Unemployment. It happens. Whether it was by choice or the result of an unexpected situation, most of us have gone through a period of not working. From taking a sabbatical to travel, taking a year or two off to care for a sick family member or have children, or simply experiencing an extended period of unemployment, gaps in your work history are a reality many people have to face.
If you’ve experienced this, it means you will need to modify your resume because hiring managers will want to know why there was a lapse in your employment.
Your initial instinct may be to fudge the truth about your time away from the workforce – be that trying to make it look like it didn’t happen or by making the gap appear shorter than it actually was. However, there is nothing worse than starting potential new employment with dishonesty. It is better to be transparent with employers about why you took a break from the job market. Here is our best advice on how to explain a time gap in your resume.
Stuttering and stammering your way through your interview is as unimpressive as showing up late. You already know employers are going to ask about your time away from the workforce; just as you’d prep to discuss your previous positions, practice your explanation so you’re ready to address the situation in a clear and confident manner.
Turn a Negative Into a Positive
Yes, you might have been unemployed for a brief time. But what did you do in that timespan that might have shown initiative to gain experience that can translate into future useful skills for the workforce? For instance, a new parent who takes time off from work is managing a household, possibly co-chairing school events, and becoming a master organizer. Identify these skills and explain how they can be utilized in a new employment situation. If you experienced a job loss due to downsizing, comment that the break gave you time to feel refreshed and re-energized for a new position. Believe it or not, employers will understand.
Whatever the reason for your time away from work, honesty is always the best policy. Don’t hide it: explain it. During the entire process of conducting a job search, maintain your integrity and demonstrate it. Jobs come and go, but being known for your professional integrity can last a lifetime. Here are some ways to approach the various scenarios:
If you took time away from work for a personal reason, be succinct and to the point. If you were caring for a sick loved one, there is no need to divulge further details. Employers will quickly understand. However, if you choose to provide every minute detail regarding personal struggles that prompted your work hiatus, an employer could be concerned that you are quick to bail on work every time a little family drama comes around.
If you lost your previous job as a result of company restructuring, a simple explanation to provide is that your department had to trim its budget and you were one of the casualties. If you were a stellar employee, you could add any performance accolades to your explanation. For example, despite having won the award for top sales performer in the region for the past three years, decisions were made, the company wasn’t doing well, and your position was eliminated. If you state you were put on a performance improvement plan and didn’t succeed, well, in that case, it’s game over before it began.
If you got fired, think of a good way to explain it in such a way that you’re not basically saying, “Hey, yeah I’m a poor performer, but hire me.” Less is more, but you can still leverage this as an opportunity to highlight your accomplishments without badmouthing the previous company. Did you experience a period of personal growth or introspection as a result of being let go? Briefly explain how losing that job changed you and prepared you to take on another position with a different attitude or work ethic.
It happens to the best of us. Sometimes you just need a break. Perhaps you took a year off to travel, volunteer, or restore your self-care and wellness routines. These are legitimate reasons to take some time off. If your previous employment was toxic to your well-being, the company was mismanaged, or the employer was just not a good fit for you, there is no shame in admitting that revelation.
While the thought of discussing how you became unemployed – especially if you were let go or fired – might make you uneasy, don’t panic. Resume gaps are not as uncommon as job seekers might think. If a company doesn’t understand what has happened to our economy since 2008 and the impact it has had on individuals, you likely don’t want to work there in any case.
While answering questions about any period of unemployment can be uncomfortable, know that you’re not alone. Being prepared for whatever comes your way and having confidence in the skills you’ve gained during that break can go a long way to bridging the gap with poise and professionalism. If you are asked about the time between jobs, be as straightforward as possible, and be sure to highlight what you achieved during that time to keep your finger on your industry’s pulse to maintain – or even strengthen – your skills.
Remember to quickly and positively address any employment lapses and keep the conversation moving forward. Whatever the reason for your workplace hiatus, you’re now rejuvenated with a clear head and energized to tackle your next role.
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