There are many reasons why someone could have gaps in their work history. They may have chosen to take time out of the workforce to raise their children. They may have needed a break to care for an ill relative or to recover from an illness themselves. They may have travelled. Or they may have been retrenched and struggled to find replacement work. These are all valid reasons, though it can be hard to know how to deal with them on your resume. The question is how to acknowledge them whilst still showing the employer you have the skills and experience to meet their needs.
Whilst the idea of just ignoring the gaps and hoping the employer won’t notice is attractive, it’s also fraught with danger. Employers will always notice them, I can guarantee it. If you don’t provide an explanation they will make assumptions about why you weren’t working during this time – usually negative ones. Luckily the majority of employers are understanding, but you do need to give them an explanation.
You don’t have to go into too much detail about what happened, a sentence or two in your cover letter or in the summary section of a resume will do. If you can alert the employer that you have had gaps in your work history, and provide a legitimate reason why, then you increase the chances of the employer understanding your situation and assessing your application fairly.
Once you have explained the reason behind the gap you need to adjust the order in which the information is presented in your resume. If you haven’t been doing any casual work, whatever you are currently doing/have been doing most recently should be listed first – this may be study (including short courses), a volunteer role or anything else that is relevant to the role you are applying for (e.g. a cookery blog you have been writing if you are applying for hospitality roles).
Employers understand that gaps can happen, but they do like to see that you have been doing something whilst you have not been working.
The easiest way to clearly show an employer your suitability is to focus on your skills. Employers care about what you can do, they don’t care whether those skills were developed in paid employment or not. If you have most recently been volunteering treat it like a job on your resume by highlighting the skills you utilised and any achievements you had. It is the same for any training you have done. By emphasising how your skills match the employer’s needs you can make them so keen on you, they may even forget the employment gaps exist!
Written by our resume queen, Christina. If you have questions about what to include in your resume, book in to our upcoming resume workshop.