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The Missing Link: Explaining Employment Gaps to Employers

Candidate A has a 2-year gap in her resume because she took time off to care for her children.

Candidate B has the same time gap, but they were laid off and haven’t been able to find work since.

Both candidates, though their reasons widely differ, are dealing with the same issue: gaps in employment that may hold them back during their job search.

However, it is not the gaps in your resume that matter, but how you explain them.

First, let’s start with best practices for creating a resume for candidates with employment gaps, regardless of the reason.

A good strategy to avoid too many questions about gaps in employment is to utilize a functional resume style. A functional resume is largely focused on skill sets rather than particular past positions. In a functional resume, the work experience section is listed without dates, meaning less attention will be drawn to this issue and you may only have to explain it during the interview if directly asked about the timeline of previous positions.

A second strategy is to utilize a chronological resume that explains the reason for the gap directly. This could mean stating in one sentence that you were laid off in your last position listing. It could also mean including a whole entry for your gap, stating that you were a homemaker during the enclosed dates.

You can also use your cover letter to explain your employment gap. If your situation is a bit more complicated than one sentence can explain, include the gap on your resume and explain it in your cover letter. Always keep your explanation as short as possible. Even in the cover letter, your explanation should only take up 2-3 lines.

Once you’ve decided how to present your employment gap in your resume, and made it to the interview stage, then it becomes about learning how to explain the reasons behind your employment gap with strategy and confidence.

To achieve this, prepare your explanation beforehand. Write it down, practice it out loud, and run it by others for an external opinion. Remember, the best explanations come from those who know what they are trying to say and can deliver it with confidence.

When preparing your explanation, there are three major keys: Honesty, efficiency, and redirection.

Being honest is important. Employers will find out one way or another if you are lying to them about your past, so it’s better to get as far ahead of it as possible. Simply state why your employment gap exists, and explain what you did or have been doing during the gap to maintain your skills. This could be anything from volunteering to continuing education.

Getting fired is often the hardest gap to explain. The best strategy you can take in this situation is to take responsibility for what happened. It’s important to explain the difference in opinion that may have occurred between you and your previous employer, the realization of anything that you might have done wrong, and what you learned from the experience. Any employer worth working for should understand that we all mistakes, and that those who own up to theirs make the best employees.

While honesty is important, it is also important to keep your explanation short and sweet, leaving out any unnecessary details. All the employer wants to know is why you were unemployed and what you did during that time to maintain your skills. They don’t need to know the details of your time at home with your kids or the terrible fight you had with your boss before you were fired. Keep it as general as possible, while still getting your message across.

Finally, it’s important to redirect the conversation back to why you are seeking this position now and what makes you qualified. Remember that the point of the interview is to convince the employer that you are the best candidate. Therefore, regardless of your explanation, you should always steer the conversation back to your strengths and the qualities that make you the ideal candidate for the job.

Written by: MacKenzie Verhelst, BAPsych, CVRP-TSA

MacKenzie Verhelst is a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant for Creative Therapy Consultants. MacKenzie is a Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Professional (CVRP) with Transferrable Skill Analysis (TSA) certification and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from McGill University. She demonstrates expertise in vocational assessment, resume/cover letter development, interview preparation, active job search support, and job sustainment services. MacKenzie is passionate about helping others reach their utmost potential and advocates for finding joy in work. To learn more about Vocational Rehabilitation services, please visit click here.


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