How to Address Having a Gap in Your Resume

Updated Dec 21, 20225 min
How to Address Having a Gap in Your Resume

How to Address Having a Gap in Your Resume

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20225 min
How to Address Having a Gap in Your Resume

So, you took a year off and spent it abroad, or you took some time out to care for a family member. Now you’re wondering how to explain an employment gap in your career to a hiring manager. If you were on a year-long Netflix binge, you might have a problem. Otherwise, what you have learned from your non-career experience may be just what your next employer is looking for.

This article will explain how to use a gap in your resume to your advantage. The trick is to not treat it as a gap at all but as a period of emotional, intellectual, and professional growth. Here’s how to present your experience in a resume, cover letter, on your LinkedIn profile, and what to say in an interview.

The Realities of Today’s Workforce

The COVID pandemic is with us for the third year, and the ripple effects on the workforce are clear. Many people have been forced to take time out from their full-time jobs or leave employers in search of better pay, flexibility, or both.

According to Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey conducted in March 2021, twenty-six percent of workers plan to leave their employers after the pandemic. Eighty percent are doing so because they’re concerned about their career advancement, but 72 percent are taking time out to seek new training and skills during the pandemic to prepare for a new job in the coming months.

Employers are much less concerned about job hopping or time-outs from professional career tracks because so many are doing it. Hiring managers are more interested in hiring hard-to-find skill sets. So, don’t feel that you need to hide gaps in your work history. Emphasize them, and show how what you have done makes you more valuable to the employer. Here’s how to do that on your resume.

What to Write On Your Resume and Cover Letter

Some candidates may choose to use a functional resume to hide gaps. A functional resume emphasizes your skills rather than your work history, and candidates often omit dates of employment in the experience section. Use a functional resume if your industry is more concerned with skills—programming is a good example—but there is no need to use a functional resume just to avoid explaining a gap in your career.

For more on resume formats, read “Which Resume Format or Outline Should You Choose?” 

Although employers are used to seeing gaps in candidates’ employment histories, they will want to know what they were doing during that time. Here are some scenarios and how to explain gaps in employment on your resume and in your cover letter.

1. You Were Laid Off

Many workers have experienced layoffs because of COVID and the economic climate. However, if underperformance was a factor, don't mention it. Instead, cite your key achievements on your resume with that employer. In your cover letter, explain that you were made redundant but highlight anything you have done since that has allowed you to grow.

For example, you grew your professional network while job seeking took courses to improve your skills while unemployed, or engaged in volunteer work. Here’s an example of what to say and how to add these skills to your resume.  

Career Hiatus (April 2021 to present)

 ·         One-year career break to reskill after redundancy.

·         Completed freelance work for various clients

·         Completed Advanced Python Certification

Here’s an example of what to write in your cover letter.

“I was made redundant due to organizational realignments. In my role as sales manager, I beat my targets by 25% in my last year with the company. Since then, I have taken classes in digital media marketing.”

Related: “What to Say in an Interview if You Were Fired from a Previous Job

2. Personal or Family Reasons

If you took time out for family issues, explain this in your cover letter. There is no need to go into details, but you can say that you took care of a sick relative or helped a family member deal with a certain problem. Perhaps you also took a course to improve your skills, or you researched the industry and grew your professional network by reaching out to other professionals. Are there ways you can show that what you did during that time prepared you for the job market?

Here's an example of a resume entry.

 Career Hiatus (April 2021 to present)

·        One-year career break to focus on family.

·         Completed freelance work for former employer and various clients

·         Completed Advanced Python Certification

Here's what you can say in the cover letter.

“Cared for my father who was ill. Found care arrangements to allow me to return to work. Enrolled in Python coding courses.”

3. Traveling

If you took a gap year after college. Explain what you did and how you benefited from it professionally. Perhaps you gained valuable work experience and took courses. If you traveled abroad, you were exposed to different cultures and new languages. You may have taken a sabbatical and been exposed to groundbreaking technologies or new ways of working. Add this information to your resume and talk about it in your cover letter if it is relevant to the job title you are applying for. 

Here’s an example of a resume entry.

Career Hiatus (April 2021 to present) 

·         One-year career break to travel.

·         Became proficient in Spanish

·         Recorded my experiences in online podcasts.

 Here’s what you can say in your cover letter.

"After my last promotion, I had the opportunity to take a career sabbatical to travel to Europe. I learned Spanish and posted podcasts of what I learned.”

4. Entrepreneurial Venture

This is the easiest resume gap to explain on your resume and in your cover letter. Attempting to launch your own business takes bravery, hard work, and commitment. Most businesses fail, so the fact that you even took a shot at it should impress a potential employer. Showcase your management, organizational, and leadership skills on your resume.

Most importantly, convince the hiring manager that your entrepreneurial days are over, and you are now ready to commit to your next job. Here’s what you can put in your cover letter.

“After experiencing redundancy, I started my own career as a coder. It went well, but I would like to join a large firm like yours and be exposed to more complex solutions than I would manage independently.”

You get the gist. Whatever the circumstances of your time out of the corporate environment, show on your job application how your experience contributed to your professional development and is relevant to your current job search and new role.

Here's a possible resume entry.

Career Hiatus (April 2021 to present) 

 ·        One-year career break to launch an entrepreneurial venture.

·         Operated a startup and scaled it before successful sale.

·         Ready to be exposed to more complex products.

What to Put On Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn seems to understand that a career gap makes a person more valuable to an organization because they are exposed to diverse experiences. LinkedIn has created a tool where members can explain or share that they're on a career break and detail the reasons why on their profile. 

According to LinkedIn, they want to normalize and better reflect the idea of taking a career break, which has long held a stigma among recruiters. 

For more career advice on LinkedIn, read “LinkedIn Recommendations:  Examples and How to Write Them

What to Say in an Interview

How you answer job interview questions is much the same as your approach to your resume and cover letter. What you wrote got you this far, right?

Identify one or two key reasons why your experience makes you valuable to the hiring manager and the company. Describe those experiences and the reasons. If you can do that, the employer will either move on or want to hear more about what you did because it makes you interesting and unique.

In fact, your time out of the traditional work environment may well be what gets you in the door at your dream job if you can present it the right way. When you explain new competencies, show how they are directly related to your current career path and the job at hand. If a skill does not apply, don’t bother to mention it. Just one competency is enough.

By thinking about your time out of your career in this positive way, you will ooze confidence in your interview and be more interesting to your interviewees.  If your time out was not planned, or was not under ideal circumstances, it’s fine to admit that, but remember that there are positive outcomes to whatever it is that you did.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

Grow your career with a coach

Find my coach