How to Handle Employment Gaps on your Resume

It’s important to be mindful of holes in your resume. (Hint: The worst thing you can do is ignore them!) The shocking truth? It’s OK to get personal.

Your resume is not the time to play coy regarding your skills and achievements, right? It’s also not the time to be mysterious about your work history. Transparency on your resume is crucial for making it past first screening.

If you have periods of unemployment in your past, your best strategy is to volunteer the reasons on your resume. That takes the guessing game out for the recruiter. Resumes have become increasingly personal, whether it’s a distinctive voice on paper, or more creative formatting. That’s great! It’s equally OK to get personal as to why you were out of work.

The following are examples of perfectly acceptable reasons for gaps in work history, and disclosing them on your resume will NOT make you appear unprofessional:

(January 2015 – August 2015) Traveled throughout Asia and Europe… Awesome! If I‘m the recruiter, I’ll contact you just to hear about your trip!

(February 2010 – May 2010) Cared for terminally ill family member… If you work in health care, that may have provided relevant career experience. Even if you’re an accountant or machine shop supervisor, offering your time to care for someone sick or elderly demonstrates compassion, a desirable quality in an employee.

(January 2017 – Present) High risk pregnancy and maternity leave I know, we’re not supposed to talk about such things as (gasp!) having a family life. There is a chance the manager will think: So she’s got an infant. She’s probably not going to want to work long hours. She’s going to be sleep-deprived and slow. And she looks young. How many other “high risk pregnancies” will she miss work for?

First of all, would you want to work for someone who thought like that anyway? Secondly, maybe the manager will think: My wife went through that! She was bedridden for months and then cared for the colicky twins. She couldn’t wait to get back to work and be among adults!

Even recruiters and hiring managers are human, and most can relate to family obligations.

(October 2016 – Present) Elective surgery and subsequent recovery. 100% free from restrictions and eager to return to full-time work… I’ve hired or re-hired a number of workers coming off of medical leaves. There’s no shame in being unemployed to address a health issue. And it’s going to come out during the interview anyway. Sure, you’re not required to offer it up. But when asked why you left your position in October 2016, merely citing “personal reasons” will raise all kinds of red flags. If it’s health or family-related, it is illegal for the interviewer to ask further. But that won’t stop them from wondering. You’re much better off being honest and focusing on the positive. A good recruiter will note that there’s a legitimate reason for the job lapse and move on without giving it further consideration.

(April 2017 – June 2017) Extensive home remodel project … Whether you’re a marketing manager or a paralegal, enduring a major home remodel probably honed your skills for planning, multi-tasking, and problem-solving.

 (March 2017 – Present) After being laid off from XYZ Company, I spent time with family; now I am networking and interviewing to determine my next career endeavor. 

If it’s 2017, and your resume only covers through 2015, the recruiter will either (a) think you were too lazy to update it or (b) wonder why you haven’t worked in 2 years. Any of the above examples or similar would squash all concerns. No explanation, and the recruiter may jump to worst case scenario. Were you in jail for embezzling from your last employer? Maybe you were feverishly applying for every job in the industry, and if my competitors didn’t hire you, why should I? You had some kind of Travis Kalanick meltdown? I realize those presumptions are wildly unlikely and unfair. But why leave room for misinterpretation?

Look at it this way, a typical recruiter juggles 20-35+ job openings. Each one can elicit dozens and dozens of resumes. Depending on the size and structure of the organization, the recruiter probably has A LOT of responsibilities beyond chit-chatting with applicants. (That’s assuming the company has a dedicated recruiter or recruitment team, not an HR Generalist shouldering all HR functions). Bottom line, the person reading your resume doesn’t have time to call you just to fill in the blanks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been intrigued by a resume, but periods of unexplained unemployment require further investigation, so they go on the back burner… where they are still burning away. Put yourself in the recruiter or hiring manager’s shoes. If it’s between an incomplete resume and an equally qualified resume that is thorough with no question marks, who would you call?

One note of caution: A sentence or two is sufficient. Beware of TMI. No need to spend an entire paragraph detailing your folk band’s trek to Nashville in a failed attempt to break into the music industry.

Want to take this further and REALLY make the recruiter love you? I recommend indicating on your resume why you left each former employer. Most job applications ask, and the interviewer will. Why be cagey? Just lay your cards on the table. Then there’s no reason for the recruiter to suspect a bluff.