There can be any number of reasons behind a gap in a CV. The challenge comes, of course, in making the explanation for it palatable to a potential employer. If gaps are a problem for you, you’ll want to apply any number of fixes to address the problem in your CV, cover letter, and interview.
Solid advice abounds on how to hide employment gaps — from formatting tricks to filling the gaps with meaty volunteer experiences. However, if you focus solely on addressing problematic breaks in your employment record, you may be missing a terrific opportunity to rethink your career history and craft it into a meaningful, compelling narrative that effectively conveys the value you can offer a new employer. Here’s a three-step approach to making your resume tell a better story.
Step One: Start by holding your current CV at arm’s length (figuratively speaking). If you’re like most CV writers, you’ll have spent a lot of time finessing your recent work to the neglect of earlier positions, which you usually cut and paste into the newest version of your CV. So as Step One, you must revisit your previous jobs from the perspective of your current skills. Don’t stop there. Compare your accomplishments and how you’re presenting them as well.
Essentially, you need to reassess your “back story” in light of skills and abilities you are using now (or will need in a new position). While the descriptions you’ve been using from earlier in your career may well have been appropriate or relevant when you originally included them in your CV, more than likely the activities and responsibilities that seemed important then have since outlived their usefulness. By the same token, you also need to recognise that some experiences and skills that might have not received much emphasis in earlier versions of your CV will take on new significance in light of the new position you’re seeking. The lesson here is that you must revisit your past with an open mind if you are going to bring your job history into alignment with the storyline that your CV is presenting now.
Step Two: Once you’ve got a master list of skill sets, experiences, and outcomes, sort them by theme or category. Broad skill categories such as project management and team building, are examples of the umbrella you can use to organise the proofs or examples you present in your CV. If you’re not confident about which ones will best serve, search the Internet for job descriptions for positions similar to the one you’re seeking. These announcements will contain the key skills and experience sets that you will most likely want to highlight in your own CV.
Step Three: Now rewrite your job history, making sure that every description (even the earliest) highlights the key concepts and skills you fleshed out in Steps One and Two. Remember: Terms such as “project management” and the like are essentially claims, so it’s necessary to substantiate them with examples and success metrics. Strive for consistency in these illustrations that capture increasing levels of responsibility and accomplishment throughout your career. Here again, this effort should enable you to connect your previous jobs with your most recent ones in ways that you might previously not have thought possible.
There’s really no hiding time lost to unemployment. But you can do a lot to counter its impact on a potential employer by presenting them with a logically coherent history of your career that emphasises continuity, solid performance, and success. It’s all in how you tell your story. Other tips include:
Pre-Empt Questions About The Gaps in Your CV
Rather than leave the gaps unexplained, deal with them within your CV and cover letter before a recruiter has the chance to question them. This prevents any potential confusion from the recruiter’s side and also enables you to remain confident that no unexpected questions will arise later, for which you might be ill-prepared to answer.
Concentrate on proving to the recruiter that the issue behind the gap is no longer a problem. If you were out of work due to illness – make sure you highlight the fact you’re back to full health. If you took time out to travel, say so.
Honesty is The Best Policy
We always advise against lying in a CV. If you try and concoct complex “stories” behind your CV’s gaps, you’ll find it hard to remember (and explain) them in an interview situation.
Use your CV’s profile to touch on the gap
When writing the profile section of your CV, make a subtle reference to the gap in your employment. For example:
Creative graphic design professional offering over ten years’ success driving brand awareness for global brands. Seeking opportunities to harness extensive experience in graphic design, awareness of emerging design trends and recent year spent travelling to secure a management level role.
Use Years When Listing Jobs
Although you won’t be able to gloss over any CV gaps if asked at interview, you can prevent questions arising from your CV by only including years on dates of employment. This works particularly well for short gaps.
For example, changing:
Senior Graphic Designer, XYZ Ltd., London 09.2017-Present
Graphic Designer, ABC Ltd., London 08.2015-03.2017
Senior Graphic Designer, XYZ Ltd., London 2017-Present
Graphic Designer, ABC Ltd., London 2015-2017
Invest in Professional Development
One of the easiest ways of plugging a gap in a CV is to invest in professional development. Consider taking an online course or getting certified in something relevant to your profession. This not only plugs the gap but proves to prospective employers that you’re willing to further your skills to progress.
Everyone is human. Life is unpredictable. It’s unrealistic for a recruiter to expect a continuous and uninterrupted employment history (particularly older job seekers). Even taking the above tips into account, there will always be an employer who won’t be happy with gaps; and in those situations, you have to ask yourself if you want to work for someone like that.
What the experts say
Renowned interview Coach, Margaret Buj has over 12 years' global recruitment experience and was recognised as one of LinkedIn UK's Power Profiles in HR in 2015. We asked Margaret: "As a recruiter, how do you like to see candidates approach gaps in their CV?"
"Interviewers will want to know why there is a gap on your CV and what, if anything, you did during that time, so it is important to explain the reasons for the period of unemployment.
The main thing is that you don't lie (e.g. people sometimes lie about their dates of employment to fill the time they weren't working) - employers can easily verify your career history and if they do find out you've been dishonest, you can lose your job.
Make sure you provide clear reasons for taking time off. If you took time off to look after a sick parent or your child, tell the truth and ensure the employer you're ready to come back to full-time employment.
If you were made redundant, provide evidence of strong performance. If you can, secure recommendations from a previous manager or customer confirming your competence and achievements. Ideally, have these recommendations on your LinkedIn profile.
If you were fired, it would naturally be a lot harder to explain this. If you're applying for a job which requires different skills, then it might be worthwhile to point out how your skills are better suited to the job at hand. If you've taken any concrete steps to improve your competencies that led to you being fired, tell the employer how you've improved your skills.
Finally, stay positive - unemployment happens to everyone. Try to identify a few things you gained during this time - e.g. perhaps you picked up some new skills while freelancing or volunteering or you've done some courses?"
Natalie asks: " I left my last role as my last boss was a nasty vindictive person. Since leaving this job, I’ve had a gap in my CV of a few months. How can I overcome this?"
Avoid blaming external factors and pointing fingers at previous bosses. This will make you appear negative and unprofessional. As the gap in your CV is only a few months, consider using our example above and only mention years within your employment section.
Gintare asks: "From your experience, what do recruiters think when they see a gap in a candidate’s CV?"
Recruiters are more understanding than you think. What with the economic uncertainty starting back in 2008, companies are well-aware that redundancy and unemployment are often uncontrollable. The main thing - as we always advise - is just to be fully honest and transparent in both your CV and cover letter and during your interview.
Luke asks: "Both my parents were ill last year. Because of this, I took some time out of work and now have a gap of 18 months in my CV while I cared for them. Help!?!"
We always advise full transparency when writing a CV. There’s no need to try and fill this gap with anything else. A recruiter will fully understand the situation. Just made a note on the CV saying something along the lines of: “01.2016-06.2017 – Full-time Carer for parents.”
Fiona asks: "I have a gap in my CV while travelling. How do I mention this gap in my CV?"
Rather than leave this out and create a gap in your CV, include it. Mention in your CV, how this period of travel helped enhance your cultural awareness.
Anisha asks: "I’ve been out of the employment world for five years while I brought up my son. Now he’s about to start school, I’m worried about this gap on my CV?"
Although you probably feel out of touch, this is a common situation, so firstly, don’t worry too much. All you’ll need to do is mention the period you’ve been a stay-at-home parent and then state that you’re no longer have full-time childcare commitments and are ready to return to the workplace.
Klaud asks: "The gap in my CV is only a few months, could I just “extend” the amount of time I was in my previous role??"
Although it’s tempting to do this, I’d advise against it. If you progress in the recruitment process, at some point, a reference check will be completed. If the information on this comes back different to what you’ve stated on your CV, it’ll make you appear deceitful.
Abbie asks: "I recently took some time out of work following a back car accident and subsequent back injury. Do I mention this gap in my CV?"
Yes. As mentioned above, the main thing to concentrate on is making it clear to the recruiter that you’re 100% fit, well and ready to work. We cover this more on our article on returning to work after illness.