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How To Deal with Job Gaps on Your Resume

When you have a gap on your resume, it refers to a time period when you weren’t employed and you might not have been engaged in formal education or professional activities. There are a lot of reasons you might have a gap on your resume, and it is possible to still convey yourself in the best light professionally, even if this is something you’re dealing with.

Why Do Gaps Occur?

You could take time off work or be out of work for any number of reasons, including:

  • Unemployment, even while actively seeking employment.

  • Personal reasons like taking time off work for family responsibilities, health issues, or other circumstances in life.

  • Educational pursuits.

  • Traveling for extended periods or taking a sabbatical.

  • Working as a freelancer or doing volunteer work (while these are technically employment gaps, they’re still relevant and should be included on a resume).

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If you have a valid reason for taking time off work, it’s not likely to be inherently viewed as a negative by a potential employer, but your resume needs to be well-written, and you need to be able to explain this time period in your life.

Why Do Employers Care About Resume Gaps?

According to Denver Colorado’s top resume writing and career coaching agency, a hiring manager or employer can have a number of reasons for feeling concerned by a gap in your resume.

These include:

  1. Stability: An employer wants someone who’s able to demonstrate a willingness to commit. If you have a gap in your employment timeline, it could bring about questions relating to your reliability or commitment to a job.

  2. Skill currency: In industries that tend to evolve quickly, an employer might be worried a job seeker’s skills will become outdated during an employment gap.

  3. Employability: A gap could show an employer you have had a hard time securing stable employment, and that could be a red flag for performance issues.

  4. Cultural fit: Employers want to hire people who are going to be in alignment with the culture and values of the company, and a resume gap could raise concerns about a mismatch if it brings up questions about how well a potential employee would integrate into an organization.

  5. Undisclosed problems: A gap could raise questions about potential negative reasons you were out of work, like termination or legal issues.

  6. Work ethic: If you have an extended gap without a definitive explanation, it could raise worries about your work ethic or sense of motivation.

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What Should You Do If You Have a Resume Gap?

You need to be both proactive and strategic in dealing with a gap in your resume. You want to be able to clearly convey your value as a candidate. 

Some of the things you can do to overcome a potentially glaring resume gap include:

  • Be transparent and honest. You can address the gap in your resume itself, but you don’t necessarily need to go into a lot of detail, especially if it’s related to something personal.

  • Use a functional or combination format for your resume, highlighting skills and accomplishments rather than putting the entire focus on your work history. This can take the attention away from the gap.

  • Include relevant experience in all its many forms. For example, if you did short-term projects, volunteered, consulted, or did freelance work, these are all things that can be valuable to highlight on your resume.

  • Did you do anything to work towards professional development during the gap, like getting certifications or going to workshops? If so, include this information.

  • Address the gap in your cover letter. A cover letter is a good way to provide some context.

  • If you have concerns about your employment gap, leverage your professional network and try to get referrals and personal recommendations.

  • Be ready to talk about the gap if you get an interview, and discuss it in a way that shows confidence and positivity. Emphasize what you accomplished or learned during the time and how it makes you an even better candidate.

  • Emphasize transferrable skills that you gained during the gap, like project management, problem-solving, or communication.

  • Convey your sense of enthusiasm and eagerness to return to work.

  • Customize your resume for every position you apply for. This way, you can focus on your relevant experience and your skills for that position, taking away some of the focus that would otherwise be on the gap.

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What Not To Do About a Gap In Your Resume

Sometimes, when it comes to the job application process, what you don’t do is as important as what you do.

Things that you should avoid saying about your employment gap include:

  1. Making negative comments about past employers. Focus on the positive aspects of how you grew personally and professionally instead.

  2. Don’t go into too much detail about personal issues. Keep your explanation short and professional.

  3. If there are personal things you did during your gap that aren’t relevant to the job, avoid trying to include those.

  4. Don’t blame other people for the circumstances leading to the gap. Instead, take responsibility and be ready to talk about what you’ve done to stay proactive during that time.

  5. Avoid making excuses. You can explain why you have a gap without sounding defensive.

  6. Be specific and clear, and avoid using vague or evasive language.

  7. If there was a personal issue that contributed to the lapse in employment, don’t overemphasize that. Mention it briefly and move on.

  8. Don’t inherently assume it’s a bad thing to have a gap. Don’t start immediately apologizing. Rather, talk about how you used the time to your advantage.

Get Help with Your Resume

It’s not easy to write a compelling resume, even in the best of circumstances. This is even more true when you have something challenging that you’d like to frame in a positive light or perhaps take some of the attention off of, like a gap in your employment history.

A professional resume writing service can frame even potentially negative information in your resume in a way that’s not going to have hiring managers skipping over you immediately. With a well-written resume, you can showcase all of your skills and strengths compellingly, provide a sense of context for your accomplishments and abilities, and set yourself apart from your competition.

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