How to Explain a Resume Gap over COVID to Potential Employers
Amid the many stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic—the loss of loved ones, missed family occasions, and the pains of virtual schooling—is long-term change in the job market. Positions in some industries, such as hospitality and events, disappeared overnight. This means the employment market is filled with job seekers who have a COVID-related gap to explain on their resume. Such a gap can be handled strategically—and even to your advantage.
Remember: You are not alone
To calm your nerves about your COVID resume gap, consider these figures from the Pew Center: Overall, there were 2 million fewer people ages 25 and older in the workforce during the third quarter of 2021 compared with the same quarter in 2019, with the number of working women in that population decreased by 1.3 percent and men by 1.1 percent. Employees with less education have left the workforce in higher percentages.
In other words: You won't be the only applicant with a resume gap to explain.
Don't just mind the gap; own it
The best approach for your resume gap is to own it. Be honest about it upfront. List it on your resume as a "COVID-19 gap." The reasons for such gaps vary: Perhaps you were laid off. Maybe you needed to take time off when your children's schools were closed for remote learning or to care of an immunocompromised family member. Whatever the reason, embrace it, and be prepared to explain it succinctly and professionally.
- If you experienced a COVID-related industry layoff, a potential employer should be understanding (and unsurprised), and when contacted during a background check, your previous employer will confirm your account. On your resume, you can list "Laid off due to COVID-19" in parentheses after the end date of your position, and then use your cover letter to briefly explain the circumstances.
- Taking time off due to a childcare or virtual schooling issue can also be easily explained. Working from home while the kids were learning from home was not easy, and it may have been best for your family or even financially necessary for you to step away from your career temporarily. Now that schools are back to in-person learning, you are ready to get back into the workforce.
- A resume gap to care for an immunocompromised family member is also understandable, but unfortunately, it may be more delicate to explain. Temporary avenues for protected leave that were potentially available under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act have long since expired, and right or wrong, hiring managers and HR directors have spent the past two years navigating tough situations with employees in all sorts of situations. This includes employees reticent to return to in-person work due to concerns about a family member's health. If you left your previous position for those reasons but are ready to return to the workforce, be prepared to briefly and succinctly explain why your situation has changed. You want to emphasize that you are ready to prioritize the new job once hired.
Focus on the positive
Once you've explained the reason, change the narrative by focusing on how you used your time to build your skills during your "gap." After all, you didn't spend your entire COVID-19 career hiatus watching Tiger King and making sourdough bread.
- Did you pick up any new skills or volunteer positions while in quarantine? For instance, as you oversaw your children's remote schooling, did you become proficient in using learning management systems and video conferencing tools such as Zoom?
- Did you gain knowledge of another language using Duolingo?
- Did you take on any freelance or volunteer assignments that allowed you to expand your skills?
- Did you use the opportunity to pursue a new certification or additional professional development?
Diving back into the workforce after a COVID-19 gap can be nerve-wracking, but it's far from a unique situation. Perhaps the pandemic will even eliminate the stigma associated with resume gaps.