We often hear from candidates who are stressed out about the fact that their resume has gaps in it – times where they weren’t employed. It’s a thorny issue, and one that comes up all the time. When a candidate is applying for a job, a large unexplained gap in their employment history is sometimes a showstopper. Why is that?
Resumes are all about optics. You want your resume and profile to have a narrative impact, beyond the words you use to explain the roles you’ve had. You want it to tell a story.
You want your resume or LinkedIn profile to show career progression, and not stagnation. For example, if you’ve worked for one company for 15 years (something that is much less common than it used to be, but is still seen a lot), you want your resume to show how you’ve made your mark at that company. You want it to show increasing scope and responsibility. You don’t want to make it look like you’ve been complacent or that you lack ambition.
In short, your resume shows who you are as a person. And having long gaps in your work history sometimes gives employers the wrong impression about your abilities and ambitions. A long unexplained gap in your resume can imply that you’re not capable of landing a job. It can imply that you were “dishonorably discharged” from your previous job and didn’t know how to get back into a position. Worst of all, it can imply that you’re lazy, or that you don’t care about your career.
If none of these things are true, and I doubt they are, (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this), you need to take a look at your resume and make sure any gaps are explained. Some people leave gaps on their resume and hope to be able to explain these gaps in an interview. But that might prevent you from even getting to an interview stage. The takeaway is this:
It’s important to acknowledge gaps in your employment history up front, whether it’s in a resume or on your LinkedIn profile. It puts you in charge of your career’s narrative instead of letting a hiring manager’s imagination run wild.
So how do you explain gaps in your employment history on your resume?
1. Say your company or department restructured or downsized somewhere along your career, or your position was moved to the U.S. and you lost your job. This often occurs during recessions when it’s really difficult to gain new employment. You can explain these gaps to employers by making sure to emphasize why it was that you were let go from your previous job.Indicate the restructuring or downsizing that took place. And if it lines up with a recession, this “tells the story” to employers better than just leaving a gap and hoping that they won’t notice before the interview stage.
2. It’s important to keep it positive when talking about why you left your job before the gap. Explanations that scream: “I didn’t like my previous employer” are really damaging to your chances. Hiring managers might just ask why you didn’t wait to find a new job before quitting your old one, especially when it’s easier to find a new job when you’re already working.
3. If you left a job voluntarily, don’t be afraid to mention why. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable to mention sabbaticals: the year you took off to travel the world, or to take care of a family member. If there’s a purpose and intention to the gap, it’s much more acceptable to hiring managers than a generic gap that just makes it look like you didn’t do anything in the interim. Hiring managers recognize that life happens outside of work – showing how
4. Emphasize any activities you undertook during the gap to improve your professional standing.This is a huge Make sure to mention:
- Any certifications or courses you’ve done during the gap.
- Any consulting, freelance or contract work you’ve done. Consulting is a huge sign that you’ve taken your career in your hands. However, it’s not just enough to say you’re a consultant. New employers will want to know about what actual consulting work you did in the interim.
- Any other valuable experiences, for example volunteer stints or major personal projects.
- If you were in fact dismissed from a previous job for some performance-related reason, unfortunately there’s nothing to do except wait to explain it in an interview. Just make sure you have a good explanation to provide, and one that doesn’t criticize your previous employer.
5. Make sure to be honest. Like we said above, it’s about what your resume implies as well as what it says explicitly. It’s about what your resume “shows” more than what it “tells.” If you explain gaps in your employment history on your resume or LinkedIn profile, it shows the hiring manager or recruiter that you see continuity in your career, that you’re focused on the long term, and most of all that you’re in charge of your destiny and able to proactively respond to challenges.