Employment gaps are periods you spend without a job. They can occur for various reasons, from sickness to voluntary leave. Unfortunately, they tend to raise red flags in the eyes of people who read your resume.
When a hiring manager sees an employment gap, it automatically creates an open loop in their mind:
People tend to imagine worst-case scenarios, so your number one priority is to close this loop for them.
How To Deal With An Employment Gap.
Position the employment gap on your resume in the most positive way and leave three images in the head of a recruiter:
- You had a good reason to stop working for some time, but it’s resolved.
- This gap did not jeopardise your professional skills.
- You are excited to go back to the workforce.
Before we find out how to accomplish this, let’s go through the reasons for employment gaps.
(Related: How To Showcase Education On Your Resume).
8 Common Reasons For Employment Gaps.
Gaps can occur for numerous reasons. Here are the most common ones and the ways to manage them.
1. Maternity / Paternity Leave.
This one is pretty simple to address – be straightforward. It’s pretty normal to want some time off to raise your children.
Be sure to note that you arranged childcare after you started working and that you still know how to do your job. The place for this is a cover letter, very brief, without details.
2. Laid Off Due To Downsizing.
To avoid recruiters asking themselves how you didn’t manage to prevent such an outcome (because some employees from your ex-company sure did), be sure to present your quantified achievements or any other indicators of your stellar performance.
Add a reference from your employer at the time, and it should be clear that you weren’t fired due to bad results.
(Related: Australia’s Best Outplacement Services).
Life happens. Illness happens.
In this case, it’s important to emphasise one of two things: you fully recovered, and there’s no detriment to your professional abilities, or if you have an ongoing health issue, explain how to minimise the influence it has on your skills and capabilities.
Leave this to the end of your cover letter.
4. You Were Fired.
In this case, explain all the steps you took to avoid it from happening again. Ever.
5. Disagreement With The Boss.
Do not mention this. Ever. Employer will be much closer to your previous employer’s perspective than yours. Please do not give them reasons to avoid speaking with you.
6. Prison Or Rehabilitation.
Not much you can do here except to explain how you ensured that it would not happen again. Be sure to list all education and/or work experience you gained in prison.
List the Government as an employer during that time.
7. Voluntary Time Off.
Valid reason for excluding yourself from the workforce, but it’s very often abused by people who can’t find a job. Be careful and prepare to answer questions about what you did during your sabbatical.
8. Sick Family Member.
Unfortunately, this is a common reason for the employment gap. Don’t involve emotions or sound like you’re apologising. You wanted and needed to do this. So, just briefly list it.
(Related: How To Write A Top-Notch Resume).
Prove That Your Professional Skills Didn’t Decline.
Watching Netflix and playing video games for several months (or even years) may sound like a pleasant leisure time.
However, employers would like to see something more inspiring you did to fill in your gap time and additionally sharpen your skills.
Here’s what activities you should list on a resume for the time of employment gap:
- Degrees, certificates, training, courses. Great way to show you actively worked on increasing your skills in a specific field.
- Consulting, freelance, volunteer work. This will fill in your resume employment gap in no time. Be sure to describe these activities the same way you describe your work experience.
- Publications. Blogs, articles, and videos you made during the employment gap perfectly illustrate your deep knowledge of the industry and the wish to stay involved in-between jobs.
- Your own business. If you did this during your employment gap, you don’t have an employment gap. Just explain it adequately.
- Conferences, professional gatherings, seminars. Engagement in these events shows your prospective employer your wish to remain in touch with the industry and further develop contacts and skills.
Which Resume Format To Use When The Resume Has Gaps?
There are three widely accepted resume formats, and now we’ll explain how they stand against employments gaps:
1. Chronological Resume.
In this format, you list your experiences in the order they happened. Obviously, this is not the best format to use when you have a massive hole in your experience because you won’t be able to mask it.
2. Functional Resume.
This format is focused on your skills and achievements, just briefly listing your positions and companies, even without dates of employment. It might seem that this is the perfect format to avoid mentioning the employment gap, but please keep in mind that recruiters also know this.
(Related: How To Deal With Australian Recruiters).
This is not the preferred format and is almost exclusively used when applicants try to conceal something.
Due to these reasons, a functional resume might cause more damage by its nature than a chronological resume with an employment gap.
3. Hybrid Resume.
Best of both worlds. Focus on skills and achievements followed by your chronologically listed experience.
This is the best format for applicants with employment gaps because it creates a strong positive impression before the gap becomes obvious, giving a candidate a chance to impress before talking about the “bad stuff.”
Best Resume Writing Practices for the Employment Gap.
There are tricks of the trade in professional resume writing that can help you conceal or explain the gap you have in the timeline of your professional experience:
- Don’t list months in dates of employment. This is especially effective when the gap occurs within one calendar year. Nobody will even know it’s there if you omit months.
- Don’t extend the real dates of employment to cover the gap. It’s a lie. I have only two words for you – a background check. That’s what companies do consistently when hiring.
- Don’t omit dates completely. The resume reader WILL know that you’re trying to hide something. It’s like you didn’t put your name on a resume. Dates must be there, too.
- Utilise the summary. Be sure to use the Summary section at the beginning of your resume. It will impress the reader much before the gap occurs in the equation. The first impression is very often what matters the most.
- Don’t present the situation as you’re still working at your previous employer if it’s not true. Same as point 2. It’s easily verifiable.
- Don’t mention the gap if it happened more than 10-15 years ago. You don’t need to go into details about your old employment. Brutal truth – nobody cares what you did 15 years ago. The world, skills, and experiences are changing much faster nowadays.
- Multiple jobs under the same heading. If you can describe a group of jobs with the same title, combine them into one job description and list the companies. If the gap occurred during this time, it would go unnoticed.
- Collect references and positive quotes from the job before the gap. This will help persuade your new employer that the gap wasn’t your fault.
- Don’t emphasise dates of employment with formatting. On the contrary, try to blend them into the rest of the text on a resume.
- Do not list the job you were fired from in your main list of professional experiences. List it in the section Other experience, without dates of employment.
- DO. NOT. LIE. Simple as that. Never lie on a resume.
- Apply at smaller companies. Smaller companies – smaller chances of a detailed background check. Consequentially, smaller chances of detecting that employment gap.
- Prepare an explanation of an employment gap for an interview. They will ask, and you have to answer. Come prepared.
Final Words About Employment Gaps On Resumes.
Preparation is the key to overcoming the employment gap.
When you find yourself in a situation without a job, you must start thinking and preparing for your next job and ways to get it. In that sense, don’t spend hours every day in front of the TV doing nothing.
Educate yourself, work part-time, freelance, and go to industry gatherings. Do everything you can to gather as many items as possible to put in your resume in the place of that scary employment gap.
Also, preparation is crucial when preparing your resume and interview. Be sure to apply those techniques in the case of an employment gap, and it may easily go unnoticed.