You might have a perfectly good reason for spending time out of the workforce: Maybe you chose to raise your children, care for an aging parent, or took some personal time after you were laid off. Perhaps you simply couldn’t find the right job for several months.
Whatever your reason is for leaving, don’t wait for the interview to explain. You might not get the interview if your resume or cover letter doesn’t show a good reason for the gap. Here are some of our best tips to “close the gap” in your resume and up your odds of getting the interview –and the job.
1. Show the “Reason for Leaving
Including a “reason for leaving” line used to be standard on resumes, but it’s not necessary anymore. However, if you were laid-off due to downsizing or re-structuring – especially if it coincides with a recessionary period or a buy-out or acquisition of your previous employer – it’s worth mentioning either on your resume or in a cover letter.
If you took a sabbatical to travel, or left to raise children, tp start your own business, or to pursue volunteer work, include those details in your cover letter, but don’t “over-explain.” State your reason and move on to share what you can offer to prospective employers. Be careful of the term “sabbatical” unless it really was – the word could signal to prospective employers that you are lazy, have wanderlust, or are simply trying to cover up the fact that you were unemployed.
2. Close the Gap
If your reason for taking time off from the workforce is captivating and relevant – say, you volunteered overseas for the Red Cross or completed a degree program – include the dates as part of your resume’s timeline so it doesn’t look like a gap at all. Then, take a few sentences to explain what you learned during that time, whether it was job-related skills or valuable life experience, that makes you the perfect job candidate.
If you started a business, list your company name, or if you pursued a freelance or consultant endeavor, list a few of your larger clients as your “place” of employment. Closing your business or leaving freelancing shouldn’t raise red flags – some people are great employees and excellent at what they do but don’t enjoy all the other aspects of being self-employed or simply wish to thrive among others in a large team setting. Just make sure to treat this portion of your resume like any other and list your duties, accomplishments, and achievements as a micro-business owner.
3. Re-structure Your Resume
You shouldn’t ever lie on your resume, but that doesn’t mean you have to wave that big red flag that reads “employment gap,” either. Restructure your resume as a functional rather than chronological model to take the spotlight off the fact that you’ve been out of work for a few years, but explain the missing time in your cover letter and be prepared to elaborate during your interview.
4. Fill the Gap
If you took time off to raise children, no doubt your days were busy and your nights, exhausting. But hopefully you also kept your skills sharp. Did you continue attending industry conferences or join online groups related to your field? Think hard about anything you did related to your career and include these accomplishments in a cover letter. Additionally, if you volunteered for your child’s school PTA or PTO, or in church or community activities, list these endeavors, along with the workplace skills you applied, on your resume and in your cover letter.
5. Plan Ahead
If you’ve been looking for a job for the past few months, start thinking ahead about how you may fill that growing resume gap. Consider taking continuing education courses, volunteering in your community, or starting a consulting firm.
Even if you haven’t cashed a steady paycheck recently, employers want to see that you are working hard to keep your career on a forward trajectory, applying your skills in the real world, and even helping others. As a bonus, by getting involved in community activities or professional associations, you’ll make strong networking connections that could lead to your next job.
Gap, or no gap: Keep looking for your dream job!