Resumes & Cover Letters

How to Explain Gaps in Employment

October 1, 2020


Recruiters and hiring managers usually use your resume as the document from which they form their first impression of you. Addressing employment gaps in your resume correctly is important to ensure those gaps don't harm the impression that is formed about you. Knowing how to include employment gaps in your resume as a positive can help you create a great experience section in your resume. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about explaining gaps in your employment history, including where to explain employment gaps and a list of good reasons.

What are employment gaps on resumes?

Employment gaps are periods during your professional career in which you did not have formal employment. An employment gap can range in length from a period of several months to a period of several years and can occur voluntarily or involuntarily. Employment gaps on a resume can be a cause for concern if you don't explain the reason for your gap in employment and the experience you gained during that time carefully.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

How to explain employment gaps on your resume

Follow these steps to explain gaps in your employment history:

  1. Spend your time unemployed preparing to return to work
  2. Determine which jobs you need to include
  3. Try to disguise small gaps by omitting the month
  4. Use a resume style or format that makes the gap less obvious
  5. List the reason for longer employment gaps as its own job
  6. Include experience gained during the gap when relevant

1. Spend your time unemployed preparing to return to work

The first thing you should do to explain employment gaps on your resume is to try to spend the time you are unemployed preparing yourself for returning to work. You can do this by using this time for professional development such as earning certifications relevant to your industry, taking continuing education courses, being active in professional associations and spending time doing volunteer or contract work. Doing this can help give you positive experiences you can use to fill employment gaps when writing your resume.

2. Determine which jobs you need to include

Next, you need to determine whether your employment gap needs to be included in your resume. It is not always necessary to include every job you have had in your resume. If you are a professional who has several years of experience and your employment gap occurred early in your career, it may not be necessary to include the job you had before your gap in employment.

Generally, you should include only your most recent and most relevant employment experiences in the employment section of your resume. Once you determine which jobs you need to include in your resume, you can determine which employment gaps you need to explain.

3. Try to disguise small gaps by omitting the month

Next, if the gaps in your employment history are only small gaps that occurred in-between jobs you can disguise these gaps by omitting the month from the date of each experience. Instead, simply list the years you were employed in each position. However, this method of disguising gaps in employment on your resume usually only works well if the length of the gaps you are trying to disguise are less than a year in length and you worked in each position for a period of more than one year.

For example, if you were employed in one position from August 2015 thru January 2017 and didn't begin your next job until August 2017, you can disguise this employment gap by listing the dates of your first job as 2015 - 2017 and the dates of your next job as 2017 - Present. However, while this can help you make it through the initial consideration round with your resume, you will likely still be asked about specific dates during an interview, so be prepared to explain the reason for your gap in a positive manner.

4. Use a resume style or format that makes the gap less obvious

Next, you can also try to make employment gaps look less obvious by using a resume style or format such as the functional resume format. A functional resume format focuses more on your skills and achievements than on your experience. You can include sections in your resume such as a career summary statement and key accomplishments to help make the positive experiences you have the primary focus of your resume. Then, include your employment section toward the end of your resume. You can also combine the functional resume format with step three to minimize the impact of small employment gaps.

5. List the reason for longer employment gaps as its own job

You will usually need to address longer periods of gaps in employment more directly in your resume than you need to with small employment gaps. If you have an employment gap that was more than a period of one year, then this gap will still be obvious on your resume even when only listing the years or when using a functional resume format.

You can overcome this by including what you were doing during your employment gap in your experience section as if it were a job itself. However, you can keep the entry brief so it doesn't distract the person reviewing your resume from more relevant experience. For example, if you spent four years as a stay-at-home parent until your child was ready for pre-school, then you can include this time in your experience section like this:

Full-time parent, Atlanta, GA, 2008 - 2011

Took time away from professional career to raise young children and manage the household

6. Include experience gained during the gap when relevant

If you can relate the experience you gained during your employment gap to the position you are applying for, then it may be beneficial to include more detailed information in your employment gap entry. You can include specific examples of daily activities and responsibilities you had during your employment gap that are relevant to the duties or responsibilities of the position you are applying for.

For example, if you have an employment gap of two years because you took time off work to be a full-time caregiver for an elderly relative and you are applying for a position as a nurse, the employment gap entry in your experience section may look more like this:

Full-time caregiver, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 2017 - 2019

  • Took time away from professional career to act as a full-time caregiver to an elderly relative
  • Assisted relative with daily tasks such as feeding, bathing, dressing and grooming
  • Administered medications as prescribed three times daily
  • Checked vital signs on a regular basis to gauge recovery progress

List of good reasons for employment gaps

Employment gaps can occur for both voluntary and involuntary reasons. When explaining employment gaps on a resume, you want to try to show a good reason for the gap. Gaps in your employment history may exist for several good reasons, including:

  • Time spent looking for a new job
  • Being laid off because of organizational changes
  • Taking time off to be a stay-at-home parent or caregiver
  • Taking time off for a medical leave
  • Time spent furthering your education
  • Time spent gaining certifications or licensing
  • Relocating from one geographic area to another
  • Gap years spent on personal development

How you spend your time while unemployed and how you explain your employment gap in your resume is usually more important than the reason for your gap in employment. So, when explaining employment gaps on your resume try to focus on the positives gained from your unemployment gap rather than any negatives.

Related: Writing a Cover Letter: Tips and Examples

Where to explain employment gaps

In addition to knowing how to explain employment gaps, you should also know where to explain them. Generally, there are three places you should address gaps in your employment: your cover letter, your resume and during an interview if asked about it. While there are ways to minimize the appearance of employment gaps on your resume, it is still important for you to be honest and forthcoming in explaining gaps in your employment.

Your cover letter is a great place to explain significant gaps in employment because it allows you to go into detail about how you used your time unemployed to prepare to return to the workforce. Explaining employment gaps in your cover letter and resume also shows recruiters and hiring managers that you are honest and trustworthy, which can help make you stand out from other candidates.

Read more: How to Explain Employment Gaps in an Interview