How to handle a gap on your resumé
If you’ve been out of work for a while, no matter the reason, the first thing to remember when applying for a job is that you may not have to explain the hole in your work history, says Donna Meldrum, MA, a career coach with Phoenix Career Services™.
Since the recession, Meldrum points out, it’s not unusual for someone to be out of work for a year or more. As a result, employment gaps may not be the red flags to hiring managers that they used to be.
Her advice? Don’t feel compelled to bring up your unemployment. “If you’re going into an interview,” she says, “wait until they ask.” And if the question does arise, here are four ways to handle it:
Don’t dwell on the reason.
“Be clear but to the point in explaining a gap, and discuss it from a positive perspective,” Meldrum advises. Keep your emotions in check, she suggests, address the question calmly and then focus on the skills that make you the right person for the job for which you are interviewing.
Take a positive approach.
Describe what you did to prepare for your next job while you were out of work. If you took classes to develop more skills, for example, tell the interviewer how you could use what you learned to help the company.
If you were terminated from your last job, describe the dismissal as something positive that you learned from, Meldrum stresses.
“Explain you had a bad fit [or] didn’t have the skill set,” she says, “but you’ve taken the time off to figure out what you’re best at and enjoy doing. And that’s why you’re so excited to be here.”
Downplay the gap.
Don’t call attention to your time out of work by listing job history dates in boldface or placing them on the far right side of your resumé where the gap will be more obvious, Meldrum says. Instead, she suggests, include dates next to where you worked, and in regular font.
You also can minimize the employment gap by writing a “functional” resumé that focuses on your skills and may not even list dates of previous employment, rather than a more traditional chronological resumé.
Take advantage of your cover letter.
If you believe the gap will stand out on your resumé no matter how you try to downplay it, then don’t wait to discuss it in an interview. Instead, Meldrum advises, explain it in your cover letter.
Keep the explanation short and specific, and then use the rest of the letter to outline the expertise you bring to the job you’re seeking. It’s a good sign if the employer wants to meet you after reading your letter, she adds, but you still should be prepared to discuss the gap in more detail in the interview.