You might be tempted to leave gaps in your career on your resume in the hope that employers won’t notice them. But for many hiring managers and recruiters, a CV that’s full of unexplained breaks or even one significant gap poses a red flag. And it's likely that they'll disregard your application straight away, rather than trying to find out.

Firstly, don’t forget that it’s not unusual to have the occasional employment gap. Despite the break, the secret to ensuring you are still an attractive candidate is all about how you initially explain it. Being honest during the hiring process is essential, and this starts with your resume. If you lie or try to cover gaps by extending the months you worked somewhere, then chances are you’ll be found out at the reference check stage. Even if you have nothing to hide, this will make employers suspicious and will put them off.

On the other hand, being honest and having a well-prepared explanation of your break from your career may work in your favour.

Particularly during the last two years where the global pandemic resulted in massive job losses in almost every sector, employers and recruiters are going to be much more understanding about your circumstances if you were let go or made redundant. 

How to explain a gap in your resume due to illness

It can be challenging to explain a gap in your employment history due to illness, as it could be a sensitive subject. If your career break was a long time ago, say more than 10 years, it’s probably not worth mentioning. However, if the gap is recent and lengthy, you will have to acknowledge it and explain the situation.

The message you need to get across is that while you had to take time out of work because you were ill, you are now ready and motivated to return to the workforce. Stay focused on the positive side of your recovery, and allow the hiring manager to see your determination and drive when faced with tough times.

How to explain employment gaps due to termination or redundancy

Employers shouldn’t hold it against you for having some time in between jobs if you were made redundant. You will likely need to provide further explanation about the circumstances if you were let go, and even more so if you were fired.

One way to flip this negative into a positive is to highlight what you were doing during the break to stay marketable. For example, did you complete any free or paid training courses or get involved in any volunteer work? Even if you didn’t do something that was linked to your skills or career, perhaps you filled your time with other productive work, such as improving your house or picking up a new hobby. While career-related work is ideal, any productive time should show the hiring manager that you made the most of any time off, which demonstrates to them that you have not just been sitting around doing nothing.

How to explain employment history gaps due to travelling

If the gap you have to explain is due to a break you took to go travelling, it should be easy for you to spin this positively. Many employers will appreciate the fact that you’ve travelled before you apply for a role in their organisation. It shows a sense of independence, personal development and cultural awareness, plus new perspectives that you can apply to the role, so focus on these benefits.

How to explain resume gaps due to caring for your family

Many people take time out of their career to take care of a relative or raise their children, so there is no need to cover this up.

However, you should mention that your children are now in full-time education or childcare, or that you no longer have full-time care commitments and ready to return to your career.

Addressing your employment gaps during an interview

A carefully worded and honest explanation of employment gaps in a resume should be enough to help you through to the interview stage, provided the rest of your cover letter and CV impress the reader. Keep in mind, however, that you may be asked to verbally address the gap during the interview stage as well.

Your interviewer will likely look for further detail to help them get a better idea of the time you spent away from work. Regardless of your exact situation, they will essentially want to know whether the time was productive in some shape or form - and it's your opportunity to explain it adequately to provide your potential future employer with reassurance.

For an employer, it’s more about what that gap says about your character and how you deal with difficult situations such as illness or redundancy, or downtime such as travel. Almost everyone's career path involves the occasional difficulties, challenges and slow periods, so showing how you dealt with these circumstances during those employment gaps can, in fact, work in your favour and help secure your a new job. 

Read more handy tips and key advice on CVs and cover letters here

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