Landing the Job: How to Address Gaps in Your Resume

June 2015

It’s no secret that a steady employment history makes for a strong resume. That being said, there are many reasons for gaps in employment, and even some of the most successful professionals have been unemployed at some time or another. If addressed properly, gaps in a resume should have little to no bearing on whether a candidate will get an interview. In other words, it isn’t whether or not the gaps exist that determines the likelihood of landing the job; it’s how the gaps are dealt with. How can you ensure that your time away from the professional world doesn't work against you?

Resume: While there are actual formatting suggestions that can minimize the appearance of gaps (don’t put dates in bold, use years as opposed to months), in most instances it is better to address them head on and provide explanations. Take stock of what you did while you were unemployed. There were likely several experiences that required you to utilize your business acumen. Were you involved in any community outreach? Create a separate section to address your service work. What about travel experience? Highlight your cultural competence as a result of those experiences. It is important to consider how the things you did while off work contributed to your overall marketability.

Cover Letter: Your cover letter is your opportunity to expound upon those additional items that you have listed on your resume. While your gap in employment may not have been a choice, there is no need to address any negatives regarding your work history. Instead, do your best to highlight the work history you do have and how your experiences outside of work have shaped you for the position. While the majority of your cover letter should focus on professional experiences, do your best to put a positive spin on those experiences you had outside of the professional world and how they have prepared you for your next job. 

Interview: An interview will likely be the point at which you must be most forthcoming regarding the gaps in your employment. Again, there is no need to focus on the negatives. Be careful in how you craft your responses so as to reflect a desire for upward mobility and progression. Discuss what you learned from not working and how important it is for you to be employed by a company whose mission and values are in line with your long-term goals.

While it is important to put an emphasis on the positive experiences that have often resulted from difficult circumstances, there is also something to be said for overcoming obstacles. With the economic crash of 2008, many of today’s hiring managers have experienced a job market in which openings were scarce. Whether you were laid off or chose to take a sabbatical, using the gaps in your employment history to your advantage is just another part of marketing yourself as a candidate. It requires the ability to both extract lessons learned from an experience and to demonstrate how they will be applied to your next position.