A gap in employment may seem like an awful, gaping chasm of emptiness on what otherwise would be a spotless testament to your skills and ingenuity—your resume. Fortunately, resume gaps are more common than ever.
In 2021 alone, more than 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs during what is being called the Great Resignation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Reasons Americans are leaving their roles range from retirement and relocation to a desire for a better work-life balance, family obligations, and switching job sectors. Add to it pandemic and economy-related gaps, and you can rest assured that if you have a gap, you’re in good company.
Most employers and hiring managers have seen their share of the situations that cause these lapses in employment. They may have even experienced something similar themselves, making hiring teams more understanding of employment gaps. Monster’s Future of Work: 2021 survey revealed that 49% of employers said resume gaps are less of a red flag than in the past. When you’re getting back into the workforce, there are ways to put your best foot—resume—forward to mitigate any hiatus and make sure it doesn’t turn into a Scarlet Letter on your resume.
Best Practices When You Have an Employment Gap in Your Resume
If you find yourself with an employment gap, whether planned or unplanned, it’s essential to address it. Most importantly, never lie or try to cover up the gap, which could get you dismissed from a job search.
Did you get terminated because your skillset didn’t match the position? Did the company “right-size” you out of your position? Did you quit your job to care for your children or a sick or elderly family member? Be sure to provide concrete examples and learning experiences you picked up along the way. Whether the cause of your gap was entirely out of your control—you were laid off—or you chose to leave voluntarily, many employers are more interested in what you learned during that time. Don’t forget that part-time and volunteer opportunities count.
- Frame the Learning
Even if you were terminated, don’t blame your employer. As difficult as it is, take the emotion out of it. Never speak badly about your past employer. Briefly state why you lost your role, then share what you learned. Maybe you should have spoken up when you were in over your head, or perhaps you learned that you perform better with a specific quota or deadline. Each issue should have a solution. For example, “In hindsight, I should have asked for additional training.” Showing that you are self-aware demonstrates you are taking responsibility for your actions.
- Restructures Happen
Whether it’s through M&A activities, a new CEO joining, or a turn in the economy, sometimes layoffs are solely a business decision. If you were laid off, simply stating that your position was eliminated due to company restructuring is usually enough for prospective employers. There’s no need to provide too much detail on your resume, but be prepared to address it briefly during the interview.
- Provide Information That Directly Relates to Your Exit from the Workforce
If you chose to leave a position to tend to family matters, you might want to mention that you always intended to return to the workforce. You can briefly address this in your cover letter to head off any questions or assumptions. However, you do not need to share every detail of a family member’s illness or your childcare situation. Remember, hiring teams can not legally ask certain questions, but providing enough detail may help ease anxieties about you leaving again for similar reasons.
- Continue Networking
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Nothing could be closer to the truth when you’re looking for your next career opportunity. Creating and maintaining your network during an employment gap, no matter the reason for the gap, can help your resume stand out from others when you decide to re-enter the workforce. Down the road, a connection may help land an interview or even follow-up during a stagnant hiring process. Try to keep your network diverse, with connections from your personal life, educational institutions, volunteer boards and clubs, and even your church and personal interest groups. Don’t forget to interact and give as much as you get from these connections.
Kintsugi – Making the Best of a Bad Situation
The Japanese have a practice of repairing broken pottery by filling the gap with lacquer dusted with gold or other precious metals, thereby making those cracks beautiful and valuable. While you don’t need to turn your gap into gold, you can still shine a positive light on it. What you did (or are currently doing) during the gap period may relate to your skills, your mission, or your personal goals:
If you landed a few temporary industry or role-related opportunities during the gap, whether consulting or some part-time employment, you can group those jobs under one “Freelance” heading. You don’t have to go into great detail about each opportunity—save that for the interview – but try to include any relevant skills to the position you’re interested in.
- Volunteer Work
Giving your time and talents to a worthwhile cause can say a lot about your character. It can also help you explore new sectors, and if there’s a fit, volunteering can help you transition into nonprofit or mission-focused employment. Be sure to include the marketable skills you used while volunteering. From organizing events, fundraising, procuring supplies, and handling the phones, just because you didn’t get paid doesn’t mean it didn’t take hard work and know-how to accomplish the goals. Volunteering can be great for your self-esteem during those gaps, too. While volunteering comes with its own gratification, one study shows that volunteers have a 27% higher likelihood of finding a job after being out of work than those who haven’t volunteered.
- New Skills Through Personal or Professional Development
Depending on the situation, many people use gap time for learning new skills. Taking college or professional classes to enhance or increase your skills and even expanding your ‘extracurricular’ activities, like taking up yoga or painting, can show your adaptability and willingness to learn. Many free or low-cost professional development courses are offered through programs like LinkedIn Learning, Hubspot Academy, Google Analytics Academy, and others.
- Focus on Family and Home
Did homeschooling your kids teach you greater patience or new insights into learning? Did building that new deck boost your confidence in taking on the unknown? There’s something to be learned from every situation, and highlighting that you’re open to learning through everyday activities is an employable skill that can transfer to any role.
Sharing a little about what you did during downtime and how it relates to aspects of the role for which you’re applying can demonstrate your ingenuity and resilience.
Remember: The Gap Isn’t the Only Thing on Your Resume
You may see your employment gap as the elephant in the room, but it’s important to remember that prospective employers are more interested in the employment and skills portions of your resume. Focus on your strengths. Include as many skills and positive results as possible, using keywords listed in the job posting with specific examples.
Include results of your efforts with real numbers and analytics. If you’re not in a position to have access to specific financial and results data, look for areas in which you do have measurements. For example: “Led a team of three to complete the project within budget and on schedule.”
Getting over that gap smoothly is easier than you think, and learning how to explain any employment gaps best could put you on the fast track to your next great adventure.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Peggy Brinkmann and Karen Butterfield of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm for writing this article.