How to Explain a Gap in Your Resume

When you’re on the job search, a break in your work history can seem like a glaring red mark on your resume. It may even feel like the one thing preventing you from getting a job.

But that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, chances are things are not as dire as you may think.

How to Explain a Gap in Your Resume

The good news is that you’re not the only one in this situation. Many, many people have gaps in their resume, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The better news is that there are easy and effective ways to address your period of unemployment.

Don’t Try to Hide It

The worst thing you can do is lengthen your prior employer’s dates of employment in an attempt to cover up a gap in your employment history. A hiring manager only needs to make one phone call to discover your deception. You can be certain that once it is known, you will no longer be considered for the position.

What if you reported your tenure with previous businesses using just years rather than months? The truth is that this strategy can end up doing more harm than good to you. It is obvious that you have anything to hide if you exclude the employment months. Hiring managers quickly raise a concern when they only observe years.

Use a Cover Letter to Your Advantage

There are many advantages to including a cover letter with your resume, not least of which is that it allows you to proactively address concerns a hiring manager may have about your resume — such as a period of unemployment.

Remember that a brief employment gap of two to three months won’t likely cause concern among prospective employers. There is no need to explain why there was such a brief break in your application materials.

If you have been unemployed for extended lengths of time, hiring supervisors will be most concerned. This is due to their concern that you may have lost ground on your peers or that your abilities may have become rusty during that period.

Use your cover letter to explain why you were out of work — perhaps you took time off for family or medical reasons — or, better yet, to discuss what you have done to remain professionally engaged. That can include temporary work, volunteer work or involvement with industry groups. Also be sure to mention any professional development you have undertaken, such as a software course or credential program.

One thing to remember: Don’t get into the nitty-gritty in your cover letter. A sentence or two of explanation is usually sufficient. That’s enough information to answer the hiring manager’s initial concern and show you’ve got nothing to hide.

Be Prepared to Go Into More Detail

Don’t be surprised if the hiring manager wants to know more about your employment gap during the interview. Have a response at the ready.

Again, be honest and try to keep things as concise as possible. If you left a previous job on bad terms, remain professional and don’t badmouth your former company, boss or colleagues. Shift the conversation to the positive aspects of the job — namely, your positive contributions in the role.

How to Explain a Gap in Your Resume

How do you explain your employment gap? 

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Robert McCauley

Robert McCauley is a career expert with Robert Half, a leading specialized staffing firm that helps skilled professionals find rewarding temporary and full-time jobs in a variety of fields. Robert has been writing about the job search and careers for more than 10 years. Connect with him and Robert Half on Twitter and YouTube.


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