I get a lot of questions about what to do with a gap in employment history. The good news is that these are no longer the kiss of death they were reputed to be years ago, especially with COVID wreaking havoc with the job market.
That said, there are some better ways to address the gap to ensure that you aren’t eliminated from the running even before an interview.
- If you have been out of work for less than a year, you can list your employment dates just as years. For example:
Technical Writer, Ben’s Writing Services, Denver, CO 2015-2020
- If your absence was for personal reasons, like caring for a loved one, include any unpaid work you did during that time—anything from helping at your kids’ school to leading an eldercare square dancing class. And don’t forget things that look unrelated, like fostering animals for your local shelter or organizing neighborhood social events! It’s all stuff you have done, so include it. I like to make it look the same as the paid work:
Volunteer, neighborhood social group 2020-present
* Co-plan monthly block gatherings, with attendance of upwards of 20
* Ensure social distancing practices and the wearing of masks from all participants
Don’t forget to add any classes you’ve taken, too!
- Choose your language on your cover letter carefully. It can be easy to turn a leave of absence (voluntary or not) into an apology in your cover letter. Make sure you’re focused on the positive: “I was able to step away from paid work while my family relocated to the Chicago area, and now I am eager to return to work,” rather than, “While I have been out of paid for several months….”
- Lead with a summary. The very top of your resume, under your contact info, is prime real estate. If you use it to show off your highlights, skills, accomplishments, applicable licenses, and fascinating talking points, employers will likely be less concerned about what looks like a gap.
- Title the section “Experience Highlights” or “Selected Relevant Experience” and remove mention of some smaller, sorter job experiences. This implies that you are cherry-picking the very best stuff for them to read, so they aren’t wasting time on the less important stuff.
Finally, relax a little. Many people have solid, packed chronologies on their resumes, but many don’t. It doesn’t make you look suspect to an employer unless there is something else going on that can’t be explained, like serial short-term jobs that weren’t supposed to be short-term. (And in that case, find yourself a career counselor to work with!)