Ask a Recruiter: What’s the Best Way to Explain a Career Gap on my Resume?

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Jeni Lambertson217
Founder + CEO of the constellations
April 23, 2024 at 8:49AM UTC
I was 27 when I decided it was time to buckle down and re-enter the traditional workforce.   As I often say, my career trajectory has been non-linear and has morphed many different times.  My first job out of high school was assisting a talent manager who served as a crash course in male toxicity.  The experience so mentally ravaged me that I felt the only way to separate myself from it was to turn down a job offer I'd received from another large talent agency and go in a completely different direction.  For the eight years following, I held jobs ranging from a retail salesperson to a nanny, which as you can imagine created bizarre gaps in my work experience.   
Today, I am the founder of the constellations, a female-first recruitment agency where I help women navigate how to represent themselves best both on paper and in person.  Gaps on your resume do not have to be a hindrance. In fact, with a little finesse, a seemingly questionable gap on your resume can turn into an opportunity to re-brand yourself.   Below I am sharing common reasons for holes on a resume and methods to address them with ease.  

 You lost your job.  

Perhaps you were laid off, or maybe you were fired. It happens. Just because a candidate is laid off or fired does not mean they are not a hardworking, talented employee.  Sometimes, companies overextend their budgets and have to make cuts, or go through a re-organization and a position becomes redundant. Other times, a candidate can be brilliant at their job but do not thrive within a particular company culture.  The best way to address this sort of gap is to say something like this in your cover letter or during your interview: “The company I worked for implemented budget cuts, and because I was one of the more recent hires, I was laid off. However, despite the way it ended I feel so fortunate to have been able to cover the amount of ground I did while I was there and am extraordinarily proud of my achievements. For instance, while there, I XYZ...."

You took time off for personal reasons  — maybe for your health, to take care of children or to take care of an ailing family member.

Keep it short.  Do not feel compelled to share any actual details. When it comes to caring for yourself, I want you to stop explaining yourself.  You owe the interviewer nothing more than: "I had some personal matters that required my full-time attention. However, I am pleased to say it's resolved and I am thrilled by the prospect of focusing on my work and embarking on this next step of my career." 
If you took time off from your career to care for children or an elder, you should share that fact with your interviewer with pride. After all, being a caretaker builds  skills that are valuable in any workplace. Let them know how you stayed up to date with industry trends during your time away, and how being a caretaker has made you a better rounded person. 

You took a break to further your education.

Taking a break to return to school or complete training likely requires the least amount of explanation. Something simple suffices, such as: “I wanted to further develop my skillset by completing a degree in X or obtaining a qualification in Y.  And now that I have achieved my educational goals, I’m looking forward to putting the skills I honed to work in the next company I join." Be sure to include your tenure on your resume, to clear up any misconceptions about what you were doing while you were in school. 

You quit your job to travel.

First off, lucky you.  But in all seriousness, taking time to explore the planet is an entirely legitimate reason for quitting a job.  The notion that we must be chained to a desk forty to sixty hours a week to contribute something to the world or to be a productive human is another product of social conditioning.  However, for an interview setting, I suggest explaining how travel lent to personal growth. You can say that while you felt you were achieving growth within your career, you wanted to balance it by taking some time to explore.  Also, if you volunteered or worked with any charitable organizations abroad, be sure to highlight the experience on your application or during your interview.  
Lastly, if a recruiter or hiring manager should voice concern over a hole in your resume, acknowledge their worry then reassure them of your unique experience and qualifications. Refrain from going into any extraneous monologue about the gap in your work history.  The less energy you spend explaining or focusing on it, the less cause for worry they will have.  

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