Contrary to popular belief, it’s not uncommon or detrimental to take time out of work. Whether you’ve spent six months out traveling the world, dedicated time to caring for a loved one, or simply searched for work longer than you expected; many of us will spend some time in our lives “unemployed”.
But the resulting gaps in your employment can cause problems when you come to update your CV in preparation for job hunting. Some employers can be put off by big gaps in your résumé, especially if they aren’t accounted for.
From my experience cultivating résumés, I have seen how career breaks don’t have to ruin your job prospects. If they are well-explained in your résumé, they can actually be a great selling point in the eyes of some employers, and may even boost your chances of being shortlisted for roles.
When to explain a gap on a résumé
It can be tricky to judge whether or not to write about a résumé gap in your CV or not. To start, put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes and ask yourself, “Would I want to know about that gap if I was considering employing this person?” The two factors you need to consider when asking this are, the length of the gap, and how recently this gap occurred. Generally speaking, recruiters will be keener to find out about recent gaps and lengthy gaps, and less interested in brief and dated gaps.
For example, if you took a month out ten years ago, a recruiter is unlikely to care or even notice. However, if you took a year out which only finished last month, you can guarantee that recruiters and potential future employers will want to know what you were up to during that time. Judge each situation on its own merits, but usually anything over three months in the last three years will warrant some kind of explanation in your résumé.
Whatever your reasons for taking a career break, write a few short simple sentences that highlight what the experience has taught you, and how that can be translated to the workplace. While unexplained gaps in your résumé can leave recruiters feeling worried and suspicious, a well-written career gap in your résumé can demonstrate a wide range of skills, personal attributes and personality.
Many people who may have otherwise had perfect employment records, are now faced with the challenge of a large period of pandemic-induced unemployment in their résumé. While recruiters will certainly be sympathetic towards anybody who has lost a job due to COVID-19 restrictions, you should still look to fill such a gap with some impressive content, if you really want to make an impression with your résumé.
If you’ve completed online courses or any other training during this period then let employers know. This sort of personal development not only shows that you’ve been proactive, but also highlights the new skills you can bring to organizations. And if you haven’t taken any courses, do some now and add them to your résumé as soon as possible. There are plenty of course marketplaces offering valuable training across all industries for free, so its an easy win for your job search.
It will also help to tell your own personal story around your experience during the pandemic, how it has affected you, and some of the positive steps you’re taking to get back on track. This will help you to humanize the résumé and remind recruiters that there is a real person behind it.
While some people view travel as free time to lay on the beach and not much else, others may view it as a challenge, a lesson in self-reliance, and an opportunity for personal growth. If you need to include a gap signifying time spent traveling in your résumé, you need to ensure that recruiters view your experience as the latter.
Traveling takes a lot of planning, courage, organization, and many other attributes that are also needed in the workplace. Therefore, if you spent some part of last year traveling, highlight all of the skills and knowledge you applied in your travels along with some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned to show that your travel experience has made you a more attractive hire.
Illness and caring
If you took time out due to illness or caring for an ill friend or family member, this time is well spent and nothing to be ashamed of. Moreover, you shouldn’t feel pressure to issue an apology. If you’ve personally been ill, than you shouldn’t need to do more than explain this through a simple sentence. Most good employers will not discriminate against you.
If you’ve been caring for somebody else, you should treat the experience just like any other job in your résumé. List your responsibilities, the skills you’ve learnt and applied, along with the benefits you have provided for the person in your care. This will show employers that you are professional and willing to dedicate yourself to any challenge that comes your way.
Employment gaps are not usually an issue when writing a résumé, it’s the way they are handled that often brings problems. If you try to hide a résumé gap or don’t provide enough detail, you will leave recruiters with more questions than answers. But if you meet your résumé gaps head-on and use them to display a wealth of valuable skills and knowledge, you’ll stand a much better chance of getting the interviews you deserve.