How to Explain Job Gaps


As of January 2015, about one-third of the nation's 9 million jobless were out of work for 28 or more weeks, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're in that situation, you've got a job gap to explain -- which is a daunting task, but not impossible. The best bet is to confront the issue by crafting an explanation that acknowledges your specific circumstances, yet still stresses your potential value to an employer.

Address the Issue Briefly

  • Confront the issue in your cover letter, but don't elaborate at length on it. Save extensive or sensitive discussions for the job interview. Just briefly state how the gap arose, but put a positive spin on it. For example, if you're returning to work as a stay-at-home mother, stress the organizational and administrative skills that you gained in that time, advises career coach Hallie Crawford in a 2010 Forbes article, How to Deal With That Hole in Your Resume.

Be Upfront

  • Acknowledge sensitive issues that kept you off the job market in a non-damaging way. This is an especially important consideration if you're a recovering addict or an ex-offender. Leave criminal histories off a resume unless you enrolled in work programs that helped you gain marketable skills, advises Chrysalis, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless and low-income people find self-sufficiency. Then list the facility, the job and skills that you developed there. During the interview, stress that you've made mistakes, which you can overcome by finding a stable job.

Create Some Talking Points

  • Identify any activities that you pursued during your time off, then write some supporting statements to explain why these experiences make you an applicant worth pursuing. Examples include professional development classes that you've taken, or community service and volunteer positions -- which develop marketable skills like adapting to new situations or communicating persuasively with others. The more of these connections you make, the less likely an employer will care how long you've been away.

Rework Your Resume

  • Tweak resumes to focus on accomplishments. For example, if you list the most recent job first, mention only the years -- not months and years -- of employment, says Crawford. Another option is the functional resume, in which you list previous jobs under a single category. You can also create a "Selected Accomplishments" section at the top of your resume, and itemize the most significant items. Whatever approach you try, the idea is to downplay any notable gaps.

Other Considerations

  • Practice explanations for any work history gaps until the delivery is sufficiently polished. You're not the only long-term unemployed applicant out there, so the issue may matter less than you think. However, maintain integrity throughout the job search. Spinning elaborate stories of extended projects -- or omitting jobs that you deem unworthy of mentioning, like temporary work -- could hurt your chances when you least expect it.

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