Have you been away from the workforce for six months? Six years? Even longer? Well, explaining your career gap may not be as difficult as you think.
What Counts As a Career Gap?
A career gap is time spent away from the workforce. Common career gap reasons include taking care of family, going to school to change careers, taking a sabbatical or being laid off. Contract work, launching a new business, or pivoting your career and then returning are not considered part of a career gap.
That’s because over the past several years, hiring managers and recruiters have been seeing career gaps in resumes with greater frequency, minimizing what once were considered red flags.
Regardless of this shift, it’s still important to artfully address it head on, no matter the length of your career gap.
Why Career Gaps Are No Longer Seen as Red Flags
Career gaps were once an on-going concern for employers, often viewed as potential red flags.
They could signal a prospective employee could be a short-timer or someone who was not focused on their career, Yuletta Pringle, an HR advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management, told Built In.
Or, they’d wonder how the job candidate spent their time while they were out of the workforce and whether they are ready to resume work, Amy Mangan, vice president and branch director at recruiting firm Robert Half, told Built In.
But since the pandemic hit, employers have become more accepting of career gaps because they are now increasingly viewed as part of life, said Tracy Stone, director of diversity, equity and inclusion in tech at fintech company Intuit.
“In an economic downturn or market where there are more layoffs, career gaps can be seemingly more common.”
During the pandemic, employees left in droves for a number of reasons, including to take care of family members, to reevaluate their career choices or to go back to school.
Massive layoffs have also helped normalize career gaps.
In the past month alone, tech companies have slashed an estimated 60,000 jobs, according to CBS News. The tech industry also bore the brunt of layoffs last year, with 97,171 job cuts — up a whopping 649 percent from the previous year, according to a recent report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
“In an economic downturn or market where there are more layoffs, career gaps can be seemingly more common,” said Jason Buss, vice president of talent acquisition at game development platform company Roblox.
How to Explain a Career Gap in a Resume
When putting together a resume or updating it, ensure you include a start month and year and end month and year for each time period you were in the workforce, which is considered a standard format. You should also include the start and end dates for any career gaps if they lasted six months or longer.
These periods when you were working and not working should be laid out in chronological order on your resume under your professional experience, Mangan said. Include any relevant activities, experience or skills you may have picked up during your career gap and tie them to the job you are seeking.
“As the six-month mark approaches, I would start to think about what you can add to your resume to show you weren’t just sitting at home.”
By accounting for any type of career gaps on your resume, recruiters and hiring managers can quickly understand the sequence of events.
“It really goes a long way to prompt folks to say, OK, I get it. I can see what they were up to and how they’re ready to go back to work, great,” said Mangan.
For current job seekers, if you have the luxury of time to update your skills, volunteer for industry organizations, mentor, sit on a board or engage in activities that could potentially tie into the future work you wish to do, it’s a step worth taking.
“As the six-month mark approaches, I would start to think about what you can add to your resume to show you weren’t just sitting at home,” Mangan told Built In. “Did you sit on a board? Were you involved in an industry networking group? All of these could be included in your resume.”
Cloud Security Student and Volunteer January 2018-August 2018
Attended cloud security courses at ISC(2) and became a Certified Cloud Security Professional. Volunteered at the RSA Conference for programs on cloud security and worked with high school students on cybersecurity best practices.
PTA President and Caregiver March 2020-November 2021
Organized and ran the PTA at my child’s school and collaborated with 45 parents to hold fundraising events and other programs, while also devoting time to my child’s online schooling.
How to Explain a Career Gap in a Cover Letter
Although addressing a career gap in a cover letter is optional, it can provide a vehicle and additional space to share insights and information about the reasons for your career gap and the activities you performed while out of the workforce if they are relevant to the position you are currently seeking.
This information in your cover letter can play a greater importance if you don’t mention your career gap in your resume.
For example, maybe you spent six months or more focused solely on finding a job and have nothing else to list for that time period on your resume. You can address it in your cover letter with a simple sentence that states you spent that time as a job applicant.
And in cases where you spent time out of the workforce due to recharging your batteries, helping your family members, or traveling, it too can be noted in your cover letter.
Other activities can also be noted in your cover letter in a single sentence or paragraph, depending on how relevant they are to the position you are seeking. Make sure to couch your words in a positive tone that shows you are eager to address your next opportunity.
Cover Letter Example
During the pandemic, I paused my career to assist my children with their online schooling. I also formed a virtual school co-op to support my children and their classmates. I organized, collaborated and led activities and programs for the children with the help of other co-op parents and developed a shared resource system to address student needs. I am very interested in applying these skills and my past software engineering experience to the team lead software engineering role at your organization.
How to Address a Career Gap in a Job Interview
So, you’ve successfully addressed your career gap in your resume and cover letter. Now it’s time to tackle it in your job interview. Ask friends or family to conduct a mock job interview with you in the days leading up to your interview. Or, at a minimum, record yourself practicing how you would respond to an interviewer’s questions, including an inquiry about your career gap.
An interviewer may ask questions like, “Can you walk me through your work history” or “I noticed this gap in your work history, can you tell me about it?” These types of questions come from their curiosity and aren’t designed to put you in a hot seat.
There is also a chance you may not be asked about your career gap during the job interview and you should not feel compelled to discuss it unless you wish.
“A break sounds more definitive but framing it as a pause can be helpful ... It’s a very positive way to frame it and own it. I love it when I hear people talk about it that way.”
If it does come up, Intuit’s Stone advised calling your career gap a pause during the interview. Careers are long and ever changing, so think about your career as chapters with a pause in between, she said. Briefly explain why you left and how, after your pause, you are looking forward to your next chapter.
“A break sounds more definitive but framing it as a pause can be helpful,” Stone said, offering an alternative word choice that sounds softer to the ear. “It’s a very positive way to frame it and own it. I love it when I hear people talk about it that way.”
You do not need to go into great detail about why you have a career gap, but rather address it briefly, with transparency and confidence, she added. Answer the question about your career gap directly, rather than sidestepping the question with a vague response.
After you briefly touch on your career gap, you should then segue into your interest and enthusiasm for the job you’re interviewing for.
Example Job Interview Responses
- If you were laid off: I was part of a reduction in force that laid off 10 percent of the workforce. I would be very excited to have an opportunity to leverage my experience at your organization for this role.
- If you left for caregiving: My child needed additional attention and support with their online schooling and I took a pause from work to assist. But with school now returning to in-person sessions, I am eager to return to the workforce and your opportunity is especially appealing.
- If you took some time to reset: Due to some changes in my life at the time, I decided to take a pause from the workforce. Those changes no longer require my time and I am very interested to learn more about this opportunity and your company.
If you are just leaving the workforce or are someone who has been out for months or years and has a plan to reenter, consider devoting some time to updating your skills.
This step would serve two purposes. One, it can help account for some of your career gap on your resume. And secondly, it can further update your skills, making you an even stronger candidate.
Roblox’s Buss said there are a number of things people can do while waiting for their next job. They include continuing education, like classes at Udacity or bootcamps at Fullstack Academy, to fill the skill gaps you have for those positions you are most interested in.
Tech courses and certifications, like Built In’s Learning Lab, are another way to enhance your skill set. And there are a number of programs available based on industry sector. For example, trade association (ISC)2 offers cybersecurity certifications, the Blockchain Council provides blockchain certifications, and Coursera offers AI certifications.
Regardless of a career gap, if a person has kept their skills current, whether it’s getting Google Career Certificates training or doing something like LinkedIn Learning, that is going to separate them from someone who has not updated their skills and only has had a consistent job without ever taking time off, Mangan said.