Allison Cheston, Career Connector


Career Connector Blog

How to Handle Resume Gaps


I love getting questions from readers—and here’s a very practical one that I’m not sure I’ve addressed on this blog before.

“I would like to know if you have any blogs with advice on how to get back into work or a job after long periods (ex. years) of unemployment and how to explain these breaks to your employer.”

This is a great question and one that plagues many job-seekers. Especially given the economic challenges of the past few years, many qualified candidates have been forced to sit on the sidelines for no apparent reason. Here are some tips for how to handle this common situation.

Be Clear About the Gap

Whether you’ve been out of work for 6 months or 5 years, you must be clear in your resume that those gaps exist—never try to fudge employment dates. You will invariably be found out and embarrassed.

Fill in the Gaps with Other Activities

Hopefully you haven’t been totally idle during the time you’ve been unemployed—you should have been occupying your time with strategic volunteering, consulting assignments or planned travel. Have your most recent experience at the top of the “Experience” category on your resume—regardless of whether it’s paid—so that employers see what you’ve been doing in addition to job hunting.

If you’ve had medical issues or other setbacks, or have been out of the workforce because you’ve been raising children, you can indicate in your cover note a brief, unapologetic reason and a mention that you are now eager to get back to work.

Use Your Summary Wisely

Those of you who follow my blog know I am a big advocate of putting a Summary at the top of your resume, highlighting what you bring to the market and positioning you for the particular job you’re after. If you’ve been out of work for awhile you can also use the summary to package your time out in the context of what you have to offer the marketplace.

Position Your Volunteer Work and Hobbies

Don’t forget that your avocation can lead you to a new career. If relevant, have a section on your resume entitled “Pro Bono Work” and/or Skills. This is where you can share information about the experience you have that could lead to a job. Examples include fundraising or event planning for a favorite cause, photography, and training and mentoring for a mission-driven organization.

It’s All About Your Network

If you’ve been out of the workforce for awhile, your network is even more important. You are most likely to get a job through someone who knows you than someone who doesn’t. Don’t waste time applying to online ads—you are extremely unlikely to be contacted this way, and you will have no way of knowing why. Stay focused on working your network—reaching out to people you know with a specific request, such as: “Do you know anyone who works in event planning who I can speak with?”. Remember that most people get jobs through second degree connections, so I don’t have to tell you to use LinkedIn!

If you have further questions on this topic or others, I’d love to hear from you.