Taking the Negative out of an Employment Gap

An employment gap can range in length from a few months to several years, be voluntary or involuntary, and occur for a host of reasons. While often considered a cause for concern on both sides of the hiring table, it shouldn't automatically be seen as a negative.

Common explanations for a gap include—

  • Relocation due to a spouse's new job
  • The birth of a child (or an additional child) that prompts a period of stay-at-home parenting
  • An elderly parent who requires care
  • Professional development such as pursuing a degree
  • Personal medical leave
  • Organizational changes within the family that requires time away from work

During these topsy-turvy pandemic times, the causes for employment gaps have multiplied. With many schools transitioning to e-learning and parents having childcare issues, many families tackle these changing times via one parent leaving the workforce to school and care for the children. In some instances, elderly family members, at a greater risk for coronavirus-related complications, have required family members' care. And some individuals with chronic, underlying health conditions have chosen to isolate themselves to lessen their chances of contracting the virus.

Whatever the reason and however lengthy the gap, honesty, and integrity should guide all employment gap transparency decisions. Experts advise the "explanation approach" over the "hide it approach." While minor gaps between jobs may require little if any explanation, the gap scenario offers a perfect opportunity to demonstrate sought-after characteristics such as truthfulness and honesty.

When to address the gap

The key to navigating away from a negative connotation, especially for a gap of six months or longer, is to address the gap adequately. That means mentioning it in the cover letter, on the resume, and of course, during an interview.

How to address the gap

Resist the urge to camouflage a gap by listing the dates of employment by year only. Recruiters and hiring managers will assume an unexplained gap is being slipped under the door. Go with full disclosure by including the months in the beginning and ending dates.

In preparation for a conversation about the time without a paying job, compile notes on what you did during the work break. While some of these activities may be relevant to your career path, others will not be, and that's fine. Take a class or online workshop? Renew a license or certification? Meet regularly with colleagues to talk shop? Join a networking group? Enjoy a much- needed sabbatical?

Mesh all of these projects and accomplishments into a two or three sentence summary emphasizing that the time was well spent. Depending on the reason for your employment gap and how it coincides with your career, this period of time may qualify as a career-enhancing endeavor. For instance, a gap that allows a medical professional to be a full-time caregiver for a family member may be included in the resume experience section, similar to this Indeed example:


Full-time Caregiver – (include the time range)

  • Took time away from professional career to act as a full-time caregiver to an elderly relative
  • Assisted relative with daily tasks such as feeding, bathing, dressing, and grooming
  • Administered medications as prescribed three times daily
  • Checked vital signs regularly to gauge recovery progress

You can put a positive spin on an employment gap. Acknowledge the gap and emphasize the positive. And never allow an employment gap to keep you from applying for a position.


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