How to Deal with Job Gaps on Your Resume

By Laura DeCarlo

You may be a little scared to put that gap in employment on your resume. Job gaps can happen for any number of reasons, but when it’s time to return to work, you can feel like you just stepped over the edge of a cliff. Some of the reasons for job gaps include:

  • Unemployment/layoff

  • Stay-at-home mom or dad

  • Caring for elderly parents

  • Incarceration

  • Illness/disability

  • Attending school

  • Taking a sabbatical (to write a book or travel)

Regardless of why you have the gap, one thing is for sure: employers will see recent unaccounted time in your work history as a red flag. So, instead of hoping it will be overlooked, determine how to address it in the most positive light for your situation.

If the gap was only for a few months or less than a year, list only years in your employment history instead of months and years. This can make a gap disappear on your resume (but not in reality). You still need to be prepared to explain the gap in the interview or in a detailed job application.

Viewing a gap as a good thing

The first step in turning a gap in your work history into a value-added time period is to look for the golden threads that make it valuable. Consider things that may translate into covering the gap:

  • Did you learn anything new from classes, self-study, reading books, earning a certification, or attending professional meetings or conferences?

  • Did you perform unpaid work for a family member or friend?

  • Did you create crafts that you sold online or at local events?

  • Did you volunteer and contribute to projects, leadership, or fundraising?

  • Did you write a book or start and build a blog in your industry?

  • Did you travel extensively and become more culturally aware?

  • Did you stay deeply connected to your industry through professional association and trade memberships, networking, and self-study?

  • Did you help old customers or employers as an unpaid favor?

When you get these details down on paper, you can begin to see how you can cover a gap with true value-added experience.

Minding the gap

How does all this data translate into an appropriate job title, location, and description in your resume? As you likely know, many positive elements eclipse the real reason for your employment gap. Put the emphasis on what best positions you for your target.

Covering your gap begins with the job title you use as a placeholder for this time period in your life. Depending on what you were doing this could appear as:

Consultant; Fundraiser (Volunteer); Coordinator; Sabbatical; Self-Study, Project Management; or even Bookkeeper.

Here’s how each came to be, with an included explanation of the gap so you can understand the reasoning.

  • Consultant: While looking for a new position, I contacted old clients and did some work for them. I also created a blog and advertised myself in my professional association’s journal, which led to a few short gigs.

  • Fundraiser (Volunteer): While raising my children, I volunteered for the ULA and was elected to direct their 2015 fundraising initiative, which led to recruitment of team, strategic planning, innovative marketing, and a 300 percent increase in funds over prior years’ campaign.

  • Coordinator: As a stay-at-home mom, I maintained time management and organization despite challenging personalities and schedule conflicts. I directed daily activities ranging from study groups to field trips.

  • Self-Study, Project Management: I utilized my employment gap to stay-up-to-date on trends through PMI and continued pursuit of PMP credential. Presented the Project Gap to 30 attendees at local PMI chapter meeting. Contributed extensively to support discussions on PMI web forum.

  • Bookkeeper: I kept the books for my husband’s business, ABC Trucking, which included processing accounts payables and accounts receivables, handling all cash receipts, and bank balancing. I set company up on Quickbooks, which reduced processing time by over 40 percent monthly.

The reasons for the gaps you see above wouldn’t go in your resume. The idea is to cover the gap without exploiting the why. Know that if you are covering a gap, you’ll have a chance to discuss it in the interview. That’s the appropriate time for discussing the “why” of a job gap. If it gets out in your resume, you likely won’t get the interview.

Instead, position yourself, truthfully, as a great candidate with the positive elements of your gap and be prepared to discuss the reason for the gap in your interviews.

The chief mistake people make is assuming that a positive explanation won’t sell. Instead, they fudge dates from legitimate jobs to cover the gaps. You may get away with it in the beginning. But ultimately, you’ll be asked to sign a formal application — a legal document.

When a company wants to chop staff without paying severance benefits, the first thing that happens is an intense investigation of the company’s database of application forms. People who lied on their applications can be sent out into the mean streets with nothing but their current paychecks on their backs. Lying isn’t worth the risk and it’s a mistake.

Work history breaks are less obvious in a functional or hybrid format.