How To Explain Gaps In Your Employment (With Examples)

Chris Kolmar
By Chris Kolmar
- Jan. 22, 2021
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Have you ever had a gap in your career where you weren’t employed?

Let’s be honest here. There are things you don’t want to include on your resume. But sometimes life happens, and you land yourself out of work. 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 many workers were laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, there are many 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.

We’re going to cover:

  • When you need to mention a job gap on your resume

  • What types of job gaps you can experience

  • Pro tips for making a job gap less noticeable on your resume

  • Examples of ways to explain your job gap

Do You Really Need to Mention a Gap on Your Resume?

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.

Tips for Explaining Your Career Break

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

  • Don’t lie about your job gap.

  • Be concise – no need to go on and on about it.

  • Don’t be apologetic.

  • Show how it was a one-time incident and probably won’t happen again.

  • Explain the benefits 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.

  • Talk about your eagerness to get back to work.

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.

What Types of Career Gaps Are There?

  • 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.

What Not to Do 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

Examples of How to Explain Your Gaps in Employment

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Chris Kolmar

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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