You’ve found a listing for a great job. Not only does it meet your interests and the pay and benefits seem to fit your needs, but you’re confident that your education, training, and past experience make you the ideal candidate for the position. You’ve dusted off the old resume and you’ve updated it, but before you send it out, there’s something that you’re a little concerned about: gaps in your employment history.
Though you’ve held positions in the past that relate to the job you are applying for, and though you’re certain that your knowledge, experience, education, and any other credentials that you hold will make you stand out from the sea of other applicants, big gaps in employment could end up putting your resume to the bottom of the list. Why are employers concerned about employment gaps in prospective job candidates? How do you explain those gaps?
To find the answers to the questions mentioned above – and more – and to learn how you can increase your chances of making a good impression on prospective employers, keep on reading.
What is a Gap in Employment?
Before we address the questions listed above, first, it’s essential to understand what an employment gap actually is. A gap in employment, as the name suggests, refers to a prolonged period of time where you were not employed. Generally speaking, short-term periods of time without gainful employment aren’t a cause for concern and don’t need to be addressed. For example, if you lost a job or purposefully took a few months off between jobs, it usually wouldn’t be considered a gap in employment; rather, most employers would likely consider a few months without gainful employment a period of time when you were searching for work. With that said, however, a prolonged period of time – say nine months or longer – the majority of employers would likely deem that a full-fledged gap in employment.
Why Employers Might Be Concerned About Employment Gaps
It’s kind of obvious why employers might be concerned when job applicants have gaps in employment on their resumes. Lack of gainful employment for an extended amount of time is like a red flag to employers; a red flag, if you will. Why? Because the reasons for your lack of employment for such a long period of time could be a cause for concern. For example, it could indicate that a prospective employee fell into trouble with their previous employer and as such, they were unable to secure work due to those issues, or perhaps the applicant was incarcerated, or had other serious issues that could possibly impact their reliability and ability to adequately fill the role that the employer seeks to fill.
In other words, when an applicant has gaps in employment on their resume, employers’ minds may start to wonder – and not in a favorable way. In fact, if the gap is excessively long, some employers may be so concerned that even if the applicant’s credentials check off all of the employer’s requirements, the employer may end up completely disregarding the resume – and the person that it showcases. That is, if the job seeker is unable to explain his or her employment gap.
Why It’s Important to Explain Employment Gaps
If there is any extended period of time when you were not gainfully employed, it’s understandable that you may be concerned about the impact that gap will have on your resume – and on how employers will view you. Whether you took time off to care for a loved one, to start a family and raise your children, to travel, or simply because you needed some downtime to decompress and recharge mentally, physically, and emotionally, explaining a gap in employment can be stressful.
When a prospective employer questions that gap, you might feel your palms start to sweat and your words start to stutter; after all, you don’t know how he or she is going to react, if they will find your reasons acceptable, or if they’ll it a serious cause for concern and eliminate your candidacy. Explaining a gap in your resume doesn’t have to be stressful, however; as long as you approach the topic properly, you can successfully turn something that might be considered a con into a productive conversation that could actually end up making you an even more desirable candidate.
It’s important to understand that many employers understand that employment history isn’t fluid; that is, the average employee probably isn’t going to hold the same job for multiple years in a row, or go from one job right to the next. With that said, however, extended periods of unemployment could certainly raise a red flag and is something that a prospective employer is going to question – even if they don’t come right out and question it. While employment gaps can be a cause for concern if they aren’t properly addressed, if you do take the time to explain the reasoning for the periods between employment and the experience you gained during that time, it could actually end up doing more good than harm.
Common Reasons for Employment Gaps
While there are a variety of reasons why job seekers may have spans of time between employment, typically, the following are the most common causes for long-term periods of unemployment:
- Unemployment. If you spent six months or more without gainful employment, you would technically be considered unemployed.
- Travel. Many people take time off for extended periods of time to travel. That might be difficult to explain, as some employers may view an extended period of travel as nothing more than a long-term vacation; however, if you took time off to travel, you can definitely use it to your advantage.
- School. A lot of people take time off from work so that they can go back to school. For example, maybe you decided that you wanted to change your career path, and in order to do so, you needed to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
- Taking care of family. Usually, employers will understand this type of gap in employment; perhaps you took off to have babies and raise your children, or maybe an elderly parent fell ill and you had to care for them, for example.
- Irrelevant job. Another reason why many job seekers have gaps in employment on their resumes is because they took irrelevant jobs in order to make ends meet. In other words, they were employed, but the job wasn’t directly related to their training, past experience, and the job position that they are currently applying for.
How to Explain Employment Gaps on Your Resume
Addressing gaps in employment on your resume rather than ignoring them is certainly your best bet. If you conceal the reasons behind those gaps or just brush them off and act like they didn’t happen, there’s a chance that you could end up making a bad impression on your hopeful employer. Get ahead of the elephant on your resume by being prepared to address it – and knowing how to address it.
Here are some tips that you can use to successfully explain gaps in your employment history.
- Be upfront and honest. Though it might be tempting and while undoubtedly, you’d rather not bring it up, it would definitely behoove you to be upfront and honest about any gaps in employment on your resume. Don’t be afraid to draw attention to the period of time that you were unemployed and to discuss the reasons why. Employers will view your willingness to address something that is often considered kind of taboo without prompting and your honesty as something positive. If you were unemployed for a prolonged period of time because your previous employee let you go, explain the reasons why. If you took time off to travel, let the employer know the reasons why you decided to travel and where you went on your journeys. If you left a previous job voluntarily, don’t be shy – mention why! For instance, it’s totally acceptable to tell your hopeful future employer that you left a position because you don’t jive well with a past employer (and explain the reasons why you didn’t mix well).
- Discuss any skills, education, training, or experiences you gained. No matter the reason for your employment gap, share the positives that you gained during that period of time, and how those gains could be applied to – and would be beneficial for – the position that you are currently applying for. For instance, if you took time off to travel, discuss where you went, what you learned about different cultures, and any skills that you picked up. If you willingly left a job or you let go, talk about any training programs or classes you took during the period of time when you were out of work. If you took time off from work to raise a family or care for an ill, disabled, or aged loved one, discuss what type of skills you acquired during that period of time. Whatever the reason, be sure to discuss how whatever knowledge, experience, and new skills you gained could be applied to – and useful for – the job you’re interviewing for.
- Keep things positive and light. The causes for employment gaps aren’t always lighthearted; in fact, sometimes, the reasons can be pretty depressing. Even if you were downtrodden during that period of time (you were let go or a loved one fell ill or passed away, for example), avoid depressing stories while you’re explaining the reasoning behind the employment gap. Of course, any good employer will be sympathetic to your struggles and hardships, you most definitely shouldn’t try to play the sympathy card; furthermore, focusing on any issues you were contending with during that period of time could end up turning off a hopeful employer. Even if the reasoning behind your employment gap was sad, try to do the best you can to spin it in a positive light.
- Encourage questions. It’s a pretty safe bet that an employer that you sent a resume that features a gap in employment to will have questions. They’re undoubtedly wondering why you were off of work for so long, what happened during that period of time, and whether or not you lost your skills or the skills you once possessed have become antiquated, for example. Encourage the employer or hiring manager that you’re interviewing with to ask questions about the gaps in your employment history. Come right out and say something like, “I know there is a sizable period of time where I was not employed, and I’m sure you have questions about the gap in my employment. I welcome any questions that you may have about my employment gap, and I will be more than happy to answer those questions to the best of my ability.” By taking this approach, the employer or hiring manager that you are interviewing with will most certainly view you in a positive light. They’ll appreciate your openness, your honesty, and your willingness to discuss and explain things that many employees find uncomfortable and off-putting.
Where to Explain Employment Gaps on a Resume
Not only should you know how to explain gaps in your employment during the interview process, but you should also know how to explain them during the first phase of the application process: on your resume.
A resume features dates that illustrate the years you worked with past employers, and if there’s any gap in time, the hiring manager is certainly going to recognize that. Take the opportunity to address those gaps in your cover letter. Make the explanation brief, but concise. Doing so will demonstrate to recruiter and hiring managers that you are open, honest, and trustworthy; all things that can help to make you stand ahead of the other candidates that have sent in their resumes, as well.
Trying to explain gaps in your employment history can seem like a daunting, worrisome task; however, by simply being open and honest, and by coming right out and addressing those periods of time when you weren’t gainfully employed – and how you can use the knowledge and skills you acquired during that period of time – you can actually end up impressing prospective employers and standing ahead of the competition.