While being “between jobs” is nothing to be ashamed of, it can invite questions during the job-hunting process that you’ll want to be prepared to answer. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution: How you approach an employment gap on your resume and during an interview can depend a lot on why you have one in the first place.
First things first: If you feel like you’re one of the only people dealing with an employment gap, that’s simply not true. In fact, the pandemic has left an estimated 114 million professionals across the globe out of work to some extent for pandemic-related reasons, including everything from business closures to unsafe working environments to caregiving responsibilities. The pandemic also sparked The Great Resignation, during which millions of workers have left their jobs for a range of reasons.
So you’re absolutely not alone in this. And with a little practice, you can confidently address an employment gap on your resume and during an interview. Here are some tips to get you started.
Employment gaps on resumes: dos and don’ts
Resumes are kind of like first impressions, so you want to take some extra time and think through the best way to show an employment gap on your resume.
Do: Use formatting to your advantage for short gaps
One way to lessen the impact of a short employment gap, say a 2- or 3-month gap, is to write your employment period in years versus the year and month.
Here’s an example: Say you worked at Priceline from February 2018 through October 2020, and then you weren’t employed from October through December 2020. Then, you got a job at Atlassian in January of 2021. Instead of including the month you were hired and the month you left Priceline, you could show your employment history like this:
2021 - Present
2018 - 2020
Junior Software Engineer
Don’t: Hide longer gaps
For a long employment gap that’s more challenging to explain, your first instinct might be to hide it. But that’s not a good idea. Employers want honesty from the start.
One way to address a longer gap on your resume is to add a short explanation next to the date. Keep it short — don’t feel obligated to give unnecessary personal details, but give enough information so the hiring manager knows that you’re not hiding anything. You could include a phrase like “took time off to care for an ill family member” or “laid off during a merger” by the dates on your resume.
Do: Make your cover letter count
If you put the reasoning “laid off during a merger” on your resume, then you might want to use your cover letter to explain more about that. Did your job become obsolete during the merger? Explain this. Were you the most recently hired employee with your job title and the company only had room for one of you? Let the hiring manager know this in your cover letter.
You want to be concise but you don’t need to spend a lot of time on this, and you certainly don’t want to write it in a way that makes it seem like you are resentful. Just state what happened in a matter-of-fact way. You’ll have a chance to talk it through during an interview if the hiring manager wants to hear more.
Do: Highlight the positives
Did you volunteer during your employment gap? Finish a cool personal project? What about freelance work? You could list something like this on your resume in the same way that you would another job. So you’d want to include your job title, company name, job description, accomplishments, and dates of engagement.
If you decided to switch careers and took time off for education, you could use the job title “Student” and list this where your employment gap shows up on your resume. List what courses you took and certificates or degrees you might have.
Employment gaps during an interview: dos and don’ts
More than likely, you’ll get at least one question about your employment gap during an interview, so you’ll want to be ready to explain how you spent your time. Keep these tips in mind when you’re answering questions related to a work break during an interview.
Do: Practice your response
It’s really helpful to practice how you’ll respond to questions about your employment gap. Literally say your response out loud. You can even go a step further and ask a friend or family member to play the role of the interviewer and give you a chance to respond to a real person.
Bonus: They might have some advice if you’re still working out the wording for your answer.
Don’t: Bad mouth your former manager/employer
Unfortunately, sometimes employment gaps happen because something went wrong at work. Maybe you left your job because you didn’t get along with your manager, and then the pandemic hit and no one was hiring. Or maybe you quit your job for one that was going to pay you more, but it didn’t work out and then you were left unemployed.
Either way, remember that you don’t need to go into a lot of detail regarding your employment gap, and you definitely should not bad mouth anyone from your previous company. A concise “it wasn’t the right fit for X reason” can often do the trick. Once you answer, try to take the conversation in a more positive direction, like the volunteer work you did while between jobs or what you learned from that experience.
Do: Show you’re excited about this particular job — not just any job
Most hiring managers will understand that employment gaps are par for the course during any given career journey. That said, there are some who might get the wrong impression about your ambitions or assume you are applying to lots of jobs indiscriminately. This means it’s on you to show that you really want this job, and there’s no question that you’re ready to get back to work.
You don’t have to say much to get ahead of this, though. You can stress that despite your best efforts, you have not found the right fit — but emphasize that you’re being selective about your next move to find the right long-term fit, not just the first job that comes along. This type of simple statement can show potential employers that you’re approaching this process thoughtfully.
Moral of the story? No matter the reason for your employment gap, you should explain it clearly and honestly on your resume and during an interview. And by incorporating a few simple tips, you’ll be prepared for whatever comes your way.