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17 Jun 2021 Austin Belcak

3 Effective Ways To Explain Gaps In Employment History

It may feel scary. But you’ll have a better chance of landing a job if you directly address your gaps in employment.

After all, hiring managers will probably notice the gaps on their own, whether it's on your resume or during an interview. And, without an explanation, they might assume the worst: that you’re lazy, unemployable, or incapable of holding a job.

I know you don’t want that because those things are probably not true. There are many common reasons for gaps in employment that are completely understandable. We’ll look at a few of them in this post.

But what I’ll really focus on is showing you how to explain gaps in employment so well that you crush any negative assumptions. And this is key. Because according to a ResumeGo study, applicants who explained their employment gaps received 60% more interviews.

Then, to round things out, I’ll share some examples of what you can say during interviews so that the gap becomes irrelevant in determining your fit for the job!

Common Reasons For Gaps In Employment

There are many reasons you may have taken a break from your career. And, generally, if your break was less than 6 months, you probably won’t need to provide an explanation. But the following six reasons may have taken you away for longer than that.

Family. Maybe you took time off to care for a sick family member. Or maybe you wanted more time to spend with your kids during a difficult time. It doesn’t really matter. Any employer that doesn’t understand why you took time to prioritize your family probably isn’t worth your time.

Education. Some people can hold down jobs while pursuing higher education full-time. But you don’t need to do that. It’s perfectly acceptable to spend time focusing exclusively on your studies. And, during that time, you’ll likely learn and develop transferable skills that will benefit you at a new job.

Serious illness or injury. Your health will always be more important than your resume or any job. If you needed time to recover from an illness or injury before heading back to work, any decent employer will understand.

Personal or professional development. Sometimes it’s better to take time to figure out what you want to do with your life than aimlessly bouncing between jobs. So, if you took time for self-exploration, you’ll just need to present it to employers as a necessary step in developing a career you’d enjoy.

Failed business. Starting your own business or joining an early-stage business is always a risk. Sometimes it pays off and ends up becoming your life’s work. And sometimes you learn a lot but ultimately decide it’s better to reenter the workforce. This is nothing to be ashamed of. And you likely have a lot of value to offer to employers.

Job search. Whether you quit your job or got laid off unexpectedly, it’s common if it takes time to find your next role. Hiring managers know this. You’ll just need to make sure they know it’s taken you a while because you’re being selective rather than unemployable.

3 Effective Ways To Explain Gaps In Employment

The best way to go about explaining gaps in employment is to be:

  1. Direct about the reason you took a break from work
  2. Brief in assuring that the reason for the employment gap is no longer an issue
  3. Confident in the value you bring to the role despite the gap

That last part is the hardest to achieve. So here’s how you can do it at various stages of the hiring process.

Call it out in your cover letter

Oftentimes, you don’t need to list all of your work experience when writing your resume. So, you may be tempted to leave it out of your cover letter as well. But you shouldn’t.

Since you get to go into more detail in a cover letter, you can write a few sentences that directly address why you took a break, what you did during that time, and something you learned that will benefit you in the role you’re applying for.

Mention it during the phone screen

Making a good impression during a phone interview can be hard. Hiring managers are on the lookout for red flags during these conversations.

But, if you immediately address your employment gaps, you can show them you have nothing to hide. And this type of thing can help them trust you more throughout the screening.

You can say something like, “I want to let you know that the gap in employment on my resume comes from when I was [reason]. But during that time, I learned a few skills that would make me a good fit for this role, such as [your acquired skills and/or experience].”

Bring it up in the interview

During an interview is also a great time to address directly your gaps in employment. This is true even if you’ve already explained them in previous parts of the hiring process. Why? Because the interview is likely the last stage before the offer.

By bringing this up in the interview you get to show one last time that you have nothing to hide. You get to show that your time off doesn’t need to cause any doubt.

And your best bet is to bring it up while answering an interview question that lets you talk directly about your valuable skills or mention a value validation project.

Let me show you how with some examples!

Example Answers

Here are two examples of how to explain gaps in employment that you can use during interviews.

Example #1: Career Change

“You may have noticed that there’s a six-month gap in my employment last year. After leaving the sales job I had before that, I realized that I was on the wrong career path. So, I decided to do a bit of career exploration by taking online courses in a variety of different areas: coding, design, and digital marketing. I learned a lot during that time and completed several projects that combined what I was learning across disciplines.

When I heard about the opening for this job, I knew I’d found a company that could benefit from my past experience and my period of exploration. For example, I have some ideas I’d love to share about how the sales, marketing, and design teams could collaborate more effectively to improve the customer experience. Can we talk about those now? If not, I’d love to send you a report I’ve been working on.”

Example #2: Laid Off

“In 2020, my previous company had to lay off 30% of the staff due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, I was one of the people that was let go, which is why there’s about a 9-month gap in my employment. But during that time I got to prioritize spending time with my family and also use my skills to volunteer for a few local organizations. I also spent time looking for jobs. But I have been taking my time to find something that feels like a good fit for the next step in my career.

When I heard about this job opening, I got excited because every employee I spoke to said that the company really values investing in its employees. Can you tell me more about your employee training programs?”

Final Thoughts

Gaps in employment are common. And you don’t need to worry about them preventing you from landing a new job. But you do need to know how to explain them so hiring managers don’t have doubts about your professionalism!

To do that, remember to explain the gaps by being:

  • Direct about the reason you took a break from work
  • Brief in assuring that the reason for the employment gap is no longer an issue
  • Confident in the value you bring to the role despite the gap

Work on this while preparing for your next interview and you’ll be good to go. And, for even better results, be sure to check out my guide on how top performers prepare for interviews!

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.

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