How to Gracefully Explain That Resume Gap
When potential employers see an employment gap on your resume, you should expect to hear the dreaded, “Walk me through your resume.” Instead of being nervous, however, you should see this as an opportunity to showcase some of your strengths while explaining a seemingly negative situation. Read on for some tips on how to do just that.
On your resume
Ditch the usual format. The traditional resume, in which you basically create a timeline of your previous and current job history, is slowly going the way of the dinosaurs anyway. So, take advantage of that by ditching the old school format and trying something new. Forbes recommends a “hybrid” approach, in which the top of your resume consists of a summary of your qualifications and a bullet point list of “key competencies.” The bottom half can then be dedicated to the normal chronological method of job listings. This draws the resume reader’s attention toward what you have been doing, as opposed to highlighting a period of unemployment.
Get in front of it. Instead of nervously waiting for a potential employer to ask you about your employment gap, provide an explanation in your cover letter. This allows you to give context to the gap, as well as a chance to put your own (positive) spin on the situation. Remember to stick to the facts and keep it concise (no one likes a wordy cover letter). Additionally, don’t be surprised if you are forced to give this same explanation during the interview process, since sometimes recruiters only skim cover letters.
Add it as a job unto itself. Just as you mention it in your cover letter, so you should acknowledge your employment gap in your resume itself. Flex Jobs suggests adding “Career Break,” “Planned Career Break,” or “Professionally Active Career Break” (depending on the circumstances) right there in your workplace history, along with the dates it occurred. This, combined with your cover letter, serves as a cohesive explanation for your employment gap and demonstrates to hiring managers you don’t shy away from talking about it.
During your interview
Prepare to explain yourself. Even if you’ve already included an explanation in your cover letter, there is no guarantee your interviewer has read it. So, be prepared with a clear and concise (are you seeing a theme here?) verbal explanation of your employment gap when you sit down to talk face-to-face (or over Zoom). If the gap was due to personal reasons (illness in your family, completing your education, etc.), let the interviewer know whatever it was that prevented you from working full time is now concluded, and you are prepared for everything your new job would entail. If your employment gap was due to layoffs at your previous company, briefly discuss its downsizing process while highlighting any strengths or goals you achieved during your time there.
Keep the education going. While gaps in employment aren’t ideal, they’re certainly understandable—especially in this day and age. What can give you a major leg up on the competition, however, is demonstrating a continuous desire and effort to learn while you were out of a job. Flex Jobs points out activities like volunteering on a board or taking online classes can show you’re “staying current.” Basically, anything you do that’s even remotely work-related and can be considered “keeping your skills fresh” should be something you bring up during your interview. Whether this includes building your professional network via job fairs, getting certified in a specific field, or temporarily freelancing—embrace what you’ve learned from the experience and include it as part of your interview (and even on your resume!) to show your initiative and professional drive.
Ideally, all potential employers would be empathetic to certain resume gaps (especially considering the tumultuous couple of years we’ve all been through). But even if they’re not, you can use these tips to approach those gaps gracefully and confidently.