If you’re anything like me, creating resumes and cover letters is stressful.
And it’s not just because a job search is always challenging. It’s because I want my resume to be perfect. I scrutinize every little bit to ensure it matches who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish. Almost like a novel, I want every little piece to add together to become a complete and satisfying whole.
But, like many people, my resume has a few gaps. It took me a while, but I eventually realized that gaps are perfectly fine—as long as you know how to address them. With a proper explanation, you can turn a gap in your employment history into an example of why the hiring manager should choose you.
Rising business and tech layoffs and job cuts are one of the lasting impacts of the pandemic (much like the recent Quiet Quitting trend). So, I thought it might be a good time to discuss the methods you can use to explain gaps in your resume during an interview.
How to explain employment gaps in your resume
When you have to explain employment gaps in your resume, I usually suggest two general guidelines:
- Be honest
- Be direct
How you choose to explain your gap is entirely up to you. No two gaps are exactly the same, and each comes with its own details and nuances. However, it’s these details that can help guide your response.
When explaining your gap in employment, you have several options. These can help you reduce the stress of explaining gaps in your resume—and even use them to your advantage! You can use all these methods or mix and match them in a way that suits you and your strengths.
Address it in your cover letter
If you’re worried about how your potential employers might react to the gap in your resume, prepare them for it! You can directly address the gaps in your cover letter and provide a brief (1-2 sentences) explanation about why it happened and how you used it to your advantage.
It’s essential not to over-explain. The goal here isn’t to provide the whole story; it’s to avoid catching the reader by surprise when they notice the gap in your resume. If they like your resume otherwise but would like to know more, they’ll ask for a more in-depth explanation at an interview.
Alternatively, create a “career gap” listing in the work history section of your resume. This allows you to display how you showed initiative during your gap. You should only consider this if you used the gap to improve your skills, take relevant classes, or work on related projects. Again, don’t over-explain: our only goal is the interview.
Build a strong resume
With a strong enough resume, a gap in full-time employment might not concern the hiring manager (especially those with the traits needed to retain employees). This could depend on the length of the gap, how recent it was, or both. For instance, if you’re returning to work after a long gap, the reader might like to see that addressed directly in the resume.
Regardless of your gap, you should always build the strongest resume possible. Don’t worry about humility: put your relevant skills, education, experience, and personal strengths on display.
If possible, you might consider hiring an advisor or consultant. They often have experience hiring employees and understand what managers are looking for from a resume.
Avoid "fudging the numbers"
It might seem like a good idea to avoid the problem altogether by eliminating the gap from your resume. For instance, you might want to remove the months from the dates of employment or change the dates to cover the gap.
However, I believe honesty is the best policy. If the hiring manager catches you in a lie or becomes suspicious of vague employment dates, you could lose your chance at an interview.
That said, there are functional resume formats that prioritize skills and abilities over experience, so consider looking for templates to see if that’s a viable alternative for you.
Either way, the manager might notice the gap and want an explanation. If they like your resume, they’ll invite you to an interview and ask you about it then.
Prepare your response
Here’s the biggest silver lining about your gap in employment: you know the question is coming. This allows you to prepare your answers ahead of time.
Preparation is essential for easing your nerves and reducing the anxiety of addressing the gap. It helps you stay one step ahead of the interviewer and relax during the interview. This can help you stay in control and avoid stuttering, misspeaking, being vague, or giving an incomplete answer. It also displays your ability to prepare and tackle obstacles head-on.
Tell the (relevant) truth
Again, you don’t want the interviewer to catch you in a lie. It’s best to be truthful when explaining why you have a gap in your resume. Tell them why it happened, what you did to resolve it (applying/interviewing, etc.), and how you spent that time.
But keep it relevant! Even if you hated your previous job, speak about it respectfully and in a way that relates to why this new position is a better fit for you.
As you prepare your response, consider how the time spent away from work relates to your potential job. For instance, did you take any online courses or learn new skills applicable to the position? Did you volunteer anywhere? If the job relates to your hobby, did you complete any projects that kept your skills sharp?
For instance, if you spent time modding open-source software to create your own app, that could be relevant to a job at a tech company.
Explain how you've prepared to work again
But what if you’re applying for a job at the end of a large gap? How do you explain why you haven’t worked for so long?
Believe it or not, this is more common than your probably think. Layoffs affected many industries during the pandemic, making it hard for millions of people to find employment. While things are better now, several industries (especially the tech sector) are still experiencing mass layoffs.
This means the people reading your resume are seeing a lot of employment gaps—and they understand why they’re happening.
So, when addressing the gap, focus on how you’ve prepared to return to work. If you didn’t actively seek employment, explain how you enjoyed your job, were loyal to your employer, and looked forward to returning to them. Much like telling the relevant truth, speak to what you did to stay sharp, skilled, and educated in your industry. Doing so shows initiative and ambition, which are valuable to any hiring manager.