How to Explain a Career Gap on Your Resume

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Even if you have expertly prepped for an interview, stress over how to address a resume gap can be enough to throw you off your game. But as long as you follow some of our helpful tips below, you should have no trouble responding to this tricky question with ease.

Be honest and authentic while emphasizing the positive

A large part of being unflappable during an interview is thinking through potential questions and outlining a response in advance. Your response should:

  • Clearly articulate why the gap occurred.
    The honest answer is always the best answer. If you were looking for work, just say that you were looking for work.
  • Not be defensive.
    An interviewer is just doing their job. Being defensive is a red flag.
  • Emphasize the positive.
    Did you do anything with your free time, like volunteer or pick up consulting work? If so, be sure to say that you put your time to good use. Not sure how to weave volunteer work into an interview? Take a look at our how-to guide.

The “why?” of an employment gap matters

There are two types of employment gaps, transitional and long-term. Transitional employment gaps are roughly nine months or less and are easily substantiated by the almost glaringly obvious answer: You were looking for work. A transitional employment gap may have occurred because:

  • Job hunting takes time and is unpredictable.
    Sometimes you luck out and you can have a seamless transition from one job to the next with less than a month in between. While there is no predictable minimum or maximum amount of time that your search may take, Monster.com argues a three-month minimum is a reasonable benchmark. Or perhaps your time between jobs was a conscious decision because you wanted to take a few months to recharge.
  • You were unexpectedly out of work.
    You could have been laid off or fired, or perhaps your organization closed. Any of these reasons lend themselves to a situation where you would have found yourself scrambling and didn’t have something on deck.
  • You just graduated.
    Regardless of when you begin your search, finding work straight out of college or graduate school can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

Longer-term employment gaps usually speak to a major life event like parenting, caring for a family member, or dealing with personal health issues.

Pulling it all together, a response could look something like:

  • “I was unable to have something lined up after my last position ended. During those four months, I was looking for full-time employment and volunteered twice a week with an after-school tutoring program.”
  • “After my last position ended, I needed to take time to recharge. The work was incredibly demanding and I wanted to make sure I was putting my best foot forward at my next job.”
  • “I was very focused on finishing my MS program, so I didn’t start looking for work until after graduation.”
  • “During those six months, I was caring for a family member. I didn’t start my job search until things had stabilized at home.”

Embrace the inevitable and be prepared

Employment gaps happen for a ton of different reasons and can last for varying lengths of time. However, it’s time to rethink the perception that employment gaps are some kind of albatross. Instead, they can be a natural part of the career lifecycle and the more confident you are while talking about them, the more comfortable you’ll be when the question is asked in an interview setting.

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Has an interviewer asked you this question before? If so, how did you handle it? Share your stories in the comments!

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Sarah has nearly fifteen years of experience working in NYC’s public sector in what can only be described as an elegantly haphazard career path. She geeks out on politics and social policy and is deeply passionate about the the social sector. She has participated in numerous public sector fellowship programs and has her M.S. in Public Policy from The New School.
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Comments

    • Christine
    • July 21, 2018
    Reply

    I have taken twenty years away from work to raise my family. I have learned more than I ever dreamed of doing this! I am now ready to return to work. However, I am not sure how to present this long-term career gap in a positive light to potential employers. Any advice you have would be appreciated.

      • Sarah Goff
      • August 1, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Christine, You should definitely check out our post on re-entry after a parenting sabbatical. I’d also suggest using a skills focused resume, or a functional resume, as opposed to the more traditional chronological resume. That way you can emphasize the skills you’ll bring to the position and de-emphasize a larger gap. Hope that helps!

  1. Reply

    If you are between jobs, one great way to make the most of (and then be able to speak about!) your gap is to engage in learning. This can be anything from taking a course on one of the online platforms to a class at a local college to a bootcamp for a new skill.

    It might be difficult to swallow the investment, but it will definitely pay off. You’ll be able to add this to your resume, grow your network, and master a skill. You can confidently respond to the interviewer:

    “I always wanted to take some time to learn about (digital media), and was able to take advantage of my time off to do just that! I studied at (General Assembly), made wonderful connections there, and now feel more confident that I am a great fit for this (marketing) role”

    • Joan Koenig
    • July 31, 2018
    Reply

    I am a retired accountant seeking a new life/work journey. This article was very helpful to me. It gave me the confidence to discuss my situation with a potential employe, how to proceed.

      • Sarah Goff
      • August 1, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Joan, That’s so great to hear. Best of luck with your job search!

    • Richard Spain
    • August 3, 2018
    Reply

    Dear Sarah,
    As it happened, I took early retirement a while ago, but due to current circumstances am now interested in returning to the workforce. Considering nonprofit management as a possibility. Wonder what your view on this is. Also, wonder if you might be able to suggest other possible career fields.
    Thank you for your help.
    Richard

  2. Reply

    Hey..
    Nice article helpful for those who have gap in there career..
    Keep posting..
    Thank You..!!

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