Resumes & Cover Letters

How to effectively explain why you have gaps on your resume

Written by Kate Lopaze

Job gaps happen, because life happens. Maybe you’ve gotten laid off (or even fired). Maybe you took some time off from working to attend to personal matters, like a health issue, or caring for a child or family member. Our careers aren’t always constant, linear paths. But unfairly or not, having gaps can put you at a disadvantage against other candidates that have been working constantly in the field, picking up steady experience and a continuous progression through the ranks.

Let’s explore how to maximize your resume to show that you’re just as qualified, gaps and all.

Consider whether you should mention it at all.

If the gap happened in the past, and you’re currently (or recently) employed, then you don’t need to talk about your gap at all unless asked. Don’t jump the gun just because you’re anxious about it—your interviewer might not even bring it up!

Be honest…

Sure, a few fake dates may go unnoticed by the resume reader. But they might not. And if your hiring process involves a background check, or you get tripped up when talking about your experience in person at a job interview, it’s going to be an embarrassing (and likely costly) mistake. If you’ve been out of the workforce for two years, acknowledge that fact, potentially in your cover letter, always emphasizing that you’re ready to jump back in.

If an interviewer asks you why you left your last job (which is a while ago) and you happen to have lost your job, it’s okay to admit that. People get the downsizing factor—it happens to most people at some point. But again: emphasize that your skills and experience have grown and that you’re excited about this new opportunity.

…but finesse dates if you have to.

Instead of using specific months of employment, go with the year. You won’t be able to hide a gap of a year or more that way, but if you’ve been out of the game for more than a few months but less than a year, it can be easier to obscure that to the reader.

Be careful of the kind of information you reveal about your gap.

This applies especially if you took time off to have a kid or had a medical issue in the past. Interviewers aren’t allowed to discriminate against you on the basis of family status or physical disability, which means they can’t ask you about those things. If you go ahead and mention them yourself, though, then you’ve opened that door. So, it’s important to tread carefully. Instead of saying, “I took some time off to treat my clinical depression,” say something vague like, “I took time off for a family health issue, but now that things are better I’m so ready to put my store manager hat back on.”

Tweak your resume format.

Not every resume has to have the traditional job experience + skills + education format, with your work experience moving backwards chronologically. If you’re trying to set a narrative for your resume around a gap in employment, put your skills up front, taking care to spotlight ones that directly relate to the job at hand. The hiring manager needs to know, first and foremost, that you’re a good fit for the job. So you can make that connection easier if you show that you have the skills.

If you have a fairly long work history, in the experience section you can emphasize only the most relevant jobs (“Relevant Work Experience), omitting ones that are way back or just not very applicable to this new job. That way, you’re not setting the expectation that every bit of your work experience is listed on the resume.

Look for other kinds of experience to highlight.

Maybe you volunteered while you were out of work. Maybe you took classes in coding that bumped your skills up to the next level. Look outside the usual job experience bullet points to show that you may have a gap, but you haven’t been totally out of it. Anything you can use to show that you’ve been building in the meantime will help you make the case that you’re ready to seize this new opportunity.

So if you have a gap on your resume, don’t despair. It can feel intimidating to know you’re up against people who don’t have the same issue, but always remember that you’ve got great experience and skills. It’s all about showing how you plan to use those to overcome whatever challenges have come your way.


About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.