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How to Talk About Gaps in Employment


What are Gaps in Employment (& other types of gaps)?

Gaps in employment are periods during one's professional life when you were unemployed. To be a "gap" that a prospective employer might wonder about, career advisors often state that these are periods which lasted 6 months or longer. Sometimes, we've chosen to be unemployed in order to focus on different things. Other times, we are involuntarily unemployed -- something has happened to prevent us from working. Note: There are other types of "gaps" that employers may ask about as well, for example, if you took a lot of time off between completing school and beginning to work.


Are Employment Gaps Problematic?

There's no set answer for this. Sometimes gaps might be concerning, but often, they aren't. Realistically, most people have had gaps in their employment histories. Employers usually understand this, particularly if you've generally had a successful work history. However, if you've had a lot of periods during which you weren't in school or working; or a very long period during which you weren't working; or a history of only working for brief durations (which might indicate that you can't hold a job), those things might be concerning to a prospective employer. Bottom line: An employer wants to make sure that if they hire and train you, you'll make a commitment and do good work.


Quick Tip #1: Be prepared to talk about any gaps that you've had. Being prepared means that before an interview, you need to practice what you're going to say.


Quick Tip #2: Keep your answers relatively brief, clear, and concise. However, if you've spent a "gap" period doing impressive professional development, those activities would merit greater detail.


Quick Tip #3: Don't be apologetic about employment gaps, because truly, they're very common. Try to confidently focus on what was positive, helpful, and/or educational about that period.


How to Talk About Employment Gaps

One of the most important guidelines we can offer is to be honest about what you did while you weren't working. Honesty does not mean having to provide every detail. But it does mean being truthful about the details that you choose to provide.


There are many reasons people end up "between jobs". Here are a few reasons that people voluntarily leave a job: they want a career change; they've had a health problem; they've moved; they need to care for a young or elderly family member; they've gone back to school; or they've decided to travel for an extended period. Other times, people are "involuntarily" unemployed -- they were laid off (for various reasons) and have to find a new job. The key is to be able to talk clearly about what you did and what you learned during these gap periods.


Let's quickly look at two examples:


Scenario One:  You've taken time off to care for your elderly parent, and you've been out of work for almost 2 years. Another family member has now taken over, and you're able to return to work. There are many aspects of this situation that are impressive and which can be related to professional positions. For example, taking care of a declining person is a huge responsibility that requires organizational skills, financial management, networking with eldercare resources, crisis management, problem-solving, patience, and empathy. Thus, there are several things you can talk about which connect to performing well at a job.


Scenario Two:  The company you worked with has moved to another state. You now have to find a new job. It has taken 7 months to get your first interview. You may be asked how you spent the period of unemployment. First of all, it's a fact that being unemployed can be very stressful, especially for people who don't have enough money. It's reasonable to acknowledge this. However, to the best of your ability, it's also important to use the time well while unemployed -- and, in speaking with a prospective employer about the gap, try to find the positives. Perhaps you became very disciplined and methodical about looking for and applying to appropriate jobs. Perhaps you completed an online certification course related to your professional field. Perhaps you decided to work on personal development by adopting a healthier diet, losing a bit of weight, and exercising regularly. Perhaps you valued the increased time with family. Perhaps you came to better understand that working gives you a sense of purpose as well as meaningful connections with colleagues. Bottom line: If you're asked about this type of employment gap, talk about the constructive things that you did and learned.


Should I Refer to Employment Gaps on a Resume & in a Cover Letter?


Scenario One:  If the gaps were few in number and/or relatively short, then you may not need to. In fact, sometimes when you list jobs, instead of including the starting & ending months and years, you can simply use the years (and leave out the months). Here's an example:


*You worked at Job 1 from March 2020 - February 2021.

*You worked at Job 2 from July 2021 to October 2022.


As you can see, between Job 1 and Job 2, there's a 5-month gap -- from February 2021 to July 2021. Here's an alternative but factual way to list the jobs in a manner that won't emphasize the gap:


*Job 1 (2020 - 2021)

*Job 2 (2021 - 2022)


Of course, if you're asked about the months and/or a gap, be completely honest. As already stated, gaps are common.


Scenario Two:  If you had a long gap, then you may want to include that information on your resume and/or in your cover letter.


And if, during that gap, you engaged in professional development; did meaningful volunteer work; or took on the responsibility of caring for a family member (to name but a few productive ways to have spent the time), then you may want to list that activity as though it were a job, with a title, dates, and a few bullet points highlighting the responsibilities that you had. The websites in the next section have more details on this topic, as well as other valuable information related to Employment Gaps.



Note: We don’t endorse every detail that the sites provide -- and they may not fully agree with each other on some points. But each of the sites contains a lot of helpful information. 


Forbes on Gaps in Employment

UMass on Gaps in Employment

Indeed on Gaps in Employment

National Council on Aging (NCOA) on Gaps in Employment

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