How to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume

Kellie Hanna, CPRW
By Kellie Hanna, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: April 10, 2024

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Addressing an employment gap on your resume can seem daunting, but with the right approach and strategies, you can effectively position yourself as a top job candidate to potential employers. 

Whether you took time off to care for a family member, pursue further education, or navigate a career transition, we provide practical advice and valuable tips for writing a resume that highlights your strengths and minimizes the impact of gaps in your work history. We’ll empower you to navigate the job application process confidently with a gap in employment on your resume so you can present yourself as a strong candidate in today’s competitive job market. 

We will cover: 

  • What are employment gaps?
  • How to account for an employment gap on your resume.
  • The best formats for a resume with an employment gap.
  • How to spotlight your skills and achievements on a resume with employment gaps.
  • Where to explain an employment gap on your resume.

What are employment gaps? 

Employment gaps on a resume refer to periods where an individual was not employed or had a break in their work history. Employment gaps can occur for various reasons, such as taking time off to travel, raising a family, pursuing further education, or being unemployed. 

Potential employers understand that life circumstances and personal pursuits can lead to employment gaps. Still, they will want to know how you utilized that time and will often choose candidates who used their gap time effectively and remained engaged in personal or professional development. 

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Why you should address employment gaps in your resume

It’s best to be transparent about an employment gap in your resume. Lying about your employment history is not a good idea. Leaving resume gaps unexplained can raise red flags for employers, leading them to question your commitment or reliability. By proactively explaining how to address a gap in employment, you can demonstrate your ability to overcome challenges and dedication to your chosen field. Moreover, by effectively highlighting the skills and experiences gained during employment gaps on your resume, you can turn these periods into valuable assets that set you apart from other candidates. 

How to account for an employment gap on your resume

Don’t try to hide or lie about your employment gaps. Instead, address employment gaps on your resume by briefly explaining what you did during that time or highlighting relevant activities or skills you acquired during the gap period. A resume gap might help you stand out from other applicants depending on how you used your time. 

Here are some strategies to address employment gaps in your resume effectively:

1. Determine if you must display the employment gap on your resume

The first step in addressing an employment gap is to decide if it belongs on your resume. Your resume should be concise, cover about 10 years of your professional work history, and be only one or two pages long.

If your employment gap happened early in your career or lasted only a month or so, you may omit it from your resume and focus on your most recent and job-relevant positions. However, if your employment gaps happened more recently in your career or were long gaps, you should account for them in your resume. 

2. Fill in the gaps

Be honest. Explain what you were doing during each employment gap on your resume, whether it was a personal project or achievement that shows your passion, drive, and motivation, volunteer work that displays your desire to help others, or professional training that helped prepare you for your next role.

For example, if you used your time for a community service project, you could add it to your work history section like this:

6/2021 – 10/2022 Food Pantry Creator and Manager

  • Created, managed and organized a neighborhood pantry that provided food for 350+ people per week. 
  • Recruited and trained volunteers in food collection, organization and distribution.
  • Managed a team of 10 regular volunteers.

Or if you took some time off to raise your children, your employment gap might look like this:

2020 – 2024 Full-time Present

Raised my four small children and managed the household.

3.  Highlight transferable skills 

Show potential employers that you learned valuable job-relevant skills during your employment gap. One way to do this is to highlight the transferable skills you picked up during a personal project, freelance work, or while traveling abroad. 

For example, you can create a dedicated section on your resume called “Core Competencies” to spotlight your transferable skills, like this:

Core Competencies

  • Problem-solving
  • Collaboration
  • Active listening
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Research

4. Choose the right resume format

Your resume format can be an excellent tool for effectively framing an employment gap on your resume.  While the chronological resume format can work well for job applicants with a consistent work history, opt for the functional resume format if you have employment gaps. A functional resume layout lets you emphasize your education, soft and hard skills, and achievements over your employment history.

Where to address employment gaps in your resume

Don’t limit yourself to your job history section when addressing an employment gap on your resume. Here’s how to use each section of your resume to bridge the gap.

Professional summary or resume objective

If you took time off to raise a family, focus on an entrepreneurial venture, go back to school, or travel, you can briefly mention it in your professional summary or objective

For example:

“Experienced professional with a passion for exploration and cultural immersion, seeking to re-enter the workforce after an enriching period of travel abroad. Possessing a diverse skill set developed through navigating unfamiliar environments, adapting to new challenges, and fostering meaningful connections with individuals from various backgrounds. Eager to leverage my global experiences and intercultural competencies to contribute effectively to a dynamic work environment and drive organizational success.”

Skills section

Your basic skills section can be divided into categories such as “Soft Skills” and “Technical Skills” to highlight some of your skills, and you can create a separate skills section called “Core Competencies” or “Key Qualifications” where you can list the skills you gained during your employment gap. 

For example, if you spent a year developing a community outreach program, you might add a separate skills section like this: 

Key qualifications: 

  • Entrepreneurial mindset: Proven ability to identify opportunities, take calculated risks, and drive business growth through innovative strategies.
  • Strategic planning: Experience developing and executing business plans, setting goals, and implementing effective strategies to achieve objectives.
  • Leadership: Demonstrated leadership skills in managing teams, fostering collaboration, and inspiring others to achieve common goals.
  • Problem-solving: Proficient in identifying challenges, analyzing root causes, and implementing solutions to overcome obstacles and drive success.
  • Adaptability: Ability to thrive in dynamic environments, pivot quickly in response to changing circumstances, and embrace new challenges with resilience.

Employment history

Chances are, the employment gap on your resume will be obvious in your work history section, so treat it like a job. If you used the time away from work to volunteer for 

 example, you can add your volunteer experience in the same format as your work experiences like this: 

National Cancer Foundation Volunteer  January 2020 – March 2021

  • Increased blog traffic by 50% within 6 months through strategic SEO optimization and engaging content creation, significantly boosting reader engagement and site visibility.
  • Achieved a 75% increase in social media shares for blog posts by implementing targeted promotion strategies and fostering a strong online community, driving greater brand awareness and audience reach.
  • Collaborated with top medical experts to secure guest posts, resulting in a 100% growth in backlinks and improving the blog’s domain authority, ultimately enhancing its credibility and search engine ranking.

Education section

When addressing employment gaps in the education section of your resume, highlight the value and relevance of the activities or experiences you undertook during that time. One approach is to list any relevant courses, certifications, workshops, or training programs completed during the gap period. This demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning and skill development.

For example:

Education

Master of Business Administration (MBA)
XYZ University, City, State
Graduated: May 2021

Relevant Coursework: Strategic Management, Marketing Analytics, Financial Analysis

Note: Pursued MBA studies during a career break to enhance skills and knowledge in business administration.

Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering)
ABC University, City, State
Graduated: May 2016

In the above example, the job seeker has used their education section to address employment gaps by including relevant coursework completed during their MBA studies. By mentioning that they pursued their MBA during a career break, they provide context for the gap in their employment history and highlight their commitment to professional development.

Addressing resume gaps in your cover letter

Addressing employment gaps in a cover letter requires a tactful approach that highlights your strengths and explains the reasons behind the gap in a positive light. You will find seven ways to address your employment gap in your cover letter. 

  1. Be transparent: Acknowledge the gap in your employment history directly and briefly. Avoid being defensive or providing unnecessary details. Employers appreciate honesty, so be straightforward about the reasons for the gap.
  2. Provide context: Briefly explain the circumstances that led to the employment gap. Whether it was due to personal reasons, career transition, further education, caregiving responsibilities, or voluntary work, provide a concise explanation that puts the gap into context.
  3. Highlight relevant activities: Emphasize any activities you pursued during the gap relevant to the job you’re applying for. This could include freelance work, consulting projects, volunteer work, professional development courses, or personal projects. Focus on how these experiences have helped you develop skills or gain insights that apply to the position.
  4. Emphasize your transferable skills: Use your cover letter to highlight the transferable skills you’ve gained or enhanced during the employment gap. Explain how these skills make you a strong candidate for the position and demonstrate your ability to adapt and learn in different situations.
  5. Focus on the positive: The cover letter should focus on your enthusiasm for the role and your eagerness to contribute to the company’s success. Express your excitement about the opportunity and your commitment to making a positive impact.
  6. Demonstrate readiness to return: Assure the employer that you are fully prepared to re-enter the workforce and are committed to making a meaningful contribution. Express confidence in your abilities and your readiness to hit the ground running.
  7. Customize your cover letter for each application: Tailor your explanation of the employment gap to each specific job application. Highlight the most relevant experiences and skills to the position and demonstrate how you are well-suited to excel in the role.

Accounting for an employment gap in your job interview

Addressing employment gaps in a job interview requires honesty, confidence, and an emphasis on how you used that time to grow personally and professionally. Here are seven ways to how to address employment gaps effectively during a job interview:

  1. Be prepared: Anticipate questions about your employment history and be ready to address any gaps. Reflect on the reasons behind the gap and what you did during that time.
  2. Be honest: Be truthful about the reasons for the employment gap. Whether it was due to personal reasons, further education, travel, caregiving responsibilities, or a career transition, be transparent about it.
  3. Focus on the positive: Emphasize what you learned and accomplished during the gap. Highlight any new skills you acquired, certifications you earned, volunteer work you did, or personal projects you pursued. Show how you used the time to develop yourself personally and professionally.
  4. Show initiative: Demonstrate that you were proactive during the gap period. Discuss any steps you took to stay connected to your industry, such as attending networking events, taking online courses, or participating in relevant projects.
  5. Stay confident: Remain confident and composed while discussing your employment history. Avoid appearing defensive or apologetic about the gap. Instead, focus on conveying your enthusiasm for the opportunity and readiness to contribute to the organization.
  6. Practice responses: Practice answering questions about your employment gap beforehand to ensure your responses are clear, concise and positive. Role-play with a friend or family member to gain confidence in discussing the topic.
  7. Redirect the conversation: If the interviewer seems overly focused on the employment gap, redirect the conversation to your qualifications, skills and achievements relevant to the job. Use the opportunity to highlight your strengths and suitability for the position.

Key takeaways

  • Be honest. When addressing an employment gap in your resume, it is important to be honest about its reasons. Whether it was due to personal reasons, further education, or a period of unemployment, being transparent about the circumstances will help build trust with potential employers.
  • Highlight relevant experiences. Use the time during the employment gap to engage in relevant activities to your field or industry. This could include volunteering, freelancing, taking online courses, or participating in professional development opportunities. Highlighting these experiences on your resume can demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning and growth.
  • Emphasize the skills and knowledge you acquired during the employment gap. Whether through volunteer work, freelance projects, or personal development activities, showcasing the skills you gained can help demonstrate your value to potential employers.
  • Address the gap in your cover letter. Use your cover letter to briefly explain the employment gap and how you used that time to enhance your skills and knowledge. This can provide context for potential employers and show that you proactively address their concerns.
  • Be prepared to discuss the gap in interviews. Be ready to discuss the employment gap during job interviews. Practice explaining the reasons for the gap and how you used that time to grow personally and professionally. Showing self-awareness and a positive attitude towards the gap can help alleviate employers’ concerns.

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