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How to Fill an Employment Gap on your Resume

Updated on January 6, 2016

Almost in Tears

Darla wanted help with her resume, she was almost in tears because she had large gaps in her work history, after taking care of her ailing mother and father. “What can I do?” she pleaded, knowing that those gaps are big red flags for any employer, yet she wanted and needed a job badly and was fully ready to reenter the job market.

First, I assured her that she was not alone, for the older worker this is a common issue. There are many who selflessly interrupt their lives to care for ailing parents. It is an inevitability that we all have to deal with. There are also more and more people who are going back to school later in life, getting degrees or upgrading their skills. Then there are many retirees who find that they would like to return to work after having played all the golf they could ever hope to play or finished redecorating the house, or just plain became bored. Others have had their own health or legal issues. Whatever the reason, I assured Darla, there is a way to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative from her resume.

What Happened?

If an employer sees a gap in work history they immediately wonder what happened that made you unemployed or unemployable during that time. Our goal is to mitigate their questions and assumptions.

The thing is if you have gaps, then you have gaps, that’s the truth of the matter and saying you were employed when you weren’t is a lie and you never want to lie on your resume. While a consistent job history is important, certain things are forgivable.

Going back to school is a plus and shows that you have the desire to improve yourself, who wouldn’t want someone like that?

Women Especially

For women especially, having and rearing a family is an acceptable reason for not having A\”worked” even though you work far more being a mother than you would have as an executive. This category is being gender bended too. Many men are taking the reigns and staying home with the kids while mom goes out and works.

As I mentioned, caring for an ailing parent or family member can also be a forgivable gap and can be included on the resume to account for work time missed.

Dates or No Dates?

There are those who say that by eliminating dates on your resume you will take care of those pesky gap issues, but the problem is, as an employer, I will look at it as a blatant attempt to hide something; the minute you do that I have lost my trust in you and won’t invite you for an interview.

While you should put the years that you worked at a job on your resume, eliminating the months with the years can remove small gaps and still let them know the chronology of your employment history. These gaps can be handled on the interview if the issue comes up, but at that point the resume has done it’s job and gotten you the interview so chances are it won’t be a problem.

Being out of work is not a crime, that’s why we have unemployment insurance, it happens to most of us one or more times during our work history.

So truth is the key, or should I say, adjusting the truth. Don’t say any more than is necessary and make whatever you say positive. Look at your experiences during the time you weren’t working as worthwhile commodities that can be useful to your new employer.

Say you took a couple of years off to travel the world, that could be a valuable asset to a company that is global and needs people who are experienced in other cultures.

Even taking care of an ailing parent gives you useful skills, organization, negotiation, problem solving abilities, all positives to an employer.

An illness can be a tough one, while you don’t want to put “Ill” on your resume you can reiterate in a cover letter that you are fully willing and able to return to the work force.

Qualifications and Accompishments

Qualifications are also going to be a key ingredient to your resume success. Despite the gaps, if you tell them you have the skills and abilities that they are looking for then they are more likely to see you as a potential employee.

Many times you will see an employment ad and they want certain things, like being organized, speaking a second language, good troubleshooting skills. If you a have these, put them down. They wouldn’t have them in their ad if they didn’t think they were of some importance, so let them know you have them. But the most important part is to not just say you have them but prove that you have utilized them on the job. This can be done through accomplishments.

Having accomplishments, no matter when they occurred, is always a plus. I recommend that you put them under the job where you achieved them, making sure that they stand out by putting a bullet point in front or bolding them. This is true of any resume but even more so when you have to compensate for missing work history. Whenever you say you are good at something, in a resume, a cover letter, or an interview, prove that it is true by showing that you have utilized those qualities and have something to show for them.

If one of the reasons you have been out of work is furthering your education, you will want to put that before work experience, and you can include any projects or special achievements you have had while attending school. Many qualifications can be supported by subjects you studied and things you did in school, including maintaining a high GPA or getting scholarships.

It is What It Is

Yet another way to fill the gaps is volunteer experience, this can go hand in hand with education or it can be separate. Volunteering is a viable activity and shows a commitment to meaningful endeavors and that you are interested in being of service, which is an important attribute for an employer. So if during your sabbatical from work you volunteered it would be advantageous to put it down.

So, what Darla thought was an insurmountable problem, became simply a readjustment of information and the addition of skills and personal attributes that fit with the position she was seeking.

Always remember, nothing can change your job information, it is what it is, but adjusting how it is honestly presented and talked about will help you to fill the employment gap.

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