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How to Redefine the Employment Gap on Your Resume

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Posted On Jun 11, 2024 

Your value is not tied to your work history


Dealing with an employment gap in a resume is a common concern that can keep job seekers awake at night. The notion that being unemployed equates to wasting time has been ingrained in our minds.

There is a misconception that any gap in a resume will lead hiring managers or recruiters to assume that the applicant is unreliable and unable to hold onto employment. This simply isn’t true. However, hiring managers do expect you to be forthright about career gaps. You don’t need to go into detail, but a brief explanation of why or what you learned during that time period is appreciated. A 2022 LinkedIn survey found that “51% of hirers say they are more likely to contact a candidate that provides context about their career break.”

Employment gaps are no longer a deal breaker


In the past, a gap in employment of a year or more would have likely been viewed as a deal breaker by many hiring managers. However, the perspective on career gaps has shifted drastically over the last 10 years.

The reason for this change is pretty evident: COVID-19. The pandemic resulted in widespread layoffs, furloughs, and a surplus of individuals taking time off to care for their loved ones.

Considering the events of the last few years, it no longer makes any sense ethically to discriminate against those with career gaps. Especially as it’s more than likely that they did not make this decision on their own accord.

That being said, it’s still important to acknowledge any gaps and offer an appropriate explanation. This will go a long way with recruiters who, nowadays, appreciate any learning experiences you’ve had in your life—whether they were learned in the workplace or not.

Adversity is the stepping stone to success


Successfully navigating challenges, particularly when they translate into valuable learning opportunities, is highly sought after by hiring managers. Highlighting your significant career successes and achievements on your resume is equally important, as it sends a clear message that you are skilled in your field and ready to level up in your career.

However, a success story without overcoming a little adversity would be incomplete. According to a research study published in the scientific journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology, hiring managers appreciate achievements and value hearing about the challenges and obstacles that candidates face on their path to success. While taking a break from work may not always be the ideal scenario, framing these gaps in a positive light with the right language can actually work in your favor by demonstrating strength and dedication to pushing forward, no matter what.

Growth can happen outside the workplace, too


Many resume gaps can be attributed to external factors like pursuing a degree, obtaining new certifications in your industry, or volunteering for a non-profit organization. In such cases, hiring managers are interested in the reasons behind these decisions and how they contributed to your personal growth. (Yes, they care about more than what happens during your 9-5). It illustrates that you have been learning, developing, and pushing yourself forward despite not being employed.

Consulting projects, attending virtual events and industry conferences, and undertaking part-time or freelance work can also serve as valuable experiences to fill the gaps in your resume.

The biggest mistake to avoid is simply leaving the gap blank. This can lead hiring managers to develop misconceptions about what you may have been doing during that period when they could really be applauding your perseverance.

You’re not obligated to provide a lengthy explanation


Extended sabbaticals from full-time work generally stem from three common reasons:

  1. Taking a year off for personal pursuits such as travel
  2. Termination of employment
  3. Choosing to be a full-time parent or caregiver

The people who fall under these circumstances obviously have no institutional filler to seal the gap If this is the case, don’t devote too much space on your resume to explaining the details of your story.

The best thing you can do is add a clear, brief explanation as to where you were during this time. For example, if you were home caring for family or loved ones, you could write: "Stay-at-home parent, family of five, eager to re-enter the workforce. 2023-2024.”

In full honesty, it’s okay to be even more vague than that. Something along the lines of, “Enthusiastic about returning to work after a period of personal growth. 2023-2024.”

If you don’t have much else to fill in this section, the shorter, the better. Then, once you meet with the hiring manager, you can have a more in-depth discussion about your circumstances, what led you to make those choices, what you learned, etc.

No need to apologize


By now, you know that being honest and transparent about your career gap is the best way to go. But that does not mean you need to apologize for it. You don’t owe a hiring manager an apology for making a decision that may have been the right for you at one point in time.

The energy you express about your career gap can significantly influence the hiring manager. If you present it in a negative light, apologizing as if it were a failure, it may lead them to form the wrong impression and align with your negative perspective. It's important to approach the discussion with a positive and confident mindset to shape the perception of your career gap in a more favorable way.

“Do not apologize for doing what you need to do for your professional and personal growth. Taking time off for whatever reason is sometimes necessary. Be confident in your decision to take time off and be prepared to be confident in your answer to why you did it.” - Lexi B, Founder of Sista Circle: Black Women in Tech

You have the power to shape the narrative of your own career journey. Sure, there may have been unexpected (or expected) blips along the way, but it’s crucial that you convey these challenges as sources of inspiration, not downfalls.

Make it clear - you’re ready to get back into the game


Consider a hiring manager's perspective: clearly, their main concern is to ensure your genuine interest in joining and staying with their organization. So, make sure to communicate that you’re eager and fully committed to advancing in your career. Employers are cautious about hiring individuals they believe may not stay for long, so highlight the fact that your previous gap benefitted you at the time, but now you’re ready to be a dedicated professional.

For more guidance on your career journey, connect with an LHH recruiter today!