5 Tips to Explain an Employment Gap in Your Job Search

interviewees sitting in row waiting
Whether you’re a parent who took time off to stay home with your kids or a contract employee who spent time off between assignments, managing a gap in your employment history can improve your chances of landing your next position. First and foremost, be prepared with a strategy that addresses the nuances of your situation. To help you determine your best approach, we’ve assembled these helpful hints.

1. Plan ahead when possible

If you know that you will be leaving the workforce for a set period of time, take steps to ensure that your resume reflects career growth during the hiatus. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, career coach Lynda Spiegel recommends that employees on extended maternity leave identify strategies “to stay in the game while staying at home.” Doing so “is critical in planning your eventual comeback,” says Spiegel.

Consider taking some online courses in your field, pick up freelance and volunteer jobs that you can reference on your resume. Stay active on LinkedIn by publishing career-related posts so colleagues and future employers see you are keeping up with your industry.

2. Be up front when necessary

If you’ve been out of the workforce for more than a year, it’s best to account for your time off. You can explain your employment gap directly in a cover letter, on your resume and during interviews. Be creative about illustrating how whatever you did during your time off translates into valuable employment skills.

For instance, if you volunteered overseas, you undoubtedly developed skills that you can implement in your next job. It’s equally important not to underestimate more common experiences, such as the skills required to manage a household and parent young children. Emphasize what you learned about time management, prioritization, conflict resolution, budgeting and communication during your time working in the home.

3. Don’t overshare

If you’ve been out of work for several months to a year, don’t worry about calling attention to the employment gap, says Neil Kokemuller, journalist for the Houston Chronicle.

“A common technique is to use years to show periods of work experience rather than months. If you were unemployed from May 2012 through August 2013, you can avoid making the gap obvious by listing one work experience as running from 2008 to 2012, and the next from 2013 to present,” suggests Kokemuller.

Hiring managers are known to scan resumes quickly before deciding whether they’re interested in a candidate, so there’s no reason to draw unwanted attention before the review process has even begun. Though you may need to account for employment gaps further along in the interview process, it makes sense to not eliminate yourself before you have the opportunity to explain any gaps. With any luck, by the time your employer talks to references or has you provide exact dates of service, you’ll already have impressed them enough to overlook any significant gaps in employment.

4. Frame employment gaps positively

Avoid dwelling on any personal or professional problems that may have led to gaps in your work history and above all, do not blame your previous employer for losing or leaving a job. Instead, be clear and succinct, positive and non-defensive in your explanation. For example, writes Kokemuller, your cover letter might read like this: "I left my career in advertising to go back to school and pursue a passion for journalism. You'll note on my resume, I finished a bachelor's program in just two years."

5. Rework your resume

Instead of making your resume a list of jobs and dates, use it to highlight your skills. This is also a good way of promoting yourself during job interviews, says Molly McCluskey of U.S. News Career.

If you’ve spent time volunteering, create a section on your resume that’s all about your volunteer work. If possible, provide specifics about the organization for which you volunteered, your role in the organization and the outcome of your efforts. If you organized a fundraiser to raise money for cancer research, discuss how you organized the event, how many people attended the fundraiser and how much money was raised. Experiences like this will prove beneficial for just about any career you wish to pursue.

Need more tips for a successful job search? Read more career tips.

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