in need of resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile optimization please reach out. I'd love to help you reach your employment goals!


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