Bridge the Gap: How to Handle Employment Gaps on Your Resume
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- Employment gaps are becoming more common and accepted.
- Learning how to explain gaps in employment is an important step in positively moving forward.
- Use your resume and cover letter to explain your career gap as positively as possible.
With almost six million people unemployed in the U.S. as of April 2022, many of us continue to face the reality of employment gaps as we work toward our next opportunity.
However, job openings are also at a record high — there are almost twice the amount of available jobs (11.5 million!) as there are unemployed Americans.
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With so many opportunities out there, you might be simultaneously optimistic and worried about how to explain the stigma of a gap on your resume.
The good news: employment gaps are becoming more common. In fact, LinkedIn reports that 62% of workers experience an employment gap. Because of that, employers are being forced to shift their perspectives on career gaps.
Along with understanding that a gap in your resume is becoming the norm, there are also steps you can take to be prepared to discuss your work history as you continue your job search.
What Are Employment Gaps?
Employment gaps are a period of time (months or years) when a job seeker is unemployed. The reasons for a job gap vary widely — layoffs, burnout, health reasons — all of which can be very specific and personal.
Explaining an employment gap can be a source of anxiety when actively applying for jobs, but there are many ways to positively move forward.
Strategically refreshing your resume, cover letter, and professional profiles is a great place to start. LinkedIn even launched a new tool to explain career gaps — or, as they refer to them, “career breaks” on your profile. Another positive sign that a shift is occurring.
Here are five strategies to help you learn how to support an employment gap on your resume.
#1: Reframe the Narrative
The first step in addressing your employment gap is owning it. Your resume tells the story of your experience and accomplishments, so be sure to think of it that way.
Consider what you've done in the time since you've been unemployed. Perhaps you volunteered, worked on personal development (learning new skills, reading, and pursuing hobbies all count), or took time to care for yourself or your loved ones.
How you used this time reflects important skills for any role: resilience, tenacity, and flexibility, to name a few.
Take time to reflect on what you've achieved or learned during this time. Develop a new way to notate it on your resume in a way you can confidently articulate.
#2: Use Strategic Resume Formatting
Writing a resume is overwhelming for most. Before you begin, brush up on widely accepted resume formats, strategies, and best practices.
Depending on your circumstances, selecting the right resume format is key in presenting your information. There are three common types:
- Chronological: The most common format, which lists your experience in chronological order, beginning with your most recent. Tip: You can omit months and use only years to call less attention to gaps.
- Functional: This formatting is used to highlight skills over experience. This is ideal for those with multiple gaps or those looking to change careers.
- Combination: This is a detailed way to deep dive into skills and your most relevant experience.
To help you choose, do a quick search for sample resumes with similar experiences to yours with employment gaps. You can even look at example resumes for new roles you may be targeting.
#3: Provide Context
If you've been laid off or furloughed, noting that next to your employment dates is a great way to be direct without stigma. “Recruiters are information gatherers, so in any scenario, candidates should be open and honest with hiring teams,” according to Brianne Thomas, head of recruiting at Jobvite.
If you're a new addition to the Great Resignation, frame the gap as an opportunity for learning and growth. Provide space to list certifications, activities, and personal development. Some of these — such as unpaid employment, freelance, or professional development — can be listed similarly to other work experience.
#4: Hire a Resume Writer
Money may be tight while unemployed, but hiring a professional resume writer can help you navigate the uncertainty.
Asking colleagues, friends, or family for personal references of people who have reviewed or written their resume is a great place to start. Many online services provide free resume reviews.
A great resume writer can help you tell your story and will draw from industry experience, updated knowledge of the current job market, and resume trends that you can benefit from. As with any investment, it's important to do your research to find the right fit.
#5: Be Confident
Remember, some of the most successful people in the world were fired. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985, only to become one of the most notable CEOs in history 12 years later.
Take time to refresh your mindset. Embracing failure and taking on a growth mentality enables you to move forward. Approach your resume, cover letter, and interviews as an opportunity to celebrate your wins, own your losses, and take on new challenges and opportunities.
While taking steps to close your employment gap, focus on the positive. Create a list of what you've learned, what skills you've developed, and what you're looking forward to in your next chapter. Highlighting these things in your cover letter and interviews will show potential employers what an asset you are, no matter your past.
Being unemployed is a stressful time. Fearing an employment gap and other stigmas associated with your work history is common. Take comfort in knowing you're not alone. The job market is shifting dramatically and quickly to adapt to our evolving workforce. Be empowered as you move forward and take steps to bridge the gap for yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions About Employment Gaps
How do you explain a gap in an interview?
Transparency is key in explaining a gap in an interview. Directly address the cause of the gap as voluntary or involuntary. Provide positive and detailed explanations for the decision and how you moved forward. Never talk negatively of a former employer or boss in an interview, no matter the circumstances.
Should I put my gap year on my resume?
Typically, a gap year is when you pursue personal or professional development. Including an insight into what you accomplished during this time can benefit you. Think of relevant skills or experiences you picked up and include them in the explanation.
You can list a gap year in your work experience within your resume or add a section after your professional experience to highlight the professional development you completed during this time.
Should I explain my employment gap in a cover letter?
A cover letter is a great way to explain your employment gap. Providing context into your personal and professional experience and where you're at in your career path is a strategic way to get ahead of any questions potential employers may have.
Directly address your current goals and provide context into how you will use your skills and experience to benefit the employer. Your cover letter should entice companies to want to learn more about you.