How to Address Employment Gaps with Hiring Companies

Cartoon of person evaluating career options.

A few generations ago, it was common to see someone settle into their career and spend the majority of their working years at the same company, maybe even in the same role. It used to be seen as a sign of loyalty and stability. Nowadays, it’s more common to see resumes with multiple jobs for various spans of time.

You might’ve left one job to find another or experienced a layoff or furlough. Or maybe you simply needed to step away to focus on a personal goal or issue. Whether this is your first time unemployed and you’re preparing yourself for jumping back into the workforce, or you’ve been in and out of jobs looking for the right fit, here’s how you can address any questions about your employment gaps with confidence.

Don’t Hide Employment Gaps

Seeing a break between two jobs on your resume or application can seem like a glaring red flag. There could be numerous factors that contributed to that period of time. It’s easy to worry that a hiring manager will only assume the worst. It may seem tempting to try to hide or disguise this to minimize the impact, but it’s crucial that you ensure that your resume and application remains 100% honest.

Whether you’re applying for a one-time gig, part-time freelance work or your next career placement, you want to start off with transparency. In a time when fact-checking and consulting references is as easy as a Google search, a phone call or an email, being caught in a lie can be devastating, especially because it’s unnecessary. One way or another, the time between jobs, no matter how brief or lengthy, is part of your history and you have so much more to offer.

Briefly Acknowledge Why It Happened

Now that you have come to peace with how your resume and experience is presented, it’s time to think about how you’re going to briefly acknowledge any employment gaps without dwelling on them. A hiring manager does not need a detailed retelling of what you did between jobs. They are going to want to get some sort of idea of why you stepped away from the workforce. It’s also acceptable to explain that you were using that time to job seek and find a good fit.

A simple, two to three sentence answer can address this concern. A hiring manager would want to gain insight into why you left a job and what factors weighed in on the next one you chose. 

Consider these examples as you try to write your two to three sentence explanation:

    • I left JOB A because it did not present opportunities for growth. I spent time working side jobs and gigs so I could really think about what I wanted in a job. Then, I took JOB B later on.
    • I chose to leave JOB A to focus on myself and my family. After things settled down, I was able to search for another job in the industry and I decided to pursue JOB B.
    • In the time between JOB A and JOB B, I really reflected on my career path and what I needed to achieve to get where I wanted to be. I picked up freelancing part time and learned that I was really passionate about that work, which is why I am here today.

It’s important to quickly acknowledge the elephant in the room (or in this case, on your resume). Then, pivot the hiring manager’s attention to more important things, like the skills you’ve acquired and why your experience makes you a prime candidate for their position.

Explain What You Discovered

You can make the best of employment gaps in your resume by highlighting what you learned about yourself and your work in that time. Whether you were sporadically taking side jobs or were fully unemployed, you must have reflected on what you wanted and needed in a job when you returned to the workforce.

This could mean you thought about the culture of a future workplace and realized that you wanted to find like minded individuals to work alongside. Maybe you realized you wanted a position in a corporate setting because you thrive on structure, and that’s why you applied to the job you did. Or maybe you found an unexplored passion and are trying to pave your way in a new endeavor, which led you to this new hiring company.

It’s also impactful if you explain to the hiring manager why you believe this job will be a good fit. They’ll want to hear that they aren’t going to be vulnerable to you leaving for reasons you left other jobs in the past. You can assure them that your circumstances have changed after you learned from past experiences, or that what had happened then no longer applies now.

The important thing for you to convey is that, despite not working for a period of time, you’re eager to find work and commit now. Temporary employment gaps should not distract a hiring manager from seeing all of the experience and skills you have accumulated, so don’t let it. Be honest, acknowledge the time, then shift the focus to who you are today and you’ll be able to keep a hiring manager’s focus on what’s really important.

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