How To Explain a Gap in Your Resume: 4 Easy Ways

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February 1, 2024
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min read

3 key takeaways

  • Employment gaps are becoming less stigmatized than in previous job markets, but hiring managers may still have some reservations.
  • There are four strategies for focusing on your strengths rather than on a gap in your employment to optimize your resume's appeal.
  • The Teal AI Resume Builder has flexible design and formatting that can help you craft a narrative that emphasizes your core skills and accomplishments and focuses on your relevant experience.

Navigating the job search and interview process is already stressful—explaining a gap in your resume can be even more challenging. 

Good employees leave work to raise children, care for ill parents, prioritize mental health, focus on physical health, return to school, and start their own businesses.

Companies lay off top performers during downsizing, organizational restructuring, and economic downturns—the list goes on.

Life is unpredictable. And resume gaps? They happen.

So, if you find yourself ready to tackle your next role but need to know how to explain a gap in resume history, you aren't alone, and there are strategies to address and overcome it to ultimately move forward.

What is an employment gap?

Gaps in employment are any point in your resume between jobs or simply unemployed. A general timeframe for an employment gap is typically six months or more. 

How bad is an employment gap in your resume?

You’ve probably heard the age-old saying you should only quit your current job when you have another one lined up. 

But times have changed. And people are beginning to understand that this mindset contributes to the unrealistic expectation that your life should revolve around work when, in fact, sometimes your life has to revolve around, well…life.

Not only that, but today, many employment gaps result from downsizing, layoffs, or even firings—not resignation.

The important thing to realize is that many people have these discrepancies in their resumes, and resume gaps are starting to matter less to employers.

What does matter is staying current in your field and how you explain employment gaps to hiring managers and prospective employers during your job search. 

Do employers care about employment gaps in your resume?

The short answer here is yes: Employers, recruiters, and hiring managers do care about career gaps in your resume—but only if you can’t offer an explanation or reason. 

The longer answer is that companies may not care about employment gaps nearly as much as they used to—especially in today’s more challenging market. 

Simply put? A gap is no longer considered the red flag it once was. 

So why do employers care at all when it's become common for people to have a gap in their resume? 

Well, most hiring managers, recruiters, and employers just want to know that you're well-informed on your industry, role, skills, and credentials.

Many fields change quickly with the constant evolution of tech and tools; staying current with industry trends is critical as it ensures you can adapt to the latest advancements and be a valuable asset to an organization.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can effectively address resume gaps—and even use it to your advantage. 

How to explain a gap in your resume

1. Be honest and transparent about your work history

Never lie about an employment gap in your resume by changing dates or months to make it appear shorter or by trying to hide it altogether. 

A hiring manager can verify work history with your previous employers or even by using LinkedIn, so lying is a surefire way to lose the opportunity or potentially get let go later on. 

If you have a significant employment gap on your resume, use your cover letter to explain the situation in further detail. 

In one to two short sentences, briefly explain what caused the employment gap and how you used that time for your personal and professional development and growth. You can then use the rest of the cover letter to reiterate your interest in the position and highlight why you're a great fit. 

For example, if you were out of work for a year due to an illness, you could simply state that you took a medical leave and are fully prepared to re-enter the workforce. You don’t have to mention anything overly personal about this period of unemployment.

Addressing the employment gap in your cover letter allows you to be transparent at the very beginning of the hiring process. You appear more honest and trustworthy—which is a great way to stand out.

2. Use a different resume format

Knowing what to put on a resume can help you remove focus from your employment gap. For example: 

  • Consider using a hybrid format like the sample resume below. Start with an eye-catching professional summary and your relevant hard skills. Then, add a chronological list of your employment history below. This will help minimize the gaps in your work experience section and draw the reader's focus to your valuable skills instead.
Use a hybrid format to highlight your skills.
  • List the reason for a long employment gap as one of your work histories. For example, if you used that time to learn a new skill, work as a stay-at-home parent, or perhaps do some freelancing, highlight it as a job. Adding these elements like hard skills or freelance work on a resume shows a potential employer that you used this time off purposefully.
  • Highlight your accomplishments during your time away from work. Just make sure that they’re related to the job you're applying for. For example, spending time away from work to write a book is a relevant accomplishment for a copywriter or someone working in content marketing. 

Including your employment gap on your resume not only demonstrates your honesty—it's also an excellent opportunity to show off your creativity, which can help you stand out to employers as well.

Showcase your best with Teal

To highlight your best and most relevant qualifications, you need the right tools.

The free Teal AI Resume Builder has a Drag-and-Drop Editor to arrange each section of your resume—highlight your best and most relevant experience. 

3. Consider removing a gap in resume history if it’s outdated

You can likely remove a resume gap from your resume if you have more recent relevant work history. 

Employment gaps from five years ago or longer mean much less to employers— especially if you’ve had more recent, consistent employment.

The guideline is only to explain a gap in your resume that happened 1–5 years before the present date. Remember, the job of your resume is to showcase relevant experience; anything older that isn’t relevant shouldn’t be included. 

For example, you don’t have to explain an employment gap from a layoff seven years ago if you’ve held relevant positions since then. Why? Because your resume work experience should only showcase the top 10% of your skills and qualifications that are 100% relevant to the role you’re applying to. 

Pro Tip: If you’re feeling stuck, the Teal AI Resume Builder can help you generate achievements for your work history with the click of a button. (To get quality, metric-driven achievements, make sure to attach a job description to incorporate relevant keywords.)

4. Share how you spent time during the employment gap

Companies have the right to ask you what you were doing during an employment gap. But you can actually use a gap in your resume to your advantage. 

If you went back to school, completed certifications, did some volunteer work, took courses, or learned any new skill, you should include this information.  Professional development like this shows initiative, and employers will appreciate your commitment to your field. 

For example, suppose you spent time away from work to pursue a degree to advance your career. In that case, you can list relevant coursework or research as achievements and highlight the correlation with your employment gap.

When it comes to your resume, Senior Technical Recruiter and Career Strategist Kristen Fife says,

“Don’t go into details about employment gaps (i.e., child or elder care and medical issues); you don’t want to even open that door.

If it's less than one year, label the break as a sabbatical. For longer gaps, cover them with relevant ways you've kept up your skills (the biggest concern of hiring managers is skills erosion). 

Don’t try to overemphasize non-related activities as professional (i.e., a stay-at-home parent or caregiver managing family finances does not qualify as a financial analyst or accountant).
Instead, include things like writing (articles, blogs, professional content), teaching or taking classes, upskilling including boot camps, volunteering in your field, and occasional consulting are all ways to show hiring managers you've kept up your skills."

How to explain resume gaps in your cover letter

A cover letter provides ample opportunity for job seekers like you to explain achievements, personal ambitions, and even employment gaps. But if you’re going to address a gap in your cover letter, you don’t have to go into specifics.

Give potential employers enough information to explain the break in work, but don’t provide a lot of personal details. Writing one to two straightforward sentences is acceptable. Keep the rest of your letter focused on your active work history, relevant skills, credentials, impact, and why you’re a good fit for the role. 

Pro Tip: Use Teal's AI cover letter generator within the Resume Builder to generate personalized cover letters for every position you apply to.

Create personalized cover letters in one click.

If you need some cover letter inspiration, check out these 1200+ cover letter examples.

How to cover career gaps during job interviews

If you have a significant employment gap in your resume, be prepared for it to come up during the job interview process. But remember, employment gaps are more common than you think.

It's also important to understand that employers only tend to care about recent unemployment gaps, so don't stress about every single one. Employers aren't going to be worried about unemployment gaps that happened several years ago.

You can prepare for these interview questions while job searching, creating talking points that will help you answer them smoothly. Practice this scenario a few times with a friend or family member until you feel comfortable. Again, remember not to overshare—just be clear and honest.

With that said, here are some more key takeaways for explaining an employment gap during an interview:

  • Keep the conversation about an employment gap brief. You don't need to go into detail unless you were improving your skill set while away from work. 
  • Don’t apologize. You shouldn’t feel guilty about a career break because your life doesn’t revolve completely around your work. 
  • You don’t always have to share hard or technical skills you’ve learned away from work. For example, if you lived through an experience that has taught you more about empathy, you can always talk about it. Soft skills like this almost always translate into the workplace. 

Bridge the gap with Teal

Explaining a career gap in your job application isn’t as difficult as it may seem. If you’re honest and transparent about why, it shouldn’t affect your chances of securing a new job. 

An excellent resume and cover letter with relevant skills, qualifications, and impact can help you explain or even take the focus from an employment gap—and that’s where Teal comes in. 

Teal’s AI Resume Builder, sample resumes, and resume templates can help you craft a career history that minimizes the impact of employment gaps and helps you land your dream job.

Don’t let  gaps in your work history hold you back. Get started with Teal today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I format a career gap on my resume to avoid negative attention?

When formatting a career gap on your resume, focus on continuity and skills gained during the gap. Use a functional or combination resume format to highlight your skills and achievements rather than a strictly chronological order. Be sure to include any freelance work, volunteering, or education undertaken during the gap, and present it in a positive light that shows personal growth or contribution.

Is it better to proactively address a resume gap in a cover letter or wait until the interview stage?

It's often advantageous to proactively address a resume gap in your cover letter. This allows you to control the narrative and explain the gap in a positive context, emphasizing what you've learned or how you've grown during that time. It shows transparency and can alleviate any concerns the employer might have before the interview.

Can taking a professional development course during a gap in employment help my resume?

Absolutely. Taking a professional development course during an employment gap can be very beneficial for your resume. It demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning and can provide you with up-to-date skills relevant to your industry. Be sure to list any courses or certifications you've completed during your gap to showcase your initiative and dedication to professional growth.

Kayte Grady

Kayte, Senior Copywriter at Teal and Champion of ADHD professionals, is a seasoned writer passionate about storytelling and career growth. With a data-driven approach to content marketing and a word-nerd knack for resume builder analysis, Kayte’s on a mission to empower job seekers to land a job they love. Constantly pivoting and reinventing herself, this social-worker-turned-marketer found growth and camaraderie in tech—a genuine surprise given her never-ending devotion to the paper calendar.

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