Life is not a narrow path with universal benchmarks. Furthermore, life is impossible to predict. While these tribulations may create stress and fear, they are one of the most beautiful things about our existence. If your journey was set in stone, it would be boring and unfulfilling. Henceforth, employment gaps may happen. You may find yourself without work for some time. This, as stated, is a common hurdle of living.
As a staffing company, we know a thing or two about resumes. We often hammer home that breaks in your resume are a red flag. Simply put, having employment gaps looks as if you were the problem. It stirs doubt in hiring managers, making them believe that you may have been a negative employee and were unable to maintain or find work.
Ultimately, this may be untrue. We aren’t here to drill you about taking time off. There are a plethora of reasons that diverting from work (or your usual career) may be acceptable. Just look at the last few years. The strange and barren dystopia of COVID left plenty without normal work. This example is a valid reason to have employment gaps, but can still hold negative connotations for potential employers.
How do you explain breaks in your resume? How do you assure new employers that a gap in your employment does not signal bad workmanship?
- A Unique and Delicate Question
- One Size Does Not Fit All
- 1. Don’t Skip the Gap
- 2. What if You Didn’t Work?
- 3. Never Get Too Personal
- 4. How Long IS a Gap?
- 5. Do Not Fret Older Gaps
- 6. How Did You Stay Current?
- 7. Do Not Apply for Entry-Level Jobs
- 8. Get a Referral
- 9. Include Explanation in Your Cover Letter
- 10. Honesty Above All
- 11. How to Address Employment Gaps in the Interview
A Unique and Delicate Question
We were approached with an interesting inquiry recently. While we won’t name names or detail specifics, we will use the concept to build an example.
A former software engineer reached out to us with the question of breaking back into the industry. The engineer had not worked in the field for over a decade. Ultimately, the employee took a break from engineering to start his own unrelated business. Obviously, this business was deemed successful, running for over a decade. After some time, the engineer decided he wanted to get back into the stability of his prior career.
Dear Tier2Tek, how do I break back into the industry?
The question was answered with a few murmurs and hums. After all, it’s a tough ask. Sure, it’s a valid reason to take a decade-long break from your former career, but it can still cause negativity. Ultimately, a hiring manager scans a resume. If the first job experience listed is from 10 years ago, the hirer may not even continue. While there’s good reasoning, you may never get the chance to explain.
This question stirred up a multitude of thoughts. A brainstorm, if you will. Sure, this specific example is tough, but the whole concept is just as arduous. Employment gaps can happen for an unlistable number of reasons, both good and bad, but they shouldn’t condemn you as an employee.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Once again, we are not going to get into the specifics of what makes a good or bad break in employment history. Whatever happened, happened. It is not our place to judge. But, we will try to explain how to deal with it.
Whether you took time off for travel, raising a child, or starting a business doesn’t matter. Ultimately, you’re not going to have much time to get into detail in your resume (nor should you).
So, how do you handle it? How do you continue to catch the eyes of hiring managers without the overarching negativity surrounding resume gaps?
We’ve drawn on enough. Let’s get into it.
1. Don’t Skip the Gap
Let’s start with the basic premise. We have stated in our resume guides that you should list your employment history in chronological order. Henceforth, you should include all of your recent jobs, even if they are not in your desired industry.
We will use the software engineer for our examples. While he is applying for new jobs in the related field, it is best not to skip over those that he’s had in the meantime. Sure, they might not be applicable experiences to the engineering industry, but they still show that there was a source of employment during the ten-year gap.
As we have mentioned in our fabulous resume guide (read it, duh), you should include a brief job description and how it’s relevant to the job you’re applying to under each job experience listed. Seeing as these intermittent jobs may not have much relevance to the field, you should create a quick summary of what you did in that position.
If you can find a way to tie the experience to the former field, great! If not, describe the job in a bullet point or two and move on to those more applicable. As stated, do not skip over jobs. Even if they aren’t applicable, you want to outline a coherent timeline showing that you worked.
Back to our example. The engineer took 10 years between engineering jobs to open an unrelated business. To show this, he will list the timeframe of the business and how it correlated to his title.
As you can see, the engineer left no breaks in his work timeline. Though the business work may not have been correlated to software engineering, he still listed it to show that while there were gaps in his engineering history, there were no gaps in his work history.
Furthermore, he quickly showed that he did apply his software engineering skills to the unrelated job. This inclusion shows that despite the decade break, he still practices the arts of engineering.
2. What if You Didn’t Work?
Let’s say that you haven’t worked since your last job in the field. Whether caused by wanderlust-filled travel, a newborn child, or an unfortunate illness, your work history comes to a screeching halt at a certain point. Ultimately, you do not have an interim job to fill out the work experience timeline.
Let’s call a spade a spade. This lack of work does not look great on your resume. Consequently, it fills that employment gap with employer doubt. The hiring manager may look at this break in work as a negative reflection on you as a worker. Let’s squash it.
It may sound crazy, but include your absence as an occupation in your experience section. You do not need to go into detail about why you were absent from work, but you can quickly explain that there are employment gaps.
Let’s say our software engineer never created a business but had a decade gap where he was a stay-at-home father. This information should be noted. No, it is not work experience, but it does clear up why there is an employment gap on the resume.
Here our example engineer states that he spent the last decade being a stay-at-home parent. This concisely clears up what he was doing and why he was out of work during this period.
Now, it’s important to note that this doesn’t clear every particle in the air. Noting why there is a gap in your resume doesn’t automatically make things positive, for gaps will always raise some eyebrows. Fortunately, it does help by addressing the elephant in the resume. Ultimately, it shows that you are aware that the gap looks bad and are willing to be honest about it.
While resume gaps are bad, any bit that can help clear it up is worth doing. Don’t spend too much time discussing why there is a break, but note it.
3. Never Get Too Personal
When discussing your employment break, never get too personal about what events transpired. Consequently, this is not the time to delve into your hardships. If the hiring manager has further questions, they will ask them in the interview (we will get to this).
Let’s say you have a two-year-long stint of unemployment on your resume. In your work experience timeline, state that you spent that time looking for a job in your field and updating your education and research. That’s it. Don’t write a paragraph explaining how you were searching for jobs but couldn’t land one.
Furthermore, hardships and medical issues happen. If your long-term unemployment was based on mental health, physical health, or any other personal reason, state that you had to take time off work for health reasons. That’s all you need to note.
Simply acknowledging that there was a gap can go a long way.
4. How Long IS a Gap?
Let’s say you took a few months off between jobs for a long vacation. Does this have to be addressed in the resume?
Honestly, it depends. If you have the room, it can’t hurt to note. Our rule of thumb is a year. If you have had at least a year lapse between work, you should address it. Anything less than a year will usually be passed over an unrecognized.
For example, two years may not look like a significant gap in the grand scheme of your life, but it may be noticeable to hiring managers. If you took two years off to get a college degree, note it! As we said, it can’t hurt.
Job hunting can also be noted as a small gap. If your job hunt lasted six months, just put it on the timeline and move on.
5. Do Not Fret Older Gaps
A gap in your resume from 10 years ago may be asked about in an interview, but do not stress about it on your resume. If you had a year-long gap between jobs five jobs ago it will most likely be overlooked.
Ultimately, you want to focus on the recent gaps. The more recent the gap, the more explanation it will need.
Also, if you have a few-month gap between jobs, omit the months. Sites like Indeed may ask for months, but you can just include the year. If your gap takes place within the same year that you left one job and joined another, leave the months out. This omission is not lying but covers the exact timeframe in which you left one job and joined another. If the hiring manager asks during the interview, explain it honestly.
6. How Did You Stay Current?
Here’s the big one.
So, our software engineer took ten years off from working in the field. Technology tends to grow exponentially (we’re being sarcastic). Technology advances at an alarming rate. Software engineering now may be an entirely different beast than it was a decade ago. There may be new software, languages and tools.
Employment gaps raise the suspicion of bad workmanship, but they also raise the idea of being left behind by the field. Sure, our engineer can explain why he took the time off, but that doesn’t clear up the education gap.
Are they caught up with modern software engineering? Are they ready to jump back into the world, or will they be a decade behind?
Regardless of the industry, you must take the time to keep up with it before you attempt to hop back in. Taking a decade off from software is one thing, but taking a decade off and not keeping up with the practice is an entirely different problem.
Consequently, you should state how you kept current with the industry on your resume. If you achieved a new certification or updated your old one, note that in your education or skills section. If you kept up with market trends via research and practice, state that in your break explanation or skills section.
As always, this should not be a lie. You cannot expect to get back into an industry after substantial time off without having some new education. Even if just personal research, you need some way to show you’ve kept current.
Take the time to note this somewhere on your resume. Furthermore, be prepared to express and exemplify your new knowledge during the interview. The hiring manager is likely to ask you questions about the current trends of the industry, so be prepared.
7. Do Not Apply for Entry-Level Jobs
When speaking to the software engineer, he stated that he was willing to restart his career with entry-level jobs if necessary. While it makes sense in theory, we were quick to tell him to avoid this.
Ultimately, if you were a junior or senior in your field before your employment gaps, you should reenter the field in the same level of role. Having an employment break does not put you at the bottom rung of the ladder.
If you were a senior software engineer, applying for entry-level jobs wastes both your time and the employer’s time. The job will believe that you are only using the job as a launchpad to get back into higher jobs in the industry. Once you’ve worked enough to rework your resume, you will start applying for senior jobs as you had before.
Even if it isn’t true, the company has a point. While you may start entry-level, you are likely to become bored quickly. Once your expertise has been refreshed, you will be longing to get back into the role you once had. This swift change will not only scorn the new employer that gave you a shot but put a quick turnaround on your resume. Quick jobs are just as bad as employment gaps.
If you have hesitance in jumping back into a senior role, aim for something right below it. Once again, you do not need to start at the bottom of the ladder. Just apply to a multitude of jobs at your desired level. You will find one eventually.
8. Get a Referral
If you have negative breaks in your resume, your job search may feel hopeless. Luckily, this lack of direction is what connections are for.
If you know someone within the company you are applying to, get a referral from them. Even just a quick written referral can help you get past the application process. A hiring manager is more likely to overlook employment gaps if they received a positive review about you from within the company.
If you don’t know an employee in the company, reach out to one. Social media and cold-call emailing can be extremely useful in gaining new contacts. Shoot a quick email about your career and situation and see if they have any advice. If you can build a communicative relationship, you can ask for a referral eventually. Just be appropriate and follow best practices.
9. Include Explanation in Your Cover Letter
Everything we have stated above goes further in your cover letter. Your cover letter is your opportunity to delve into your career in more detail. Make sure to point out your career break and make a quick statement as to why it happened. Also, say that you are willing to discuss this gap further in your interview discussion.
As stated, it’s all about addressing the glaring hole. You do not need to go into personal detail.
It’s about acknowledging the gap and being open to discussing it. Trying to hide unemployment makes the whole situation even more concerning to employers.
10. Honesty Above All
You do not want to start a new job with a troubled foot forward. You do not want to land a new job based on lies and distrust. These lies, even if little, can affect your future career in an array of unfortunate ways.
Just be honest. Sure, you don’t want to delve into the reasons you were unemployed on your resume (especially if negative), but you should be honest about it. Do not create a fake job to take up the gap. Do not pretend that you were off doing something you weren’t. Note the truth and move on. Be willing to discuss the employment gap further in the interview process.
Speaking of which…
11. How to Address Employment Gaps in the Interview
You’ve made it past the application phase. Take a deep breath and get ready. If there is a substantial gap in your employment history, it will be brought up in the interview. No, seriously. The hiring manager will ask you questions about it. Be prepared to discuss this further.
Ultimately, wait for the question to be asked. Do not bring it up on your own. When the interview does ask, keep it brief. Explain why there’s a gap just as you did in your resume. If they need more details, they will ask further. There is no need to go off on a tangent about your history.
Furthermore, make sure to clear up the air about your future. Tell the interviewer that the situation is no longer a factor and that you are fully ready to reenter the field.
Then reiterate your interest in the position. State that despite the gap, you are ready to work and are excited about the opportunity to work with the company.
“Though a long time, I took the last decade off to start my own business. I wanted to attempt to turn my hobby into a full career. I did so, creating a business that lasted a decade. I even used my software engineering expertise to help build an app for the business.
Regardless, my time with that business has ended and I am fully ready to commit myself back to engineering. I am excited for the opportunity to reenter the field and succeed with your company.”
Okay, we won’t reiterate everything we’ve written here, but let’s break down the major points.
- Employment gaps in a resume are always seen as bad. The idea here is to get ahead of doubts and be honest about the situation.
- State why there was a break quickly in your resume and cover letter. Do not go into too much personal detail, especially if it’s negative.
- Express how you kept up with the industry and why you are ready to enter it again.
- Be prepared to discuss the gap in your interview. Do so with brevity and professionalism.
- Always be honest.
The employment gaps in your resume are not a death sentence. It can be a road bump, but if you are great at your work and have kept up on it, you can find yourself in a role once again. Stick to it.
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