How to Explain an Employment Gap: Advice for Resume, Cover Letter, and Interview

How to Explain an Employment Gap: Advice for Resume, Cover Letter, and Interview

Many workers experience periods of unemployment for many reasons, such as education, planned leave, and career transitions. Although common, this can be daunting for job seekers concerned about the impression of an employment gap on their resume. 

If you’re concerned about the breaks in your employment history, take a breath! Employment gaps are normal and, if used wisely, can even be a benefit. In this article we’ll discuss how to explain a gap in employment on a resume, in a cover letter, and in an interview. 

What is an Employment Gap?

An employment gap is any time in your professional career that is not covered by employment. It doesn’t necessarily mean you were unemployed – an employment gap can arise when you exclude irrelevant employment from your resume, such as freelance or gig work. Since resumes should be tailored to the job description, it’s natural to include only relevant experience, which may result in employment gaps. You might also exclude professional experience from your resume if it was too brief, or too long ago.

But if you truly weren’t employed during an employment gap on your resume, don’t worry. There are many reasonable explanations for an employment gap, including the following:

Personal Development

You might have an employment gap if you engaged in some professional or personal development, such as returning to school or taking skills training. 

Medical Leave

Taking leave to focus on your health is important, and it’s a common reason for a gap in employment. 

Parental Reasons

For some people parental leave can be a few days, or many months, but others may end up taking years away from work to tend to their children. 

Workplace Harassment or Discrimination

Harassment or discrimination at work can be debilitating, and it’s a sensible reason to leave your employment without waiting to secure a new position.

📚Further reading: Uncover Your Workplace Rights: 15 Employee Rights You Need To Know

Laid Off

Nearly half of American workers say they’ve been laid off at least once. It’s one of the most common reasons for an employment gap on a resume.

Burnout Recovery

A quarter of workers worldwide have experienced burnout, which can cause long term health problems and impact your mental wellness. For some experiencing burnout, an employment gap may be necessary.

Other Personal Reasons 

You might have an employment gap due to personal reasons, like taking time off to care for an ailing parent or partner. Maybe you moved to a new place, or you’re transitioning to a new career. Everyone’s leave is different, and justifiable. 

How to Explain an Employment Gap on a Resume?


Determine for which jobs you need to include employment gaps

You don’t always need to include employment gaps on a resume. If the break between jobs was long ago, or at the start of your career, you can omit the position you had before the employment gap. The same goes for positions that aren’t relevant to the job you’re applying to. 

You should include an employment gap on a resume if you took time off for professional development, such as attending training, working with a mentor, or earning certifications.

Here’s an example of a poorly written employment gap on a resume, which highlights the gap with no explanation. 

  • Jan 2018 - June 2021
  • Software Developer
  • Oct 2016 - April 2017
  • Programming Intern

To write an employment gap into your resume, try providing a description of what you did during that time. For example:

  • Jan 2018 - June 2021
    Software Developer

  • Worked with a team to develop code for CareEase app.
  • Supported app launch by troubleshooting and debugging software problems.
  • June-Dec 2017
    • Took time off to attend an intensive 6-month software development course. 
    • Read several programming books to develop fluency in Python.
    • June - Dec 2017
      Programming Intern

    • Collaborated with the development team on software solutions.
    • Assisted with troubleshooting and optimizing code.

    Take advantage of a different resume layout

    Trying a few different resume formats can help you focus on your skills and achievement instead of your employment history. For example, A functional or combination resume lists employment after skills, helping you minimize your employment gaps. If you’re concerned about smaller gaps, don’t include the months you worked in your professional history and instead only list the years. 

    Showcase your willingness to learn and grow

    Gaps in employment are good when it’s time spent in learning and growing. Use any job seeking time to your advantage by attending training, upskilling, and doing meaningful volunteer work. If you don’t know how to explain a gap in employment, think about what you’ve learned and what was beneficial. 

    Here’s an example of a poorly written employment gap on a resume:

    • Science Teacher
      Mar 2014 - Present
    • Teaching science to students in fourth and fifth grade.
    • Unemployed
      August 2013 - Mar 2014
    • Teacher's Assistant
      Feb 2010 - July 2013
    • Supported students and homeroom teachers to meet learning objectives.

    In this better example, the employment gap is an opportunity to explain what the job seeker learned and improved on.

    • Special Education Needs Teacher
      Mar 2014 - Present
    • Supporting students with special needs in fourth and fifth grade
    • Planned Career Break
      August 2013 - Mar 2014
    • Took time to pursue addition teaching certification
    • Attended three seminars in behavior support
    • Teacher's Assistant
      Feb 2010 - July 2013
    • Supported students and homeroom teachers to meet learning objectives.

    💡Pro tip: If your employment gap was due to burnout, think about how you want to address this on a resume or in an interview. Consider what you learned or what personal development you experienced during that time, instead of what drove you to leave. 

    Most workers experience employment gaps, and it’s nothing to hide. On the contrary, it’s important to be honest about your employment gaps. It’s also necessary to use any unemployed time wisely, by focusing on your personal and professional development. 

    How to Explain a Gap in Employment in a Cover letter?

    It’s not always favorable to include employment gaps in your cover letter, since that is the best time to elaborate on your relevant skills and experience. But there may be situations that call for an employment gap explanation. For example, if you’ve had a lengthy break or you don’t have much working experience, you can use a cover letter to describe how you spent an employment gap in beneficial and job-relevant ways.

    If you’re wondering how to explain a gap in employment on your cover letter, check out this sample for inspiration:

    After two years in my previous role, I made the decision to take a planned career break to pursue my other passions. During that time, I found a mentor in healthcare who would support my career transition. I secured a volunteer position with a local nursing home, where I was responsible for overseeing entertainment for the residents and for organizing the patient filing system. It was there that I discovered my passion for healthcare administration.

    The important thing to remember while writing about an employment gap is that a cover letter is an opportunity to focus on your skills and development. Don’t overshare irrelevant information and stick to what you learned or achieved during your gap. 

    How to Explain an Employment Gap in Job Interviews?

    The best way to address an employment gap in an interview is by being well-prepared to discuss it. Here are some ways to explain a few common employment gap scenarios in an interview: 

    Personal Development

    “I left my position when I realized I was missing some crucial skills to progress effectively in my career. I took that opportunity to obtain certification, which helped me get the next role that I wanted.”

    Medical Leave

    “I made the tough decision to leave my last role for a few months, as I needed treatment and to focus on my health. Now that I’m well again I’m very eager to get back to work.” 

    Parental Reasons

    “I took time to provide care for my children. I wanted to be there to support their development during these crucial years, but I always planned to return to my career.”

    Workplace Harassment or Discrimination

    “I left the role because of the work environment, but I’m grateful that the opportunity reinforced my values. Contributing to a positive and supportive work culture is very important to me.”

    Laid Off

    “I was laid off when the organisation was restructured, and the experience was difficult. I’m proud of what I achieved in my time there, and I’m excited to bring what I’ve learned to a new role.” 

    Burnout Recovery

    “I felt there was a mismatch in values between me and my last employer, and I left the role to focus on myself. The time I spent with my family and doing volunteer work in the community really helped me get clear about what’s important to me.”

    Other Personal Reasons 

    “I took time away from work to care for my mother as she got older. Although it was important to me to support my family at such an important time, I always planned to return to work and I’m eager to get started.”

    💡Pro tip: While you may have valid reasons for leaving a job, maintaining professionalism during interviews is crucial, refraining from criticizing former employers. 

    If you’re still wondering how to answer gaps in employment during an interview, center on the positive. It’s crucial to keep the interviewer focused on what you will bring to the role if you’re hired. If the topic of your employment gap comes up, explain yourself while highlighting what you’ve learned and how it makes you a stronger applicant.

    Key Takeaways

    There are many ways to address an employment gap, whether it’s in a resume, a cover letter, or an interview. It’s important to emphasize what you’ve learned or gained from an employment gap and maintain your confidence when job searching. Don’t let an employment gap deter you in your search! Check out CakeResume for more career resources and resume advice.

    CakeResume is a free resume maker and portfolio builder that provides hundreds of resume templates (free download) and various job resume examples to help showcase the best you. Landing your dream job will be a piece of cake!

    --- Originally Written by Tiffany Quinn ---

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