How To Explain Gaps in Employment on Resume

Leaving my job when I got pregnant with my first child was a challenging decision, filled with concerns about how this career break would appear on my resume. 

Back then, the idea of explaining an employment gap seemed daunting. But as I soon learned, the professional landscape has evolved. Nowadays, employers have grown more understanding about career breaks, recognizing that if used wisely, these periods can actually enhance a professional profile. Some are taking personal leaves to take care of their mental health, while others use the time to take career development courses

In fact, a recent study revealed that 70% of US workers have an employment gap on their resumes, a trend likely influenced by the pandemic. This statistic is a testament to how common and accepted employment gaps have become in our current work environment.

If you’re grappling with how to explain your own gap, don’t worry. I’m here to share some expert advice from industry experts to help you navigate this often misunderstood aspect of career journeys.

a mom with a child trying to apply for work using her laptop

Explaining Gaps in Employment on Resume

1. Be honest

It’s important to be truthful about your employment history. If there are gaps, acknowledge them, but be prepared to explain why they occurred.

Philana Kwan encourages job hunters to address it head-on.

“Firstly, it's important to address employment gaps head-on in your resume and cover letter. Rather than trying to hide or make excuses for the gaps, explain any career breaks honestly and highlight any relevant skills or experiences gained during those periods.”

Philana Kwan, Associate Growth Marketer, Driva Pty Ltd

Remember, taking a break from work is actually pretty normal. A survey of 23,000 workers shows that most people take time off at least once in their careers for various life events. So, there’s no need to worry – it’s a common part of many professional paths.

2. Use the right resume format

Consider using a functional or combination resume format instead of a chronological one. These formats focus more on skills and experiences rather than the timeline of your employment history.

Here is a sample of a functional resume format:

  • Resume summary: Brief overview of your professional background and expertise
  • Skills and abilities: List of relevant skills and abilities
  • Education: Degree and GPA (if impressive)
  • Work experience: List of experiences and accomplishments, organized by skill or function rather than chronologically
  • Certifications and training: List of relevant certifications and training programs
  • Volunteer work and community involvement: List of volunteer work and community involvement, highlighting relevant skills and experiences
  • References: List of professional references

If you need further help, take a look at this article where we provide expert tips on how to write a resume.

3. Briefly explain gaps in your cover letter

Your cover letter can be a good place to briefly mention and explain employment gaps. Keep it positive and focus on what you learned or how you grew during the time off.

Here’s why you shouldn’t worry about gaps nowadays from Billy Parker of Gift Delivery.

“In my experience, hiring managers are more interested in a candidate's potential and what they can bring to the table, rather than any gaps in their employment history. Therefore, it is important to showcase your skills, experiences, and achievements in a clear and concise manner on your resume. This will help to demonstrate your value as a potential employee and increase your chances of landing a job, despite any gaps in employment.”

Billy Parker, Managing Director, Gift Delivery

4. Highlight positive activities during the gap

If you were involved in any productive activities during your employment gap, such as volunteering, freelancing, studying, or developing a new skill, make sure to mention these.

Eran Mizrahi of Ingredientbrothers offers this valuable insight.

“In the event that you participated in any projects, even if it was on a voluntary basis, I would recommend that you talk about the achievements you made and the skills you acquired over that time period. Because of this, the focus is shifted away from the employment gap and toward your accomplishments.”

Eran Mizrahi, CEO, Ingredientbrothers

5. Know your story by heart

Be ready to talk about your employment gap in job interviews. Practice a short, positive explanation that focuses on what you learned or how you’ve improved since then. Don’t be surprised if you will be asked with follow up questions. 

Sergiy Solonenko of Algocentric has this to say.

“Prepare for Follow-up Questions: Be ready for additional questions from interviewers about your employment gap. Have concise, honest responses that refocus the conversation on your current skills and readiness for the job.”

Sergiy Solonenko, Marketing Agency Founder and Fractional CMO, Algocentric

Below are a few common questions about employment gaps. Make sure to practice before you interview. 

  • What was the main reason for your employment gap?
  • How can you describe this period positively and constructively?
  • What new skills did you acquire or improve during your gap?
  • Were there any courses, certifications, or training you completed?
  • Did you engage in any volunteer work or personal projects?
  • How did this break contribute to your personal development?
  • Did you gain any new perspectives that would be beneficial in your professional life?
  • How do the experiences or skills you gained during your gap make you a better candidate for this role?
  • Can you provide examples of how these new skills or experiences are relevant to the job you’re applying for?
  • Why do you feel now is the right time to return to work?
  • What excites you about rejoining the workforce, particularly in this role or industry?

Dawn Boyer of MonsterClean offers this fearless insight about employers and their thoughts about career break. 

“What an employer wants to know - were they productive during the job gap? And they also want to know that the job seeker wasn’t in jail or using that time non-productively.”

Dawn Boyer, Career Consultant, MonsterClean

6. Emphasize your professional development

If you took any courses, attended workshops, or engaged in any other form of professional development during your gap, highlight these to show that you were still focused on your career advancement.

Steve Elliot of Restoration1 offers this good advice.

“You should make use of the time that you were unemployed to highlight any personal or professional development that you had engaged in during that time. Among these options are the acquisition of new skills, participation in voluntary work, and the courses that are pertinent to the field. This is evidence that you made productive use of the time you had available.”

Steve Elliot, Business Owner, Restoration 1

7. Avoid negative language

Don’t speak negatively about former employers or experiences. Frame your gap in a positive light.

  • Speak respectfully about past employers: It’s crucial to maintain a professional tone when discussing previous employment. Avoid any negative remarks about former employers or colleagues. Instead, if you must mention past experiences, do so in a way that highlights what they taught you or how they contributed to your career path.
  • Use positive, constructive language: Choose your words carefully. Phrases like “I chose to take a break for professional development” or “I used the time to focus on an important personal goal” sound much more positive than “I had to leave my job” or “I couldn’t find work.”
  • Frame challenges as opportunities: If your employment gap was due to challenges (like health issues or a difficult job market), frame these as opportunities that led to personal or professional development. For example, “This period allowed me to refocus on my health, which is now better than ever and has given me a new perspective on work-life balance.”

Related Article: You may also check out this post on the common resume mistakes you should avoid. 

8. Be concise

While it’s important to acknowledge gaps, don’t dwell on them. Keep your explanations brief and focus more on your skills and experiences relevant to the job.

If your employment gaps are due to travel or starting your own business, you might want to use George Moulos’ tips. 

Here’s what you can highlight if you took a career break due to travel. 

“Some individuals choose to step off the beaten path and embark on extended journeys, and I've come to appreciate the profound impact of such experiences. A well-crafted resume doesn't just state the gap; it narrates the story. It's not merely a vacation; it's a deliberate quest for self-improvement. They highlight personal growth, enhanced cultural understanding, and a honed ability to adapt to diverse environments. It's not just time off, it's an investment in becoming a more well-rounded, open-minded, and resilient individual.”

George Moulos, Online Business Broker & Speaker, Ecommerce-Recruitment

On the other hand, here’s what you can share if you ventured into a business.

“Another compelling narrative often found in resumes within the e-commerce sector involves career breaks dedicated to entrepreneurial endeavors. I've witnessed individuals who took a leap of faith to launch their own e-commerce sites or agencies. Initially, these gaps might appear as pauses,but on closer inspection, they reveal a journey of dedication, innovation, and success. These entrepreneurs showcase their ventures as invaluable learning experiences. They detail the challenges faced, the strategic decisions made, and, most importantly, the tangible outcomes achieved.”

George Moulos, Ecommerce-Recruitment

9. Focus on your achievements

Make sure your resume highlights your achievements in previous roles. This can help draw attention away from the employment gaps.

Tierney Pretzer of Numeric shares this insight.

“From my experience, I recommend to folks of a career gap of any length— focus on tangible skills that you learned during the experience as a part of the story you tell during interviews and on your resume. For example, I discussed how the art of staying motivated in the pouring down rain day after a day hiking translated clearly to perservance in a start-up environment and how the act of adapting every day on trail, was one additional proof of my ability to adapt to whatever the role would throw my way.”

Tierney Pretzer, Growth Lead, Numeric

10. Mention personal reasons if applicable

If your employment gap was due to personal reasons like a family emergency, health issues, or traveling, it’s okay to mention this briefly. Many employers understand that life events sometimes require time off work. But you also have to find the right balance and know your boundaries as some reasons should be kept in private. 

David Bakke of DollarSanity has an interesting take on this.

“In my situation, there was a time that came up that involved an employment gap that I wanted to keep private. It was a family matter. If that happens to you, stick to your guns. If the employer presses you on it, you probably don't want to work for them anyway.”

David Bakke, Personal Finance Expert, DollarSanity
a woman at her university

Types of Gaps in Employment

Here are the common reasons for employment gaps and suggested statements to make an impactful resume. 

  • Parental leave: “Engaged in parental leave to prioritize family, now returning to the workforce with renewed focus and enthusiasm.”

Kenny of ODMYA shares a similar experience.  

“Between 2009 and 2013, I stepped away from the bustling world of the apparel industry to focus on my family, supporting my wife and raising our children. This hiatus from professional life was a conscious decision to prioritize what mattered most to me at the time. In those years at home, I honed skills that are invaluable in any sector: patience, multitasking, and crisis management. Returning to the workforce, I co-founded ODMYA with a friend, utilizing my industry experience and the interpersonal skills developed during my employment gap. This journey taught me that the fabric of personal experience is vital in weaving a resilient professional tapestry, something I conveyed to future employers and partners who recognized the diverse strengths built during my time away from the industry.”

Kenny Li, CEO and Founder, ODMYA
  • Health-related absences: “Took time off for health reasons, with a commitment to personal well-being, now fully ready to re-engage professionally.”
  • Caring for family member: “Provided essential care for a family member, honing valuable skills in time management, patience, and empathy.”
  • Layoff: “Navigated a layoff period by enhancing professional skills and staying abreast of industry trends, poised for new challenges.”
  • Education or training: “Pursued further education/training in [Subject/Area], acquiring new skills and qualifications to enhance my professional profile.”
  • Volunteering: “Dedicated time to volunteering, gaining significant experience in [Area/Skill], and contributing positively to the community.”
  • Travel: “Took the opportunity to travel, broadening my cultural understanding and developing adaptability and global perspectives.”
  • Freelancing/starting a business: “Embraced entrepreneurship/freelancing, honing skills in self-management, innovation, and industry expertise.”
  • Relocation: Relocated due to [Reason, e.g., family, spouse’s career], now settled and eager to contribute to the local workforce.”

Frequently Asked Questions 

How long of an employment gap is considered acceptable?

There’s no strict rule, but gaps of a few months to a year are generally understandable. The key is how you utilized the time and what you can show for it.

Is it better to explain employment gaps in a cover letter or wait for the interview?

It’s often a good idea to briefly address the gap in your cover letter in a positive light. This shows transparency and proactiveness.

Should I include part-time work, freelancing, or consulting in my employment history to fill gaps?

Yes, any form of professional engagement, even if it’s part-time or freelance work, should be included as it shows continuous professional activity.

How can I address an employment gap without revealing too much personal information?

Focus on the skills and experiences gained during the gap, rather than the personal reasons behind it. It’s okay to keep explanations brief and professional.

Can volunteer work be used to fill an employment gap?

Absolutely. Volunteer work demonstrates initiative and can provide valuable skills and experiences relevant to your career.

Key Takeaways

We’ve explored how to navigate employment gaps, understanding that they don’t have to be a hindrance but can be a period of growth and opportunity. Remember, the key lies in how you present these gaps – focusing on the skills and experiences gained, maintaining a positive outlook, and being prepared to address them confidently in your resume and interviews.

Now that you’re armed with expert insights, it’s time to put this knowledge into action. Reflect on your own career break and identify the valuable skills and experiences you’ve gained. Craft your story in a way that showcases your growth and readiness to jump back into the workforce with renewed vigor and perspective.

To further enhance your career prospects, subscribe to the Skill Success All Access Pass. Dive into our vast library of over 4000 courses, covering everything from job interviews, resume writing, and more. Stay ahead in your career journey by continuously learning and upskilling.

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