How to Explain a Gap in Your Résumé
Life is not linear. Goals and timetables—plans for a career, college education, family—change and shift as our lives unfold. Unexpected circumstances can be joyful: “My wife got a promotion, and we’re moving to New York, our favorite city in the world.” Or, they can be difficult: “I’m sorry, but a shortfall in revenue means there will be layoffs.”
Fortunate or challenging, a life event may alter your career path and lead to a period of unemployment. And if you’re preparing for job interviews, you may be concerned about how you’re going to explain that gap in your résumé. Though it may not feel this way to you, breaks in work history are commonplace, especially since the recession of 2007-2009. Employers and recruiters know all too well how the economic downturn roiled the economy and threw many careers off course.
So, as you prepare your résumé and practice for job interviews, don’t try to hide the break in your work history. Transparency is always the best policy. It may seem like a difficult discussion to have, but it doesn’t have to be. You just need to be prepared if the hiring manager brings up the topic. If she does, a helpful formula to follow is: Explain, acknowledge, and reframe. What you say will depend on your personal experience, but here is an example of how you might approach a layoff:
Explain: In 2008, I was one of 15 employees laid off after (company’s name) made cuts at the middle management level for economic reasons caused by the recession.
Acknowledge: It was a challenging time because my job was fulfilling and my relationships with my supervisor and co-workers were rewarding.
Reframe: But the layoff gave me the opportunity to use the skills I gained at (company’s name) and launch my consultancy, something I’d always wanted to do. I worked as an independent contractor for a year and enjoyed great success with some terrific clients. But I found I missed being part of a team, and so in 2009 I accepted a position at (company name).
When dealing with a termination, you should also be open and remain dispassionate, though it may feel harder to do so. When you reframe, include an example of something you learned as a result of the experience; how you transformed a negative into a positive.
Always remember: An interview is not the time to complain about a previous employer. (Professionally, there is never a time or place for that.) Keep your explanation short. And above all, maintain your self-esteem. Remember, this is just business.
People also leave jobs for personal reasons like caring for a child or an adult relative or recuperating from an illness. When health is involved, employment experts say to keep explanations to a minimum: “I took a year off to deal with a medical issue but that’s behind me now, and I’m ready to return to work.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prohibits prospective employers from asking applicants medical questions or questions about disabilities.1
A note on résumés
There are times when an employment gap was so long ago you may find it unnecessary to include it on your résumé. Employment experts differ on how much professional experience a résumé should contain. Some have a 20-year rule—go back two decades and no more. So, if the job you’re seeking requires 15 years of experience, and your résumé sums up the last 20, a layoff 28 years ago may never enter the conversation. However, if the recruiter asks specific questions about the totality of your work history—or in the unlikely case asks if you’ve ever been let go from a job—you should be prepared to respond.
In choosing how to approach your résumé, and for other guidance on career planning, you may want to consult career planning and development resources in your area. An excellent online source is the CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
What should you do if you’re between jobs now?
There are many ways to use a career hiatus to your advantage and to bridge a potential gap in your résumé. If your skills lend themselves to contract or freelance work, start marketing yourself immediately. Continue to maintain professional activities and relationships, in person or through digital channels. Attend networking events. Join industry organizations and assume an active leadership role. Mentor up-and-coming professionals in your field. Keep skills sharp and make a difference in your community by volunteering for a cause that inspires passion—working for social change, or on behalf of children, the arts and culture, or health. Nonprofit organizations increasingly rely on volunteers with professional backgrounds in fields like finance, communications, and information technology. These are all experiences you can add to your résumé and discuss in an interview to explain a résumé gap.
This also may be the perfect opportunity to earn a degree online, accelerate your college education already in progress, or pursue a master’s or doctoral degree. If your industry or job category is contracting, employment projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics can point you toward new prospects.2 A bachelor’s degree in public health may help launch your career as a medical and health services manager, a sector expected to add 72,100 jobs between 2016-2026, at a faster-than-average growth rate of 20%.3 Jobs for registered nurses are projected to grow 15% between 2016-2026, also a much faster than average pace, adding 438,100 jobs.4 An online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) from an accredited university may be just the degree you need to take your career in a new and rewarding direction.
As a working professional, you never have to pause your career when you earn a degree online. Walden University’s flexible learning platform lets you set your pace and schedule to find the balance for the life you lead. For more than 45 years, Walden University has supported working professionals in achieving their academic goals and making a greater impact in their professions and their communities. Join a global community of online learners to start enhancing your career and building a résumé that links you to future success.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
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