How to Explain a Gap on Your Resume
A lot of people have gaps on their resumes for many different reasons and it is more common than ever now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trick to standing out as a candidate despite that gap is all in how you explain it. Here are the best ways to proactively tackle the issue.
Looking to return to work after a break? Whether the hiatus was voluntary or forced upon you, this can be a tricky situation for anyone looking to find their next challenge. The good news is that employers know that life happens and the key to tackling this issue is how you address it on the resume and in the interview. Here are some proven strategies to tackle this thorny issue in a way that will help land your next role:
ADDRESS THE ISSUE
This is a tough situation for every person looking for a job with a recent or noticeable gap on their resume. If you choose not to address the issue on your resume, the recruiter or hiring manager will assume the worst which is often much worse than the reality of the situation. Or, they will think you are lazy and simply haven’t updated your resume. Either way, you lose in that equation.
At the same time, there are reasons why people have a break in their work experience that they probably don’t want to share with prospective employers. Or, there are reasons that can be perceived poorly by the recruiter/hiring manager that you haven’t even met yet.
So, here are some options to address the gap directly on your resume to prevent their imagination from running wild without raising red flags:
Reason 1: Laid off or otherwise let go from the last role
Example language of how to handle a lay-off on your resume:
Actively looking for work after being restructured from last position (Month Year – Present)OR Employer (Year – Year)Job Title Laid off due to corporate restructuring
Reason 2: Chose to stay at home with kids
Examples of How to Handle Staying at Home with Family on a Resume:
Stayed at Home to Attend to Family (Year – Year)Pro Tip: Make sure to also incorporate any and all volunteer activities during this time under other or volunteering experience (see explanation below)
Reason 3: Fed up with the last job and decided to roll the dice
Example of How to Handle Reasons You Can’t Disclose on a Resume: Employer (Year – Year)Decided to separate from the organization that does X to serve clients within the Y, Z, and B industries to focus full-time on finding the right fit for the next challenge. Job Title
Reason 4: Health-related matters (yours, family, or others)Example of How to Handle Health-Related Work Gaps on a Resume: Attended to family health-related issues (Year – Year)
INCORPORATE NON-PAID EXPERIENCE
The best way to tackle a gap in working on a resume is to fill that time with everything else you were doing during that time. Most people do these things because they are passionate about the cause the organization serves or it helps their families/kids. So, it is pretty common for people to not even realize HOW MUCH they do with these organizations until they sit down to think about it in the context of a resume. When thinking about adding volunteering or other non-paid experience to your resume consider the following:
Faith isn’t for everyone. People have sharply different views of religion and faith. Thus, to avoid the bias that does happen, many people leave this volunteering off of their resume unless they were serving on a board or otherwise leading a committee that would be relevant in a business setting.
Politics can be a landmine. Similarly, unless you are applying to a role in a political environment it probably makes sense to leave this volunteering experience off your resume.
Add details about what you do. Make sure to include the details of what you did as a volunteer, who you worked with, and how. Adding bullets to this experience can make a huge difference to explaining how you have kept your skills (and possibly network) fresh even when you weren’t getting paid.
Impact matters. You volunteered for a reason so make sure to share the results of what you did. Event planning, fundraising, board work – they all matter and have an impact on the community served by the organization. Make sure to include these great details on your resume!
TAKE SOME CLASSES
Another great strategy to keep your skills current or even to improve them is to take some classes to demonstrate that you actually have the knowledge required to do the job. Classes won’t replace experience, but they can help to fill the gap while also helping to qualify you for the types of roles you want next. A few things to think about when considering whether to enroll for a class:
Degrees are nice, but not always required. Going back to school is a huge investment. But, make sure to do your research online and economically to make sure that the investment in your education is worth it in the long term with your career goals.
Research certifications. Not all certifications are equal, but they can be expensive. Make sure to do the research online and to identify whether the particular program you are considering is worth the economic investment.
Workshops, seminars, and online classes also have value. An online class to learn a new software or concept that is common in a field can be highly valuable to demonstrate knowledge as well as commitment to making a change. *Pro Tip: List the class name and provider if they are well known on your resume.
Benchmark yourself. Spend some time on LinkedIn searching for people with the jobs you want. Do they have the degree or certification you are considering? Or, do you see the information repeatedly in the requirements in the job descriptions? If not, then chances are the investment isn’t worth it. If they do, then by all means register! Or, better yet, use LinkedIn to reach out to the person to learn more about their career and how they landed their role. Chances are they will at least pick up the phone to share some thoughts (or even better, help your search!)
LIST YEARS INSTEAD OF MONTHS
Some gaps on a resume can easily be smoothed over if you list years on your resume instead of the months you start/end positions. Frankly, the longer the gap, the less relevant it becomes. So, listing years is a great way to smooth through those challenges without having to address them directly on the resume. So, how do you do this? Initial Listing: Store Manager, Retail Store Jan 2017 – Dec. 2018
Alternative Option: Store Manager, Retail Store2017 – 2018
Remember that you may need to be more specific when completing job applications and failing to do so could be problematic. But, generally, years will suffice as most people can’t really remember what month they started anyway (and many employers don’t really care what month it was if that wasn’t your most recent experience).
USE A HYBRID FORMAT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO THE RELEVANT HIGHLIGHTS
There are two traditional formats for resumes – functional and chronological. Functional resumes, those that are skills-focused, generally don’t perform well when applying to jobs online because the ATS are built based on chronology. So, the systems tend to jumble the details or simply capture nothing.
Alternatively, the purely chronology-based resumes won’t do your experience justice if you have a recent gap in your work experience. Instead of being left with the choice of not being seen or being seen poorly by recruiters, consider the hybrid format for your resume.
So, what is a hybrid resume? A hybrid resume is one that combines the best elements of a functional and chronology-based style to ensure optimal performance with the ATS and the people who read it. What makes a hybrid resume particularly valuable to people with a gap in their experience is that it will incorporate a highlights section under the summary on the first page so that the recruiter is forced to see the biggest most relevant achievements right away during those precious 6 seconds. At the end of the day, there are many reasons why people take a break from working and most recruiters have heard them all. So, instead of letting their imagination run wild, consider addressing the issue head-on with some strategy built into your resume so that you can land that interview and share why you are a good fit for the position.