How to Explain a Resume Gap to a Potential New Employer

working man trying to jump across gap in bridge

Career paths are not always perfectly linear and uninterrupted. Life happens, and sometimes even the most driven, successful professionals end up with a significant gap in their employment status. Taking a break from your career can take many forms. Perhaps you had to take time off because of illness or to care for a family member or a child, or maybe you were exploring other career paths or business ventures that didn’t pan out.

Whatever the reason for or length of the employment gap (although short gaps of 6 months or less may not need addressing), it doesn’t have to be a dark cloud that hangs over your resume or interview casting doubt on your candidacy. Resume gaps are more common than you might think, and by being upfront with the interviewer from the get-go, you can “control the narrative” around your sabbatical and use it to position yourself as an even stronger, more competitive and diverse candidate than your peers.

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Here’s how to frame the discussion:

  1. First of all, don’t lie about your gap in employment or, what’s even more common, simply ignore it and hope the employer doesn’t bring it up. You want to be the one to set the tone and messaging around your absence from your field and position this as an asset rather than a liability to your candidacy.
  2. Find the benefits in your employment gap. Give some thought before you go into an interview or craft your cover letter about any positive things you learned or experienced while on your professional break. And these don’t have to be skills-related; personal growth is oftentimes just as important as learning new hard skills. Taking time off to care for a sick loved one or battle a serious illness yourself can be a life-changing experience that fortifies you with newfound wisdom and perspective that can have a profoundly positive effect on the way you approach your professional life and goals. What’s more, if you took time off for a personal reason, you likely have a number of improved “soft skills” that you can attribute to the hiatus, and these are highly valued talking points on the current job market. 
  3. Speaking of cover letters… take the opportunity in your cover letter to briefly mention your employment gap, along with a few of the most powerful benefits you gained from the time off. Don’t linger on the subject, but use this document to approach the subject head-on and put your positive spin on it from the outset.
  4. Put yourself in the interviewer/employer’s shoes. Job candidates often get so focused on telling their own story to a potential employer that they lose sight of what the employer cares about. This is a common, yet serious, mistake. By considering the employer’s point of view in the application and interview process – What kind of candidate are they looking for? What sort of skills or experiences do they value the most? How will the role to which you’re applying drive their business forward? How can they find a good “cultural fit” to their current team? – you can begin to make connections around the experiences you had on your break/employment gap and the type of candidate they’re looking for. So, when you’re explaining the things you learned or experienced during your time off, be sure that the skills and experiences you cite are directly relevant to the skills and experiences they are looking for in the role.
  5. Keep the discussion short and positive, then pivot back to the stronger talking points on your resume. Don’t spend too much time explaining your employment gap, especially if the interviewer has stopped actively asking you questions about the topic. You may be tempted, out of your own sense of insecurity around the gap, to talk as much as you can to assuage any doubts around your history or candidacy. Resist the urge to over-explain, and redirect the conversation back to direct professional experiences that are relevant to the role.

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