People experience gaps of employment for a variety of reasons. Maybe you chose to go back to school or took time off to take care of your parents or children. The decision might have also been involuntary; perhaps your company downsized and your role was eliminated during the last round of lay-offs.
Regardless of the situation, you’ll likely be asked in your next interview why you weren’t working for a period of time. That gap doesn’t need to be a negative, however—you just need to prepare the proper response and tweak your resumé accordingly.
Be Upfront About the Situation
First and foremost, don’t try to cover up your gap of employment. The best approach you can take is being honest and upfront about the situation. Trying to hide what happened will only raise suspicions. If an employer has multiple job candidates to choose from, the hiring manager is going to select the applicant he or she felt most confident in—and you being vague won’t exactly inspire confidence.
Explain the situation. Did your company undergo a merger, or was your department reorganized? Whatever the reason may be, the more context you can provide, the better.
Don’t Play the Blame Game
When explaining your situation, avoid negativity and blame. Even if your company didn’t properly handle your departure or your team underperformed, don’t criticize your former employer; it will only make your potential future employer more skittish. The hiring manager might wonder, “What will this person say about us if the position doesn’t work out?”
Focus the conversation instead on where you want to go in your career, highlighting the responsibilities you’re looking for in a new role—particularly ones that align with what was listed in the job description.
Highlight the Positive
What were you doing while you weren’t working? What did you learn? If you are let go from your job or decide to take time off, fill your schedule as productively as possible. Volunteer, sign up for a course, or apply for freelance or consulting work. Each action will show employers that you’re proactive, and were focused on gaining a new skill or furthering your career even when you weren’t working full-time. By detailing all that you accomplished during the gap, you can turn what most are worried will be a negative into a positive.
Find References to Support You
Find someone who can speak to your results, whether based on work you completed during the gap or before. A former boss, colleague from your old department, or customer you successfully completed freelance assignments for can all support your skills and back up your experience. Ask if they will be willing to serve as a reference—and that includes online.
LinkedIn users with at least five skills listed on their profile garner up to 17 times more views. Update your LinkedIn profile with industry-specific skills, such as analytics, project management, mobile development, or blogging. From there, ask your network to endorse those skills to enhance your credibility.
You can also request recommendations from your network on LinkedIn. Choose connections who know you well and can speak to your strengths. If there are specific skills you want them to address—particularly ones that relate to the types of roles you’re applying for—note that in your outreach. Just be sure to repay the favor by endorsing them for skills or similarly writing a recommendation. The best way to maintain relationships is by ensuring they are mutually beneficial.
Reformat Your Resumé
If you’re nervous the gap on your resumé might hinder your chance of even connecting with an employer, rethink how you’re formatting your experience. Rather than following a strict chronological order, you might consider creating a “Related Skills” section at the top of your resumé to direct the hiring manager’s eyes to your strengths. From there, you can detail your experience, starting with your most recent role, and reemphasize your competencies throughout.
Another way to downplay any gaps is by listing your employment in years or seasons, rather than in specific months. For example, you could say you worked somewhere from “Winter 2016 to Spring 2017” to increase the chances of the hiring manager reading your cover letter or calling you in for an interview. In both instances, you can then further explain your reason for being out of work. Just don’t lie about your experience.
No matter the reason, as long as you can effectively describe your employment gap, the gap in itself might not matter.
Are you looking for additional career advice? Explore more articles from our career advice archives, including “8 Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Next Job Interview” and “How to Highlight Transferable Skills on Your Resumé.”