How To Explain Gaps In Your Employment (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar
Oct. 16, 2022
Articles In Guide

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Sometimes life happens, and that could mean being out of work for a period of time. It’s not the end of the world. It happens to more people than you think.

Seeing a job gap on a resume is not a shocker. Hiring managers or job staffing agencies truly understand that companies shut down and it can be hard finding work. Plus, there are many other legitimate reasons for having a career gap.

It’s how you explain your job gap and share how it benefited you that makes all the difference when reentering the workforce.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t lie to the interviewer about your gap of employment.

  • You can focus on the skills and experiences you gained while not working to help fill in the gaps.

  • You don’t need to give details about why you were unemployed, but give a simple answer.

How To Explain Gaps In Your Employment (With Examples)

What is an Employment Gap?

Employment gaps are periods of time during your professional career in which you were not employed either voluntarily or involuntarily.

If you have been unemployed for more than a year, it’s a good idea to address it on your resume and cover letter. Explaining a career cap can be tricky. If you address it in advance, you have the advantage of sharing about it in a way that shines you in the best light.

Some reasons for employment gaps include:

  • Laid off. There are lots of reasons why companies lay workers off. Sometimes it’s because the company decides to cut back on costs. They may be eliminating positions. Some workers may have been furloughed because of COVID-19.

  • New management. While it may be embarrassing to admit, sometimes, when a new manager comes in, they restructure. You may have been fired. Maybe you didn’t fit the new corporate culture.

  • Merger. Losing a job because of a merger or acquisition can be devastating. But it happens.

  • Start your own business. New business ventures don’t always pan out. Relaunching your corporate career is always an option.

  • Medical Getting an illness that requires treatment and recovery time is a legitimate reason for a career gap. Here is a disability resource guidedisability resource guide with more information.

  • Caregiver When a parent falls ill, sometimes you have to take time off to care for them.

  • Parenting Many people take time off after a new child is born. Or in the situation of COVID-19, many parents have to take time off their careers to homeschool their children.

  • Relocation When you relocate, it can take time to get settled and find a job in your new community.

  • Travel Did you take a year off to sail around the world? Sometimes people take a sabbatical to get grounded and recharge their batteries.

  • Volunteer work When there is a need, and you step up to serve, it’s a remarkable thing. For example, the need for people to feed the hungry now is tremendous. Seeing the number of people stepping up and helping with food drives is incredible.

  • Education. Many people take time off to pursue a higher degree, such as an MBA, or take training to help them transition into a new career.

How to Explain Employment Gaps

When you are coming off a career break, you want to practice your talking points, explaining what happened:

  1. Be prepared to talk about it. Just because you have the gap in your resume, doesn’t mean the employer will throw your resume away. If they call you for an interview, they will want an explanation for it though. Take some time beforehand and work out how you want to address it.

  2. Be honest. Don’t lie about any gaps in your employment. You don’t need to go into detail about what you were doing, but a simple answer will let the interviewer know what happened.

  3. Fill in the gaps. While you don’t need to provide details, you can mention what you did during the time. You can mention how you kept up to date with any article readings or what you did to prepare for your re-entry.

    This is also the time to mention any freelance work or volunteering that you did. The interviewer will want to know.

  4. Focus on your skills. Explain the skills and experiences you gained during the gap that will help you professionally. Some examples include learning a new language, philanthropic efforts, personal growth, travel, and skill-building.

For example, here is an example of an explanation that you could share during an interview or in your cover letter. (Wondering if cover letters are necessary?)

I had to take some time off from March 2020 to December 2020 to care for my mother, who is recovering from breast cancer. Her chemotherapy treatments were successful, and now she is in good health. During this time, I took some online courses in project management that help me drive continuous improvement throughout the life cycle of future projects I will handle.

Examples of How to Explain Your Gaps in Employment

  1. Volunteering

    From March 2010 to September 2010, I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. I was responsible for every aspect of day-to-day leadership, including staff recruitment and development. Managing over 100 volunteers helped me improve my management and project management skills.

  2. Job hunting

    After being let go from my job as head chef at Aurelio’s in July of 2020, I have been looking for another job in the restaurant industry. Because COVID has hit the restaurant industry so hard, I have been looking to pivot to a career in the hospitality industry.

  3. Laid off

    Earlier this year, I was laid off and had been looking for several months to get back into the workforce. I have been actively searching for a new role in pharma sales but haven’t found the right fit.

  4. Caregiver

    Last fall, I had to resign from my position to assist with care for my father with Alzheimer’s. His condition progressed, and I am no longer able to care for him at home. So he is enrolled in a nursing home that specializes in memory care. Now that he is situated, I am looking for a full-time role back in my field.

  5. Personal medical leave

    I took some time off two years ago for a medical issue. My treatment is complete, and I am back to full health. While I was recovering, I sent handwritten cards for the Care Ministry at church to uplift members going through hard times. Now I am ready to get back into a role in Social Services.

  6. Stay home parent

    I took parental leave to be at home while my kids were young. During that time, I did some freelance resume writing jobs. Now that the kids are back in school full-time, I am ready to find a role at a resume agency and leverage my expertise.

  7. Relocation

    When my husband got promoted some years ago, we had to relocate to Atlanta. Since then, I have been looking for the right job opportunity in this area. While in the new area, I met new people and developed solid networking skills that would help me excel in a sales role.

Mistakes to Avoid When Explaining Job Gap

  • Don’t get caught without an answer. Have your story ready to share if asked.

  • Don’t go into a long story about how your old boss was a nightmare to work for, so you quit. Keep it positive. You could mention it was a toxic work environment resulting in high turnover. That shares the truth but keeps it simple.

  • Don’t blame others or put anyone down.

  • Don’t forget to explain your job gap on your resume, cover letter, and Linkedin.

  • Don’t forget to explain what you learned and gained from the job gap.

  • Don’t lie and change dates trying to cover it up.

Pro Tips for Making a Job Gap Less Noticeable on Your Resume

Sharing your career gap in the right way makes a huge difference. Employers don’t care as much about you taking time out as they care about your skill set.

Maybe you learned a new language. Did you earn a new sales certification? Perhaps you were a project manager for a volunteer effort in Africa for a year.

Don’t add months – just show the years of employment.

Here’s listing your work experience, including the months.

  • Petco February 5, 2010 – November 2020

  • PetSmart March 14, 2005 – October 6, 2008

Here’s listing your work experience without the months – much cleaner. The gap is less noticeable.

  • Petco 2010-2020

  • PetSmart 2005-2008

Functional resume

This style of resume format lists the major skills you have and highlights the work experience you performed under each skill set. Then at the end, you share a list of the companies you worked for and dates. So it minimizes showing the job gap.

Here is an example of a functional resume.

Leadership

  • Created and directed sales team training and development programs.

  • Trained and developed a new sales team in products, selling techniques, and company procedures.

Sales Expertise

  • Fostered strong relationships with customers to elevate brand awareness.

  • Awarded Excellence in Sales trophy for consistently performing above average sales.

Work Experience

  • Brighton, Inc. 2015-2020

  • Jamesville Industries. 2002-2013

Taking Time Off Can Rejuvenate Your Career

Sometimes taking a sabbatical is the perfect way to refresh and recharge. It’s like an “Eat Pray Love” experience for your soul.

It can give you perspective. It can help you reconnect to your purpose. It can reinvigorate you. When you are ready to jump back into your career, you’ll have more to bring to the table.

Final Thoughts

Having a gap in your career doesn’t have to be a red flag. When you are forthright with sharing your career gap, hiring managers will feel good about hiring you.

Take time to think about what happened and how you can explain it in a positive way. Share what you learned or accomplished during that time off.

When you can communicate your job gap with confidence, you’ll be one step closer to landing that new job.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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