How To Turn Employment Gaps On Your Resume From Dealbreakers to Deal Makers

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022
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Life is messy which can make for an untidy work history. While an unbroken timeline of gainful employment looks fantastic on a resume, sometimes things happen outside of our control and we find ourselves going months, maybe even years, between jobs. Employment gaps are quite common—according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics 9 out of 10 people in the U.S. have been out of work at some point in their lives. Regardless of how common it is, some hiring managers or recruiters might see these gaps in a work history as a red flag. 

An employment gap doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker! It’s all about how you present it on your resume. Get ahead of this gap with a strategy and understand that it is possible to get your dream job. Put it in the right light and a gap could actually count in your favor.

Types of Employment Gaps

  • Laid Off/Job Termination

Losing a job can be a tricky thing to address on your resume. You want your resume to focus on your positive attributes as much as possible. But sometimes you have to address getting laid off or losing employment to explain a gap. When doing so, focus on your achievements. How did you excel in your old job? What transferable skills did you hone there that you can bring to a new company (and put on a resume)? How did you keep up with industry trends/new skills during this gap?  Always be thinking how you can turn a potential negative into a positive.

  • Skill Development & Education

One way to explain why you weren’t working for a period of time is to say that you were working on yourself.  “Over the years, many of my adult students say that losing their job was one of the worst and best things that happened to them,” said Dr. Lily Davidov, Rio Salado's Faculty Chair of Accounting, Entrepreneurship, Risk Management & Insurance, and Small Business. Using a period of unemployment to pursue skill development and/or further your education is a great way to show to employers your willingness to challenge yourself and grow. “Even if you did not take any classes, talk about your personal growth, the ability to see the opportunity given rather than taken,” said Davidov.

  • Volunteering/Networking

Being active in your community can also be a good way to explain your employment gap(s). Volunteering can help you develop essential soft skills like communication and teamwork; it can also be a good avenue for personal references from people you’ve worked closely with as a volunteer. Another effective way to demonstrate your commitment to professional development is to work with relevant professional associations. Networking with people in your field can help keep you plugged in to important trends in your industry and shows to prospective employers you made a concerted effort to put yourself out there.

  • Personal/Medical Reasons

Our lives can take sudden turns. Maybe you had to take time between jobs to care for an ailing relative, or perhaps you had to relocate cross-country and had trouble finding a new job in a new city. Maybe you had kids and took time off to be a stay-at-home parent, or you came down with a major illness that you needed time to recover from. “Many of us are not comfortable sharing personal situations but in most cases your (future) employer expects you to explain how and why this gap fits into your resume,”  Davidov said. “Do not overshare.” 

  • Experience Is Everything

No matter how you explain an employment gap, always frame it in terms of what you learned from it and how it helped further your professional and personal development. Even something like parenthood, which may not seem at all work related, can be used to highlight qualities that would be attractive to an employer (“Raising my kids these last few years taught me a lot about patience and how to stay focused during high-stress situations”). Your experiences during these periods can be critical to your growth as a professional. Remember that an employment gap is NOT an absence of effort or activity. A gap can be a crucible, something that tempers you into a stronger person. 

“Focusing on what you gained from the gap in employment puts you in control of the narrative instead of leaving a potential employer to guess about the employment gap,” said Gina Pinch, Rio’s Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration.

Formatting Brief Employment Gaps On Your Resume

If you have small gaps in your employment history, the easiest way to address that in a resume is to edit the dates so that they don’t include months or specific dates. Let’s say that you have this gap in your resume:

                            Clerk, OmniCorp

                            March 26, 2020 - February 10, 2021

                            Assistant, StartUp

                            January 9, 2016 - November 10, 2019

 

See how there’s a noticeable gap between those two jobs? If you frame it this way, it’s less noticeable:

 

                            Clerk, OmniCorp

                            Mid 2020 - Early 2021

                            Assistant, StartUp

                            Early 2016 - Late 2019

 

In most cases, specificity is a good thing to strive for when writing your resume (especially in regards to your skills!). But here is a case where being a bit more general/vague can work in your favor. 

Formatting Larger Gaps On Your Resume

If you have lengthy employment gaps or multiple gaps to address on your resume, editing the dates may not be enough. In this case you may want to consider using an alternative format for your resume. A lot of resumes use the reverse-chronological method, where you work backwards from the most recent position held to your oldest career-relevant work experience. 

While this can be a pretty easy formatting method it also really highlights gaps. Using a functional or hybrid resume can give you some more flexibility and more room to explain your gaps:

  • Functional Resume: This format foregrounds your skills over your work history. While the functional resume format does include room for a work history, it usually comes after you do a breakdown of your professional skills and talents. This can be a particularly useful format if you’ve had to change careers because it lets you emphasize your transferable skills over shining a light on past jobs that may not be relevant to your current field.
  • Hybrid Resume: Also known as a “combination resume,” the hybrid format blends together the skills & achievement spotlights on a functional resume with a chronological work history.

Need more career search assistance? Check out resources on the Counseling and Career Services page.

 

Article by Austin Brietta