Make a Resume Gap Work for You, not Against You

Whether by choice, chance, or necessity, there are times each of us may find ourselves not working. A few situations include: 

  • Travel

  • Raising children

  • Being laid off

  • Being primary caregiver for a relative/close friend

  • Having a serious illness or accident

  • Taking extended time off for personal reasons

  • Going back to school 

After some time away from work (whether it’s 6 weeks, months, years or more), when it’s time to job hunt again, many people don’t know how to manage the gap(s) on their resumes. In our work-centric culture, having a significant gap on your resume may feel like it could be a deal-breaker in the already vulnerable process of re-entry and job seeking.  

But what were you doing during your gap? How did you spend your time? What kinds of activities filled your days, and what aspects of them highlight skills and capacities that would be relevant to an employer?  

Remember, unpaid jobs still count as jobs. Here are a few that might apply to you.

Volunteering

Work is work. If you’ve been involved in volunteer work, that’s a job. How can you articulate the role you played, the value you added to the organization, by doing what you did? Whether you did something once or on an ongoing basis, it matters. Did you write postcards with a group to help encourage citizens to vote? Did you chair a committee to raise funds for an important project? These activities should be on your resume, whether you’re a student or a seasoned professional.

Raising a Family

We’ve worked with many clients wanting to return to work after years of raising kids. They’re excited, but also sometimes fear their lengthy absence from a “real” job will disqualify them in the eyes of most employers. Usually (but not always) these clients are women. What’s a mother to do?

If ever there was a role loaded with transferable skills, it’s parenting. You have to be a very organized manager, delegating responsibilities, motivating others, and coming up with endless Plan B’s when things don’t go according to plan. You have to set expectations, earn trust, and manage a budget. Sounds like a job to me! Never underestimate the value of it, and the more you can represent it as such on your resume, the better. Maybe you want to create an interesting title, like “Chief Operations Officer, Smith Family.” Identify specific outcomes and accomplishments and voila: it’s a job, a real job.

Caregiving for a Friend/Family Member

Did you leave (or lose) your job because someone close to you needed you? Whether it’s a family member or close friend, a physical illness, mental health crisis, or other emergency requiring safe, sustained in-person support, you made the decision to be there for them. Good for you! It’s a difficult and noble decision, one you hopefully feel good about.

Like parenting, caregiving is a real job. Like parenting, you can extract transferable skills and impressive accomplishments. Did you manage your loved one’s medical care, keep track of/administer medications, drive him or her to doctor appointments? Did you interview and hire professionals to assist with patient care, then supervise to make sure protocols were being followed? Did you do everything possible to keep him/her comfortable, and keep pain and fear under control?

This is truly heroic, resume-worthy work. I believe it’s a role that commands complete respect. Many job seekers we’ve worked with are reluctant to put this on their resume for fear that it’s “not OK.”

I say, any potential employer that delegitimizes caregiving is not one I’d want to work for. It’s something we’ll all have to do in our lifetimes, so why not embrace it and give it the respect it deserves?

Taking Time Out For Your Own Wellness

Maybe it was you who had a health emergency. Maybe you needed complex surgery, a lengthy rehab, or recovery for an addiction. Maybe your job was so stressful and the work environment so toxic, you had to leave to save yourself. Either way, you’re human, and sometimes this is what’s called for. Self-care is essential.

This kind of gap on a resume can be left off altogether and explained conversationally, professionally, and BRIEFLY, especially if it was some time ago. You don’t need to provide details, especially when it’s personal and confidential. It’s more important to let a potential employer know the situation is resolved, it’s behind you, and now you’re ready and excited to dive back into work. Let your genuine enthusiasm eclipse any concern they might have about whether or not you’re healthy.

 In Conclusion

Always be honest. Never lie on a resume; it can prevent you from getting a job. Even if you get hired, if they find out later something’s not true, it’s “Goodbye, job.” I saw it happen to an esteemed post-graduate professor years after he was hired, even though he was loved by students and respected by faculty. Not worth the risk!

Instead, emphasize the positive, and communicate the value you’re bringing to your next employer. Tailor your resume to address what they need and fill it with relevant examples and keywords. If during your gap you took courses, workshops, or trainings to advance your skills, include that. And in your cover letter (yes, you do need one), let them know why you want THAT position at THAT company, and why you’re such a good fit. Do all you can so they will think, “This may be the one.”