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How to Explain and List Employment Gaps on Your Resume

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Many job seekers have an employment gap on their resume due to family care duties, unemployment or attending school full time. Hiring managers will most likely ask candidates about any employment gaps. To succeed in the job search, you can list any gaps appropriately on your resume and be prepared to answer questions about them throughout the interview process to make a great impression.

What is an employment gap on your resume?

An employment gap is a period of months or years when you were not employed at a job. Employment gaps are common, and you might have them in your resume due to raising children, getting laid off, pursuing educational or other opportunities, or caring for an elderly parent or sick spouse.

Employers will ask for an explanation if you have an employment gap, so you can prepare in advance to discuss it in a positive way. With the right preparation, an employment gap should not pose a barrier in your job search.

How to explain and list employment gaps on your resume

You can use these steps to explain your employment gap:

1. Be prepared to talk about it

Employers often ask about resume gaps, so be prepared to address it directly. Your cover letter can explain them briefly, but you will want to take time before an interview to practice discussing the topic clearly and concisely. You could practice in front of a mirror or role-play with a friend.

Example: ‘I took about a year off last year to care for a parent during an illness. Now my parents are under full-time care, and I am ready and eager to get back to full-time work.’

2. List jobs by month or year

While you should specifically address larger gaps of several months or years in your cover letter, you can make adjustments to your resume to minimize the appearance of employment gaps. Short gaps will become less apparent if you list jobs by month or eliminate months altogether on your resume. 

Use the career summary section at the top of your resume to highlight your career goals and your top qualifications. This draws attention to your positive qualities and downplays your employment.

Example: On your resume, you could state: ‘Sales Assistant at Company Alpha, 2009-2012; Executive Sales Assistant at Company Beta, 2013-present’ if you were not working for a period from 2012 through 2013.

3. Be honest

While you do not need to dwell on the details, it is important to be honest. Do not misrepresent the reasons you are looking for a job. 

Example: If you left the workforce for family reasons, you could say, ‘I spent some time as the primary caretaker for my children. I was glad to have that time with my kids while they were young, but I always knew I wanted to return to work and I am ready to do so now.’

It is especially important to be honest if you were laid off or fired, although your answer will be different for these two cases.

Example: If you were laid off, you might say, ‘My last company underwent a restructuring and my position was eliminated. Although it was a tough time, I left with the confidence that I had developed important skills that I am excited to bring to my next opportunity.’ 

Example: If you were fired, you could say something like, ‘My former company and I had different expectations, but in reflecting on the experience, I have realized there are a few things I should have done differently. I am excited to bring that maturity to my next job.’

4. Fill the gap

Highlight specifics of how you spent time while you were unemployed that prepared you for re-entry. For example, volunteering or doing part-time freelance work could maintain and develop related skills. You can also discuss courses you took, any research you did to stay current, how you kept in touch with your industry contacts or any other way you advanced your professional skills.

5. Keep it brief and positive

It is common to take time off for a variety of reasons. You do not need to talk about personal reasons in detail. If your interviewer asks you about an employment gap, keep your answer brief, clear and concise, and end your answer with something positive. Once you have addressed the gap, highlight skills you have gained during that gap and ways that you can apply your skills and experiences to a new opportunity.

If you took time off for family or personal reasons, your tone should be positive. Remember that there is nothing wrong with taking time away from the workforce. This will help you to keep your attitude positive and forward-looking.

Employment gap example interview answer

If you have an employment gap, your interviewer will most likely ask you about it. You can use this example answer to prepare:

‘I had to resign from my previous position to care for my children. I had always intended to go back to work once they were in school, and I am ready to do so now. I am searching for an opportunity to advance my career further and apply some of the skills I gained while I was out of the workforce, including courses I took at night in some software applications. I applied those skills as a volunteer doing data entry work for a local non-profit.’

If you are prepared to answer questions about employment gaps in your resume in a clear and concise way, they should not pose a major challenge to your job search. Use these tips to prepare your resume and interview answers in advance.