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How to Explain Gaps in Your Resume

Updated on May 21, 2012

What's a gap in your resume

A gap in your resume is generally considered the time between jobs where there is nothing on your resume that indicates that you were working, or what you were doing.

If you have a big gap on your resume, be prepared on how to talk about it. Each situation is a bit different, but as someone that had done hundreds of interviews, here is what I look at.

  • I look at the start and end date of each job
  • I look to see if they have left their current job and are now interviewing because they're available

Explaining the top reasons for gaps in a resume

I must look at 20 - 100 plus resumes a week and it's pretty common to see a resume with gaps. Here are the top reasons I see regularly.

  1. Here in Silicon Valley, it's pretty common to try and start a company and fail. Several times I'll see six month gaps to two years where this will be the reason. Sometimes people think the failure hurts their resume and would rather have a gap than a failed effort. For me, it's a positive experience to have started a company. Starting a company is incredibly difficult. I know most fail and the ones that succeed have a fair amount of luck. People that try to start companies have learned a lot and bring with them additional perspective. If this is the reason for your gap, it's best to add it to your resume. Use your failure to sell what you've learned and the experience you have gained.
  2. I've been traveling. It seems like engineers love to travel. With a robust job market, they can count on easily finding work quickly, and so they seem to work for a few years and then travel through south america or south east asia. These seem to be the preferred destination. When asked about these gaps in resumes, people tend to say I took time off to travel. I usually say, cool, where did you go. If you have been traveling, make it clear to the person that it out of your system and that you are planning to work for the foreseeable future.
  3. I had a baby. For an interviewer, this can be a bit tricky, but for the interviewee, if asked why there is a gap in your resume you have a choice. One, is to be direct. I had a baby and wanted to stay home with it (him or her). Or more vague. I had a personal event that required my attention. In general, it's best to be direct, but some interviewees fear retaliation if it is known they have children. I think most people respect the different decisions that people make on whether to stay home with their families. I suggest finding companies to work for that embrace having a family and respect that some people want to stay home with babies. Smart interviewers know that there is incredible talent sitting on the sidelines because they need flexibility to take care of their families. Be clear on your scheduling needs, be firm in your desire to work, and demonstrate that you are well organized and positioned to balance work and home.
  4. Laid off and fired. OK. As an interviewer, I get put off when someone says, "I was laid off and I've been looking for six months." This is a pretty big red flag. There must be something wrong with this candidate. My suggestion here is to answer with a PR like answer. First, don't admit to being laid off. Second, say something like "I'm looking for the right fit for me where I can make a big impact," when asked about the gap. If the questions persist about the gap in your resume, or if pushed on why you left, be vague and move to a positive statement like, "It wasn't the right place for me. I've always been a hard worker that is passionate about doing great work for customers. I prefer high energy places where teams work hard together...."

Do you have a gap on your resume

Why do you have a gap on your resume?

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Questions & Answers

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      • seanorjohn profile image

        seanorjohn 4 years ago

        Writing a book can work as a reason for some jobs. Sometimes this is a better response than saying you had a baby.

      • profile image

        Kathy Ward 5 years ago

        I haven't seen "employment gap due to caregiving to an elderly parent."

      • rajan jolly profile image

        Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

        This is useful information. Though I'm on my own now, there was a time as an employee, when for a brief period, I had a gap in my career. I wish I had info like this to go by then.

        However my son has just graduated with a degree in interiors and I will ask him to read this.

        thanks for sharing.

      • Bud Gallant profile image

        Bud Gallant 6 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

        This is very useful information.

        I've had to engage in some creativity myself due to gaps, and this is great for those who want to see it from an employer's perspective. Thanks!

      • Brent Stone profile image

        Brent Stone 6 years ago

        Great information,

        I am looking for a new job at the moment and took off 2 years from full time work. I was thinking to myself how can I explain this on my CV. Now I have some great answers.

      • Shahrukhcress profile image

        Shahrukhcress 6 years ago

        Very useful and informative article.

        I would like to add my point that when there is a Gap in your resume due to any reason we should try a small business of our own so that the Gap in the resume would be filled as an experience with personal business

      • mythbuster profile image

        mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

        Great ideas for resume questions that could leave a person tongue-tied in a follow-up interview. I like #2 best... seems like a nicely "universal" statement.

      • jaymelee23 profile image

        jaymelee23 7 years ago from United States

        Very good... I know a few mothers that will need to use this information. Thanks.

      • profile image

        Thomas 7 years ago

        I love the alien one. Dear sir I was one of a few individuals selected by aliens to travel the solar system...during this employment gap I learned about complicated galactic trade arrangements, planetary asset transfer and resource mining protocol and inhabitant relocation.

      • profile image

        geethus 7 years ago

        Very Good Hub

      • profile image

        Steve W 7 years ago

        Some good reasons are :

        stay home to take care of aging parent

        volunteer for a needy cause

        help the spouse to launch a business

        some free-lance work

      • joblot profile image

        joblot 9 years ago from Ringwood

        I like the idea of being positive and saying that you are looking for the right fit. Ultimately, if you're positive and you tell the truth (without too many details!) most good employers are going to respect you for that.

      • darkside profile image

        Glen 9 years ago from Australia

        Tell your prospective employer that the information pertaining to the so-called "gap" is classified. If they give you a strange look then just whisper "black ops" with a quick wink.

      • CJStone profile image

        CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

        My resume is so full of gaps it's like a seive. Also it's full of manual and part-time jobs. It used to embarrass me, but after I first got published I looked again and thought, no, it's EXACTLY the resume of a writer. Thankfully I don't have to answer those kind of questions any more.

      • Lissie profile image

        Elisabeth Sowerbutts 9 years ago from New Zealand

        Thanks for the link Paul :its interesting to see it from an employers point of view! There is a bit a issue with having babies in my country: if you've had one people tend to have another and then the employer is obliged to keep the role open for 12months if the employee chooses to take the time off: a right pain for a small company

      • pfuller profile image

        pfuller 9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

        Usually what I do is explain how I was abducted up by aliens.

        Which probably explains why I work for myself :)

      • Paul Edmondson profile image
        Author

        Paul Edmondson 9 years ago from Burlingame, CA

        I should have pointed out that my view is entirely based on the software industry which is fairly unique. 

        @Patty - I haven't had to deal with candidates that had long stints in prison or long-term inpatient care. That may make for some interesting interviews.

      • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

        Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

        This is pertinent information from the employer's point of view. Traveling is a good reason to not work - a sabatical of sorts. Some of us always work 2 jobs, so there is no gap, and that is very useful.

        I must admit that gaps also bother me when I receive resumes containing them. My experience has been that the individual has usually been in prison or in long-term inpatient care.

        Thanks for your point of view!

        Patty

      • jimmythejock profile image

        James Paterson 9 years ago from Scotland

        I was made redundant around 5 years ago, and it was around 7 months before I found new employment, the factory where I worked was closed down, with every passing month I extended the life of the factory by one month to make it look like I was just made unemployed.......jimmy

        Nice hub Paul