As you send out your resume and apply for jobs, hiring managers and recruiters take a look at a lot of key details.
In addition to the roles and responsibilities on your plate, they also see if you have any gaps in your career history. And if so, they want to know the explanations for this time away from work.
- What is an employment gap?
- Do employers care about employment gaps?
- 5 common unemployment gaps
- 7 best practices for explaining employment gaps
- Examples of how to explain employment gaps during an interview
- Free interview templates
What is an employment gap?
An employment gap is a period within your professional career when you’re not formally or officially employed. These gaps can be quick stints (like a month or two) or longer (ranging up to several years). Whether voluntary or involuntary, these gaps are often noted on a resume and cover letter and can sometimes raise questions during a job interview, so you should be prepared to explain these gaps.
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Do employers care about employment gaps?
Yes, employers do care about employment gaps. A gap in your resume, especially for several years, can be a red flag. But it’s important to remember that it’s not so much the employment gap that will raise eyebrows, it’s a lack of explanation.
To ease this worry, it’s best to explain why the gap occurred on the resume. If a simple line on your resume states “Gap Year” without details, a recruiter or hiring manager may overlook you. Remember to add two or three short sentences to get the recruiter up to speed on why the gap occurred, and be prepared to discuss the gap further during an interview.
5 common unemployment gaps
Unemployment gaps can happen for several reasons. Here are the five more common reasons for a gap.
The most common type of employment gap is an unemployment gap. This is any period longer than six months that you spend without a job. Whether you left a job willingly, were laid off, or were fired, note this gap and highlight any skills you may have picked up during this time. You may have attended a conference where you networked with professionals in your field or gained a new certificate. Whatever the case may be, mention it here.
Another common reason for a gap in employment is family reasons. This type is usually understandable to a hiring manager, but it should still be explained in a few sentences on a resume. Even though you were busy dealing with a family matter, it’s still best to highlight new skills learned during this break in your career.
Everyone needs a break from work to recharge their battery, and sometimes this break is in the form of traveling to the destination you’ve always wanted to experience. Travel employment gaps can be harder to explain to an employer than a family-related gap, for instance, but it’s still best to share some skills you picked up along the way. Maybe you gained an understanding of a new culture or learned a second language. Whatever the case may be, give details on your resume.
4Irrelevant job experience
Sometimes you do what you must to make ends meet and pay your bills. And sometimes that looks like taking a non-relevant job that wasn’t necessarily in the industry you’ve been in. Regardless, address this experience on your resume and briefly during the interview. And, no matter how “irrelevant” it may have been, share the skills you gained and the responsibilities that were on your plate during this job.
Another easy gap to explain to employers is if you went back to school for continued education and learning. Let the interviewer know more about how this additional schooling enhanced your skill set and how it will give you an edge over similar candidates they may also be interviewing for the role.
7 best practices for explaining employment gaps
When you’re being interviewed for a new job, it’s likely the hiring manager or recruiter has strategic interview questions to ask you that bring up the employment gap in your work history. Follow these seven best practices as you explain the gap in your employment.
- Be honest
- Demonstrate how you spent time preparing to return to work
- Omit the month on your resume for smaller gaps
- Rehearse what you’re going to say
- Have confidence
- Explain how the gap benefitted you
- Avoid talking negatively about a former employer
First, be honest about why the gap occurred and how long it lasted.
There are several legitimate reasons why a gap took place. So be honest if the reason was:
- You were caring for a young child or sick family member.
- You were treating your own physical or mental health issue.
- You were relocating to a new city.
- You were pursuing further education or professional training.
- You started a new business.
- You were laid off due to downsizing.
- You were actively looking for a new role and didn’t want to settle.
If you’re uncomfortable giving exact details, simply saying you took time off for “personal reasons” will suffice, as an employer isn’t legally allowed to pry for more information.
2Demonstrate how you spent time preparing to return to work
As you explain the gap in your career progression, explain how you spent time preparing yourself for your next role. You may have done freelance work, earned a relevant certificate, taken some additional education courses, or even done volunteer work. This will turn the gap on your resume into a positive and ensure the recruiter or interviewer knows you’re ready to make a return to work.
3Omit the month on your resume for smaller gaps
For smaller gaps in employment, you can format your resume to omit the month you had a gap. For example, disguise the gap by not including the month in the date for each of your jobs or titles. Instead, list the year you started each position.
This format will work if the gap you’re looking to omit is less than a year and you worked in each role for more than a year.
For example, instead of listing a role like:
- Marketing Manager at Company, January 2020—November 2021
List it as:
- Marketing Manager at Company, 2020–2021
That way, if there was a four-month gap, you can list your next role as:
- Marketing Manager at New Company, 2021—current
4Rehearse what you’re going to say
Practice makes perfect, so be sure to rehearse how you explain the gap to the interviewer. This makes your response sound more genuine and honest and will help you not to sound nervous as you answer.
As you rehearse your answer, be sure to pepper in some confidence. No matter the reason for the gap, don’t be ashamed of taking some time away from work. Confidently tell the interviewer why the gap happened, what you learned along the way, what skills you have now that you didn’t before, and that you’re excited to get back into the industry you love.
6Explain how the gap benefitted you
Even if the reason for the gap is you were laid off or let go, share how and why you benefited from the gap. Even if you answer that you were able to recharge your battery and work on your mental health, that’s still something to share with an interviewer that could make you a better candidate than someone else.
7Avoid talking negatively about a former employer
Finally, just like you would in any interview, avoid talking negatively about any former employer, especially if the reason for the gap is being laid off or let go. Leave employers from your past out of your reasoning to take a gap or for why a gap took place, and focus on the positives!
Examples of how to explain employment gaps during an interview
Need some examples for explaining a gap during an interview? Check out these three examples for some reasons that may be harder to explain.
- If you were laid off: “Unfortunately, my time in this role was shorter than I had hoped due to unforeseen changes within the company’s budget/hiring plan/economy. I’m grateful for my time there and the connections I made. I learned a lot as I carried out my responsibilities there and hope to learn something new in this role, too.”
- If you were fired: “The company and I had different expectations, and there were some unclear requirements for my role. Since then, I understand how important it is to fully understand the ins and outs of a role before starting. I learned a lot from my manager and team when I was there, and I’m hoping I can bring that experience into my next job.”
- If you took time off for personal reasons: “I took some time off from my career to focus on myself and my physical/mental health. Thanks to this time away, I was able to attend [conference name] while also getting certified in [skill]. This time off allowed me to prepare for changes that could be around the corner and I’m excited to return to the workforce.”
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Bridge the employment gap!
No matter the reason for an employment gap or how long it lasted, be upfront and honest about it. The only way a hiring manager at a role you’ve applied for will raise an eyebrow and potentially discard your application is if your resume and cover letter don’t at least share a few details for the why. Remember to be willing to share more information during interviews and lean into the positives and what you learned during the gap.