Gaps in your resume can cause you lots of stress.
You know that employers generally don’t like them, but you don’t know whether you should include yours, or how you should explain it.
But don’t worry if you have a gap (or two or three) it’s not the end of the world.
In this guide, I will break down everything you need to know about employment gaps, including which ones you should include in your resume, and how to describe them in a way that will keep recruiters happy and ensure you still get lots of interviews.
What is an employment gap in your resume?
An employment gap in your resume is any substantial period of time that you have been out of work, after you have left full time education.
It could be anything from a month off whilst looking for a job, or 6 months out to care for a sick relative, to a year off spent travelling the world.
Why don’t employers like seeing gaps in your resume?
Employers do not like to see gaps in your resume because they do not know what you were doing during that time period, and that makes the task of assessing your suitability more difficult them. It can also sometimes cause recruiters to wonder if you are trying to hide something from them, especially if there are lots of gaps.
However, gaps in employment on their own are not necessarily a bad thing.
It’s really unexplained gaps that will cause you problems in your resume.
If you’re able to explain gaps in your employment within your resume effectively, they should not have a negative impact on your job applications. In some cases, a well described employment gap in your resume can even become a major selling point for you.
When should I explain gaps in my resume?
If you have a gap in your employment, it only needs to be included if you feel it would make a difference to your applications.
This can be difficult to judge sometimes, but you have to put yourself in the employer’s shoes and ask yourself, “If I was reviewing this resume, would I need to know what the candidate was doing during that time?”
Ultimately the two variables are;
- How long the gap is – The longer the gap, the more likely it is that you should explain it.
- How recent the gap is – The more recent the gap is, the more likely it is that you should explain it.
For example, if you took a month off work 5 years ago, a recruiter is unlikely to care about that – nor would they question the gap (they probably wouldn’t even notice it)
However, if you’ve had 6 months off in the past year, recruiters will definitely want to know what you’ve been up to.
Should I explain a current resume gap?
If you are currently not working (whilst you are job searching) then you would probably not need to explain the gap, unless it’s been for a long period of time (e.g., over 4 months).
For example, if you’ve just left school and have been looking for a job for a few months, there’s no need to explain that – it’s a common situation and it should be obvious to recruiters. But if you’ve been out of work for a year, caring for a relative and are now re-entering the job market, that would need to be explained.
Quick tip: If you are currently unemployed, looking for work, and worrying that your current employment gap is getting too long; Try doing some study, freelancing, or volunteering if you can. This gives you something to write about in your resume if you do decide to add the gap.
Should I explain a recent resume gap?
In most cases a recent resume gap should be explained because recruiters will always scrutinize your recent work history (the last 3 years in particular). So, if there is a gap of 3 months or more in your recent career, they will question it – and it’s best to pre-empt that question in your resume.
Should I explain old resume gaps?
If you have gaps in your employment from 5 or 10 years ago, you wouldn’t normally need to include them in your resume, because recruiters generally will not be interested in anything that happened such a long time ago.
Should I explain a one-month or less resume gap?
You should not need to explain an employment gap of one month or less – such a short time would not bother recruiters or employers.
Should I explain a 3 month resume gap?
The 3 month mark is where you should start to consider explaining an employment gap in your resume, especially if it has happened within the last 1 or 2 years – as a recruiter would probably spot and question it, if you left it unexplained.
Should I explain a 6 month resume gap?
A 6 month resume gap should almost definitely be explained in your resume. 6 months is a significant amount of time and potential employers will definitely want to know what you have been doing during that period, if it fell within the last 5 years. However, if the gap happened many years ago, you would not need to explain it, as recruiters are only interested in your recent career history.
Types of resume gap and how to explain them
There are many justifiable reasons why you might need to take some time off work.
Let’s take a look at each one and how you can explain each one on your resume in a positive way which keeps recruiters interested in you.
Whether it be physical or mental illness, time out of work for poor health is not something you have any control over – and it’s nothing you should feel guilty or ashamed about.
If you have had any significant time out for illness, you just need to include a brief sentence stating just that – you don’t have to go into any detail about what the illness was if you don’t want to, and it’s probably best to keep it brief to save space on your resume.
If you are currently returning to work from illness, it may be beneficial to say that you are now recovered and fit for work.
Travel / Gap year
Time spent out travelling can actually be very attractive to employers.
If described in the right way on your resume, a travel experience can show recruiters that you’re organized, confident and hard-working.
Detail where you’ve been and highlight some of the constructive things you’ve done (including part-time jobs) to show some of the transferable workplace skills you’ve picked up.
If you’ve been unfortunate and not managed to land a job for a long period of time, it can be beneficial to show some of the constructive things you’ve been doing between searching for jobs. Maybe you’ve taken some courses, done some volunteering, or even tried your hand at freelancing – any of these things will show employers that you are committed and proactive.
Caring for family
If you’ve been caring for a family member or friend full-time, you’ve probably picked up a lot of skills and experience that employers will value – not to mention showing that you have some great personal qualities.
Keep this section brief, writing a sentence or two about the type of care you have been providing and the commitment you’ve made.
Any time out of work caused by Covid restrictions in the past year or so should not come as a surprise to employers. If you were laid off or your whole industry was shut down, simply write a short description of this.
If you’ve been made unemployed, it’ nothing to be ashamed off. If the time out has lasted for more than a few months, then it’s worth mentioning it and detailing any study, volunteering, freelancing, or anything constructive you’ve been doing.
Maternity / childcare
Time spent away from work to raise children is something that many of us will do in our lifetime, so it shouldn’t cause a big shock to employers. A sentence detailing that you’ve taken paternity/maternity leave should be enough to explain this. If you have taken maternity leave through an employer and returned to work for them afterwards, you don’t have to mention the time-out, because you never actually left the job.
Study leave can be a valuable asset on your resume if you’ve been studying for relevant qualifications – you just need to write a few short sentences on what you’ve been studying and where.
If you took a planned career break or sabbatical to do anything that’s not covered by the above examples (a year out to play music, paint or tend to you garden) then just be sure to explain what you’ve been doing and highlight some of the skills involved.
Addressing resume gaps in your cover letter
Another way to handle employment gaps and ensure they don’t have a negative effect on your job applications, is to mention them in your cover letter when you first contact recruiters.
For example, if you’ve been recently made redundant and have been out of work for a few months, you could explain the reasons why in your cover letter. You could also be creative and highlight the benefits of the situation, such as the fact this means you are immediately available.
Prepare to discuss resume gaps in interview
It’s very likely that hiring managers and recruiters will ask you questions about your employment gaps at interview stage, so make sure that prepare for this and are able to give a good explanation of what you have been doing in a positive way.