In 2022, most people will have employment gaps.
Below, we’ll define what an employment gap is. We’ll also discuss how to explain employment gaps in your resume, in your cover letter, or at your interview.
Learn more about employment gaps on your resume.
What Is an Employment Gap?
An employment gap or career gap is defined as “time away from work to develop interests, rectify personal issues, build new skills, or change lifestyle… it means you left the typical workplace environment to develop yourself in other ways.”
Why Do Employment Gaps Matter?
Traditionally, career gaps were “red flags” to employers. They might worry that the applicant was fired from a previous job, is lazy, has trouble getting along with others, or is not really serious about working.
The truth is, though, that today most employers realize employment gaps are a part of life. Layoffs, lockdowns, and closures during the COVID-19 pandemic forced career gaps on many employees. Other common reasons for gaps include parental leave, caretaking for family members, personal medical complications, going back to school, volunteer work, or a “gap year” for personal development or enjoyment.
When explained in an honest and professional manner, career gaps don’t have to hurt your chances. In fact, they can be “a chance to show other strengths and core competencies.”
How to Explain Employment Gaps
Leverage simple statements on your resume, in your cover letter, or at your interview.
1. On Your Resume
There are two easy ways to make career gaps disappear from your resume while still being totally honest. Short gaps of 2 years or less can be minimized by omitting the months from your employment dates; use only years instead.
For example, imagine you were laid off in April 2020 due to pandemic closures. It took you until December of 2020 to find another job. If you list only years, that 8-month gap disappears.
Next, you can strive to fill current gaps with knowledge or skill acquisition. Pick up freelance or gig work. Take a class—volunteer with an organization relevant to your career goals. Though a gap may still be apparent in your Work Experience section, a comparison to your Education or Volunteerism sections proves you were not idle.
2. In Your Cover Letter
You may wish to address longer career gaps in your cover letter. This can help prevent discrimination based on the gaps from occurring early in the hiring process.
Different types of gaps should be addressed in different ways. Generally, a very brief statement will suffice. For example:
- Pandemic. “During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I devoted time to…[learning or enhancing a skill].”
- Parental leave. “I am excited to return to the workforce after taking parental leave. I feel that I bring with me enhanced patience and observational skills.”
- Caretaking. “I am excited to return to the workforce after devoting efforts to a temporary family situation.”
- Personal illness. “After taking the time to recover from illness/injury, I am fully prepared and eager to return to the demands of a vibrant office.”
Notice that in each of the above situations, extensive personal details were not given. For example, in the case of an illness, injury, or caretaker arrangement, the type of illness, treatments, etc. are not mentioned. Simply acknowledging the absence and citing that the issue is resolved (and will therefore not affect future work performance) is enough.
3. At an Interview
Hiring managers often dig deeper at job interviews. They want to get to know the applicant, their circumstances, and their abilities.
Always be honest. This is especially important if you were terminated from a previous job. Remain calm, and don’t criticize your former employer or workmates. If you made a mistake or failed to perform, acknowledge this, but then focus on how the experience helped you grow as an employee or made you more aware of the need for certain qualities.
Rewire notes that you should give “only the detail you feel comfortable with.” Rehearse your explanation ahead of time. This will help you remain calm, especially when explaining matters dealing with personal trauma or the death of a loved one.
When possible, put a positive spin on your gap activities. One editor notes, “They may have provided advice and consultation to others; they may have read critical pieces of job-related literature; they may have enhanced skills through volunteer activities. All of these things are important to highlight the positive, rather than the negative, aspects of time off.”
- Employment gaps won’t doom your career. Employers realize that gaps happen, but they may want explanations.
- Fill gaps with positive activities like knowledge acquisition or volunteerism.
- Be honest and brief in explaining your gaps. You don’t have to share personal information, but assure your employer that the reason for the gap won’t affect future performance.