How to fill that nagging gap in your resume

Never dodge the question but make the experience positive. New skills, new personal discoveries, new directions should be the focus

Sylvia GiltnerHaving a gap on your resume can feel like the end of the world, especially when you’re searching for a new job.

Many people leave jobs for travel, family or school. Others are laid off or fired.

Here are the best ways to fill gaps on your resume with confidence.

Remember: no matter the situation, the gap doesn’t define you.

First, we want to stress that the gap in your resume isn’t a big deal. Employers usually aren’t worried about one gap; they know that life happens.

Honesty is the best policy. An employer is more likely to be concerned if you avoid the situation. Nobody likes an elephant in the room and it could blow your chances.

A lot of people had a little time in their lives when they weren’t employed – it’s not a deal-breaker. Remember this when you’re job-hunting.

Do you need to mention it?

There’s no requirement that you mention everything on your curriculum vitae. Many people don’t even include all their experience on their CV.

If your employment gap was a while ago and you’ve been employed since then, you don’t need to call it out.

If the gap is recent and you’re seeking new employment, it might be best to mention it.

Never lie on your CV. This could come back to bite you. You don’t need to make up an elaborate lie or create an imaginary job.

Don’t list it

There are ways to make your way around the gap. Most resumes are organized by dates. However, you can manoeuvre around this and avoid putting the month.

For example, instead of putting “March 2017-January 2018,” you could just put “2017-2018.” This makes any months that you were out of work look a little less obvious.

You can also use a completely different resume format. The standard design is only a guide and you can mix up your resume as much as you want. Minimizing the visibility of your employment gaps could be easier this way.

Little adjustments like making the dates smaller and less bold make a big difference. You might also want to add a brief description of your early employment history and skills, before going more in-depth with periods later on. Put your best foot forward.

Check out resume examples online to find one that works best for you and your employment history.

Although you’re trying to pass by some dates, don’t make it too blatant or avoid the question altogether.

Being creative with your resume is very different from lying about gaps in your employment history.

Explaining a gap

When it comes to a job interview, you want to be prepared for the dreaded question: “Why weren’t you working during this period?”

Just like with any question, if you’re not prepared, it can completely throw you.

Again, honesty is the best policy. Tell the interviewer upright what the reason was.

Provide a rational, clear, concise reason why you took the break if it was voluntary.

Saying something as simple as, “I took time off to travel the world,” will suffice. Explain to your potential employee that you have no plans to travel in the future.

If you took time off to study, explain everything you learned during this time and the new skills you picked up.

If you were laid off or fired, the best thing to do is explain the situation and all the skills you built up.

If you were fired because of a work conflict, it might be more difficult but it isn’t impossible. Explain the actions you’ve taken to correct any problems you had and how the job you’re applying for better suits your skills.

Always remember to highlight the skills you picked up during your time away and steps you’ve taken to strengthen any abilities.

For example, if you went traveling, mention how you discovered other cultures or gained independence.

Couldn’t find a new job and had to work as a freelancer? Share what you learned not only in your professional niche but also in terms of marketing and self-promotion while you were working from home.

If you looked after a family member, you could mention things that you discovered about yourself during that time.

Time away can be enlightening

You might not be aware of the skills picked up or lessons learned, especially when it’s a dark time in your life.

Getting fired might seem like the worst thing in the world. However, it can open up a world of possibilities and force you to move outside your comfort zone.

While you were unemployed, did you volunteer or pick up a side gig?

You can add these things to your resume to fill up that gap.

If you’re unemployed, pick up a freelance gig, take online courses or volunteer. This will fill the hole in your resume and you might discover something you really love.

And a change could give you a reason to pursue your true passion – and that’s a perfect thing to say in an interview.

Keep it positive

It’s not easy to see the positives in the midst of dark times. But life goes on and you can find a positive in everything. You can return seamlessly back to work.

Go to workshops and pick up a new hobby.

People take gap years to find themselves, pursue interesting activities and enjoy life away from work.

Keeping it positive is best for you today and for your future self.

Walking into a job interview with a positive attitude will shine through. But if you walk in with a negative attitude or an air of desperation, it will be more difficult to convince potential employers that you’re the right candidate.

Your resume and your persona should show enthusiasm. You should seem excited, not worried. You should prove your worth, not beg for a new job.

Make it so the gap doesn’t matter

The gap might be the only thing you’re focused on. To everyone else, it won’t even be a second thought.

When you look at your resume, you might put all your attention on the months without work, but others will focus on your amazing experience, your education, your skills.

The best thing is to build up your resume so well that a short gap doesn’t matter. Make your resume so amazing that anybody looking at it would be a fool not to hire you. Sure, you were unemployed for a few months, but your experience and talents completely trump the gap.

Somewhere out there, the perfect job is waiting for you. You just have to find it. Think of all your other jobs as trial runs.

And once you’re hired, you can forget the gap and all the worries that come with it.

Even long-term unemployment isn’t the end of the world. You were given a test, a chance to travel or a moment to discover new things about yourself.

The takeaway?

The best thing is to never dodge the question – face the problem head-on. Just prove you’re a perfect candidate.

Embrace the challenge and use everything about it as a learning experience.

And don’t forget to reach out for help and advice. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who have gone through the same thing.

Sylvia Giltner is an HR manager and freelance writer. She helps people write the perfect resume and land a desirable job. Sylvia’s articles have been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, Next Avenue, Money and more. Feel free to connect Sylvia on LinkedIn.

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gap, resume, job search, interview

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