3 Ways to Explain Gaps in Employment

“What do I do about the gaps in my career history? Is there an easy but honest way to make them disappear?”

These questions, in various forms, are among the most common concerns I hear from clients. Career articles and websites and books will all tell you that leaving a gap in your resume is a cardinal sin. This is not necessarily the case. There are numerous reasons you may have developed gaps in your employment progression over the years. Most of them having nothing to do with you being a bad person, or an unreliable worker.

I am a military spouse. Many of my friends are as well. We move all over the country, and the world, every 3-5 years. This is completely out of our control. It is rare to transition immediately into a new job at each location. We may be moved to a remote location with limited employment options, or to a country where we cannot get working papers, thus leaving long gaps.

So how do you deal with a resume that may be full of gaps?

Be honest, and explain

You should always be honest when explaining any absence from working, but you do have license to spin what you did do in the best possible light. For instance, if you were laid off from your job and had a hard time finding a replacement but spent a lot of time with your children, simply say, “I took an opportunity to spend a few months with my children in between jobs.”

Focus on unpaid work

We’ve all heard that it is easier to find a job when you have a job – even though no one knows exactly why. So, present yourself as having a job – or perhaps an “occupation.” You might not be working, but what projects or studies are keeping you busy?

Rather than leaving gaps unexplained on a résumé, find unofficial jobs to fill the space. A job does not have to be paid or full-time to be experience. Did you help your spouse with bookkeeping for their business? Home school your children? Edit your friend’s business plan? Are you volunteering as a coach, with the PTA, or other community association? Turn that experience into a few accomplishment-based statements. Suddenly you are/were an (unpaid) independent consultant.

Highlight studies – whether formal or self-directed

You may have taken advantage of your time off to upgrade your skills or learn new ones. If you took any courses or classes that add value to you as an employee, be sure to mention those as well. If you did enough studying to warrant the description, suddenly that 18 month gap in employment becomes a sabbatical. (And note, self-directed studies can be included, but be prepared to quantify and back up what you learned.)

If you are unsure what possible questions could be generated from your résumé, have another person look at it. It is best to be prepared for certain questions and scenarios that will likely come up in an interview. You do not want to be caught unaware, floundering for an answer. Give yourself time to figure out the best explanation for times of unemployment so an interviewer sees it as reasonable or even beneficial.

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