How to Explain a Long Gap in Employment History

Since the Recession in 2008, gaps in employment have been much more common than they once were. That said, you still need to be careful how you present your work history, both in your resume/cover letter and in interviews.

Any gap of more than a couple months is going to warrant questions from your potential employer, but gaps happen for a variety of reasons and there’s almost always a way to put a positive spin on them.

Get Out in Front of It

One way to do that is to get out in front of it: instead of leaving glaring gaps in your resume unaddressed, hoping that you’ll have a chance to explain them in an interview – or even that they won’t be noticed, because they will – include a brief description of what you were doing during that period: Traveling, acting as a caregiver for a sick relative, taking time off to be a stay at home parent, consulting, freelance work, personal projects, volunteering, etc. – anything that will show productivity and personal growth.

And don’t think temporary jobs with staffing companies don’t count! If you work for multiple companies in this way it may be appropriate to group them under one time period, with details of highlights from your experience. What you don’t want to do is change employment dates or job descriptions, as these are easily verified by potential employers. Nothing will get you disqualified from a job faster than lying on your resume.

For me, I worked seasonally at a warehouse throughout college, so to bolster my resume I included paid research projects and internships I did during the school year, as well as honors I received in my education. After graduating and working at my warehouse job full-time for a year, I left on good terms to travel the country and work on musical projects, while reevaluating what new career I wanted to eventually pursue. And that’s exactly the verbiage I used when I started applying and interviewing for jobs a few months later. In those interviews, I received a lot of positive interest in my travels, music, and schooling, and I was prepared to elaborate in earnest about what I’d learned from those different experiences and how they helped me grow as a person, which is ultimately the message you want to convey, whatever the circumstances of your time out of work.

Leverage Your Cover Letter & Interview

If you’re still worried those gaps might preclude you from even getting an interview, your cover letter is also a good place to provide a narrative for those employment gaps, where you can tell the story in your own words while relating the usefulness of those experiences to the job you’re applying for. Another important factor for me was the excellent references I provided from those past experiences, which can be testaments to your reliability, speaking far greater volumes than what a resume alone might convey.

The important points are honesty and preparation. This is especially true if the reasons for your employment gaps weren’t especially positive. In such cases, interviews are still likely the best place for an explanation. If you’re prepared for such questions, however, and forthright with your answers while maintaining a professional demeanor, you can turn challenging times into learning experiences or struggles that you’ve overcome. Be confident in yourself and employers will take note.

Find Your Next Job

If you’ve been taking on your job hunt by yourself, you may want to look into working with a local staffing agency. Our team of (awesome) recruiters is here to help great candidates find great jobs, from professional roles to industrial positions.

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