How to handle a gap in your resume
Adam asked me how to handle a gap in his resume. He was planning to return to work after a period of time spent without a job. He wanted to know how to explain that space between jobs on his resume.
People often take time off work. Either for personal or family reasons, or simply because it took quite a while to line up a new gig. It happens. Having spent some time not working doesn’t make you any less talented, qualified, or valuable on the job market.
So, go into as little detail as possible about the period not working in the resume. Your resume is a marketing document that should highlight what’s most relevant to the employer. It is meant to focus on the stuff that best sells your candidacy for a specific position, not to explain everything you’ve done in your life.
Focus on the accomplishments and achievements you’ve made while you were working. What are your core skills and credentials that make you the stellar candidate for the role? These are the things that will land you an interview.
The only reason to fill in the gap when you’ve been off work is to avoid having that time become a red flag. Employers like to read resumes in reverse chronological order to see what you’ve been doing most recently and how your career has progressed.
That’s the problem with functional resumes. These focus on your skills and accomplishments, but without a timeline. Many employers see these as even more of a red flag than gaps would be. That’s because they assume you’re using that format to mask something in your work history.
So, fill in the gap, but keep it simple. For example:
Jan. 2015- July 2015: Six month leave of absence from the workforce to recover from injury/tend to sick relative/travel around the world/stay home with newborn.
Sept. 2014- May 2015: Took some time off to tend to family matters – now resolved.
You can explain in more detail as needed – without getting too personal – in a job interview. In that conversation, make sure your potential employer knows anything been doing to retain and grow your skills even though you have been out of the workforce.
Especially highlight anything you’ve done while you were off that can be related to your field. For example negotiating, blogging, volunteering, studying, part-time or freelance work, community involvement (hopefully not court mandated), care-giving.
If the gap was a year or two ago, and not following your most recent job, you can potentially mask it by just listing the years as your employment dates, rather than the months. For example:
ACME May 2011-April 2013
EMCA October 2013-January 2015
This indicates a four-to-five month gap in 2013. However if you only listed the years for past work experience, it would look like this:
ACME 2011 – 2013
EMCA 2013 – 2015
And you won’t have fudged the truth at all, just limited the details. One thing you shouldn’t do is lie about your dates of previous employment to try to cover gaps. In a basic background check, employers will call your past employers to verify your resume. Even companies that do not release much information about former employees will confirm dates of employment. That is actually one of the most common resume lies, so employers are on the lookout for it.
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