Employment gaps are not uncommon, yet they’re quite scary. Mainly, that’s because recruiters assume the worst when they see them on a resume.
In most cases, however, employment gaps are nothing to be scared of. There can be many justifiable reasons why someone has an employment gap, from going back to school and deciding to travel to taking time and caring for their growing children.
So what we’re getting to here is this: employment gaps are not a big deal, as long as you know how to explain them well on your resume
To learn how to explain an employment gap on a resume, we’ve put together this guide for you. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- 13 Best Ways to Explain Employment Gaps
- Good Reasons for an Employment Gap
- Sample Resume with Employment Gap
And more! So let’s dive right in!
13 Best Ways to Explain Employment Gaps
During your job hunt, you’ll have three separate chances to explain an employment gap:
- On your resume
- On your cover letter
- During your interview
To best convey the employment gap (and reasons behind it), you’ll need to touch on it in all 3. So below, we’ll explain the best way to explain an employment gap on your resume, cover letter, and during an interview:
6 Ways to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume
#1. Be Honest
Your resume is the first thing that recruiters check, so it’s crucial that you’re honest!
After all, you don’t want to omit a two-year-long employment gap from your resume, for example, only to have it be revealed during your interview.
As such, it’s super important that you’re honest about your employment history - or lack thereof - right there on your resume.
What’s important here is to understand that potential employers will find out about your employment gap - especially if it was a lengthy or recent one. As such, trying to hide it will only damage your application and give recruiters even more reason to believe you have something to hide.
And, if you’re feeling anxious about it, remember that recruiters are also humans and will probably be understanding if you are straightforward about your employment gap - and about what caused it!
#2. Remove the Employment Gap (If It’s Outdated)
Here’s some good news: if your employment gap is old, you can safely omit it from your resume entirely.
Say, for example, your employment gap is from 10 years ago. Chances are - especially if you’re a seasoned professional - that you won’t even be including jobs from 10 years ago on your resume. After all, you want your resume to be as relevant as possible (and stay within the recommended 1-page resume length).
As such, it’s totally OK to omit employment gaps that stretch long before your recent employment history (or that are quite short, like 6-month-old employment gaps while you were between jobs).
#3. Explain the Gap
When it comes to resumes, simply writing down the dates of your employment gap won’t cut it - it would only leave things open to recruiters’ interpretation.
Take the following example:
02/2012 - 04/2015
05/2007 - 07/2009
The only thing that this candidate makes clear to recruiters is that he was not working for a 3-year period. Apart from that, recruiters have no way of knowing whether the employment gap was due to a valid reason or because the candidate decided to be a couch potato for some years.
This is why it’s better to actually write out the exact reason for the employment gap in-between your work experience entries.
Here’s an example that does it right:
07/2009 - 01/2012
From September 2009 to January 2012, I backpacked through Europe and East Asia. This had long been a goal of mine to achieve before turning 30.
#4. Take Advantage of a Different Resume Layout
If your employment gap is longer than just a few short months, you could benefit from using a different resume layout altogether.
For example, the functional resume format and the combination format put more emphasis on your skills and competencies rather than on your work experience, which is a great way to shift focus from your employment gap.
That said, taking advantage of a different resume layout does not mean you should omit the employment gap from your resume altogether. Lying is never the right way to go here, and will always end badly for you (even if you manage to get the job).
#5. Use Your Time Away Effectively
If you’re suddenly in between jobs and are worried about how this will reflect on your future job applications, get proactive!
Instead of simply explaining your future employment gap as a “career break” or “job searching,” start a personal project and create something more valuable to put on your resume.
For instance, you can join one or more online courses related to your profession while you’re on a break from work, or start that project you always wanted to work on but never had the chance to!
That way, you’ll have much more to talk about than simply stating you were looking for jobs or taking a self-discovery break and you’ll be effectively showing recruiters that you’re constantly growing - even outside the office!
#6. Show That You Never Stopped Learning
Highlighting your skills and acquired knowledge is also a great way to cover past employment gaps. Sure, you might’ve not been working, but you could’ve still been working on developing yourself as a professional or individual.
You could, for example, mention something like this on your resume to address your employment gap:
06/2012 - 09/2013
Took a year off my career to focus on personal and professional development. Over the duration of the year, I managed to:
- Start my own marketing blog.
- Read 20+ books about digital marketing.
- Attended 5+ networking events.
3 Ways to Explain Employment Gaps in Cover Letters
Want to go more in-depth into your employment gap? Your cover letter is your chance to do so.
Unlike your resume, which barely leaves you 2-3 sentences worth of space to explain yourself, you can be way more comprehensive in your cover letter.
Specifically, you can use the body of your cover letter to give more details about your employment gap.
Here are the best ways to do it:
- Give a valid explanation. The whole point of mentioning your employment gap on your cover letter is to justify it the best way you can. For example, if you had an accident, writing “took 1 year off work because of injury” won’t be as convincing as writing “took 1 year off work after a car accident that required me to do intense physiotherapy sessions to fully recover.”
- Highlight new skills. Additionally, it’s super important to highlight any new skills acquired during your time off. The good thing about the cover letter is that you have a better chance of explaining the skills and what motivated you to acquire them (e.g. “due to organizational changes, I was laid off from my previous job. However, I used the time it took me to find a new job to catch up on industry-related trends and readings, get online certifications, and network with professionals in the field.”)
- Don’t overshare. Last but not least, it’s important to know that just because you have more space on your cover letter it doesn’t mean you should overshare the details of your employment gap. If, for instance, you took a one-year break to deal with burnout, you don’t have to give too many details about how that went. So, instead of writing, “took a year off to recuperate from burnout, during which time I consulted 3 different therapists and several support groups,” you can just write “took one year off work to deal with work-related burnout and re-asses my professional goals.” If you think it’s important to share more information, talk about how you grew professionally not about what you went through personally.
4 Ways to Explain Employment Gaps in Interviews
If your resume and cover letter make a good impression, chances are you’ll be called for an interview. And, even if you have already explained your employment gap, there’s nothing keeping recruiters from asking you again about it.
Here’s what you can do to address an employment gap during your interview effectively:
- Rehearse in advance. Your best bet is assuming that you will be asked about your employment gap. That way, you can take the time to prep your answer in advance and won’t be taken back if recruiters actually ask the questions during the interview.
- DON’T badmouth your former employer. If your employment gap is due to getting fired, bashing your former employer won’t help you get a new position - if anything, it might make you look immature. Instead, try to highlight all the steps you took to bounce back from getting fired and show recruiters why you’re the ideal candidate for this position.
- Focus on what you did right. Now, if you lost your job unjustly (or due to reasons outside of your control), the way to make a great impression is to focus on how you were a stellar employee before the employment gap! That way, you can shift recruiters’ attention to your strengths, instead of simply telling them you lost your job and there wasn’t much you could do about it.
- Be confident. Sometimes, how you say things is just as important as what you say. If recruiters ask that you elaborate on your employment gap and you suddenly get super nervous about it, you’ll probably raise some serious red flags. So, make sure to polish your communication skills in advance and start your interview with a show of confidence.
Here is an example of how you can address your employment gap during an interview:
Unfortunately, I lost my job due to cuts within the company. During the time I was looking for jobs, I took online courses to hone my skills, stayed updated with all industry trends and developments, and focused on my mental wellbeing. I am now in perfect shape to put all I learned into practice throughout my new endeavors.
7 Good Reasons For an Employment Gap
There can be countless reasons behind an employment gap and, as long as it’s not related to something like, say, jail time, it shouldn’t hinder your chances of getting employed.
That said, here are some great examples of good reasons for an employment gap:
- Family reasons. Family is super important and most recruiters are guaranteed to be understanding if your employment gap is due to family-related issues. What’s important here is to show that whatever family reason you had for taking time off work, it’s over now (e.g. if you took time off to raise your kids, make a point explaining they’re all grown up and off to school now).
- Self-discovery. Did you take some time off work to redefine your life path and career choices? That’s totally OK - as long as you can convince recruiters that you now have your answers and won’t be leaving this job again after a year or two.
- Illness. Any illness you may have suffered that’s hindered you from working is a totally legitimate reason to explain your employment gap. Just make sure to mention you’re recovered and fully able to work.
- Injury. Just like with illnesses, injuries that render you incapable of work are perfectly fine reasons to explain an employment gap, so mention them without hesitation.
- Failed business or initiative. You may be hesitant to mention a failed startup or business initiative as the reason behind your employment gap, but there’s no reason to! If anything, it shows you have initiative and aren’t scared to act on it. So, as long as you show recruiters how you bounced back, you shouldn’t hide this valid reason.
- Burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon that can take a serious toll on someone’s physical and mental health. As such, don’t hesitate to tell recruiters that you took some time off to improve your well-being after experiencing burnout in the workplace.
- Education. No one minds an employee who’s always looking to expand their knowledge, so if you took a break from work to get another degree, go ahead and mention that on your resume.
7 Other Resume Resources
Building a strong resume is hard enough without having to explain an employment gap. Struggling with other aspects of building a resume? Check out some of our top resources:
- How to Write a Resume. The ULTIMATE beginner’s guide on how to make a resume in 2023. Includes tops of tips, resume examples, and more.
- Free Resume Templates. Want to avoid the hassle of formatting your resume from scratch? Just pick one of our 8 free resume templates and get started with your resume within minutes.
- Career Change Resume. Is your employment gap due to a career change? Learn how to write an awesome career change resume with these 9+ examples.
- What to Put on a Resume. Here are the most important sections to put on your resume and win the job.
- Resume Tips and Tricks. This article covers every single practical resume tip you’ll ever need to create a compelling CV.
- Essential Resume Skills. Want to stand out from other applicants? You’ll need to include the right skills on your resume. This article covers the most in-demand skills in 2023.
- Resume Examples. Struggling to write a resume for your field? This article covers resume examples for almost all popular roles in 2023, including jobs in IT, marketing, healthcare, and more.
Sample Resume with Employment Gap
FAQ on Employment Gaps
Do you still have some questions on everything employment gap-related? Find your answers below!
#1. How long is too long of an employment gap?
Any employment gap on your resume that you can’t explain to recruiters can cast a shadow on your job application.
That said, shorter periods of employment gaps (e.g. time between jobs, illness or injury recovery, etc.) are much more acceptable than, say, 3-year-long gaps in your recent work history.
So, while there is no specific time limit for a super long employment gap, the longer it is, the harder it will be for recruiters to ignore it.
#2. Is an employment gap bad?
That entirely depends on the reason behind your employment gap.
If your employment gap is due to illness, failed business, family emergency, and the like, then an employment gap is definitely not bad! All you need to do is be honest with the recruiters and prove that you’re a trustworthy employee.
That said if your employment gap comes from less socially acceptable reasons, like serving time for a crime or being away in rehab, your employment gap will be more difficult to explain - and, in turn, can be more harmful to your job application.
#3. How do you explain a gap in employment due to being a stay-at-home parent?
Taking time off work to be a stay-at-home parent falls under family-related reasons for an employment gap.
The best way to explain such an employment gap is to write down the exact period you were off, titling it as a “planned career break.” Underneath, you can include one or two sentences on why you took it (e.g. took three years off work to care for my growing children, who are now in elementary school).
On top of that, you can also mention any personal projects or other work-related experiences you had over that period. For example, if you took some online classes or started a personal project, that’s a great way to inform recruiters that you weren’t completely idle during your employment gap.
#4. How do you explain a gap in employment due to COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic cost 114 million people to lose their jobs over 2020. So, if you were infected and quarantined due to COVID-19 (or if you were unlucky and had more severe health issues due to the virus), then note that on your resume as an “illness-related employment gap” or simply due to COVID-19.
In one or two sentences, you can explain you had to take a break from work due to COVID-19 and that you’re now fully recovered and ready to work again.
Similarly, if you were working for a business that got impacted due to COVID-19 (such as an airline company) you can, in one sentence, mention you were laid off due to the impact of the pandemic and mention what you did in the meanwhile to find a job or hone your skills.
#5. Why do employers not like gaps in employment?
Employers don’t like gaps in employment when said gaps are due to criminality, abuse or addiction, or simple laziness. In such a case, employers assume you’re not a reliable employee and that you may demonstrate the same patterns of behavior while working for them.
On the other hand, if there is a reasonable explanation for your employment gap, employers won’t think twice about hiring you, as long as you’re a good fit for the job.
And that’s a wrap! By now, you should know everything about employment gaps and how to tackle them so they don’t hurt your job application.
Before you go, here are the main points covered in this article:
- There are three places where you can explain an employment gap: on your resume, cover letter, and during your job interview.
- To explain an employment gap on a resume, be honest, elaborate on the gap, show that you never stop learning, or use a different resume layout to remove the gap altogether.
- Explain an employment gap on your cover letter by highlighting new skills and offering a valid explanation as to why you took it.
- If you have to explain your employment gap during your interview, rehearse in advance, show confidence, and don’t badmouth your former employer.
- Some valid reasons for an employment gap are family reasons, illnesses, and injuries, taking time to discover yourself or pursue your education, and even a failed business.