Your resume is good to go. You’ve followed the regular resume format. You’ve added a summary of your skills and spelled out your employment history. Now it’s time to craft your cover letter. This is the first thing the hiring manager at XYZ, Inc. will see. You want it to be impressive, but more importantly, you must explain gaps in employment. How do you balance a solid work history with these gaps?
When you’re applying for jobs, explaining a gap does not have to dominate your resume and cover letter. It’s only part of your story. Most of the cover letter should focus on your skills and what you have to offer the employer. Before you sign off, add a paragraph like this:
“You’ll notice as you read my resume that there’s a gap in time between company X and company Y. I wanted to let you know that I was laid off by company X after ten years of work. After that gap, I was able to refocus my career and entered company Y on this level. I really feel like it helped me pivot in a new direction. Now I think I can offer you my amazing skill set because of it.”
This doesn’t appear at the top of the letter. It’s more toward the bottom. You’re writing the cover letter just like any other cover letter, demonstrating what an amazing candidate you are. You don’t need to explain or apologize for anything. You have all these good qualities. Toward the end, you point out, “Oh, by the way, you’ll notice this gap.” That’s all.
You don’t need a full-blown explanation letter if you follow these tips.
Why Is There a Job Gap?
There’s a joke going around on LinkedIn right now among recruiters. When somebody asks you why there’s a job gap, you should just tell them you weren’t working.
It’s silly, but it’s true. This deadpan answer would prevent gaps in your resume from eclipsing all the good things you have to offer.
The Numbers Are in Your Favor
Some job seekers wonder how job hopping plays into this. When do gaps get to be a problem?
I have a fun statistic for you. For the 2022 LinkedIn stats that just came out, 40% of LinkedIn users changed their career company or job every year. That’s a staggering number! If you’re on a job search, and consider yourself to be a job hopper, think about that 40%. Are you just part of a trend?
Some industries might see you as a job hopper—the law, for example. If you changed firms every year, it would look suspicious. You always want to compare it to the norms of your industry. Also, keep an eye on what you want to bring up in your job interview. You want to keep it positive. If you’ve moved to three companies in three years and you’re in your twenties, I would frame that as you’re exploring different roles and company types.
You can even highlight the differences between companies and say, “I felt like I was at a huge company and that’s not the place for me. But I really connected with the culture at the small startup.” If you are targeting a startup, and you can say, “I found that startups are my bread and butter,” they are going to get it!
Part Time Vs. Full Time
People returning to work wonder if part-time jobs look bad on a resume. LinkedIn has an option for describing your employment history as part-time or full-time. But when you are writing a cover letter and resume, that’s not something you technically have to disclose. You can discuss it in the interview, but bear in mind that it’s not uncommon in today’s workplace.
Honor what you’ve done. Be clear and honest when you’re talking about it. Say, “I work part-time at such-and-such company.” Be proud of that work. A lot of people have colleagues or a family member who works part time, and they respect it.
Getting Through the Interview
Writing a cover letter explaining career breaks is different from verbalizing this message in an interview or a phone call. Practice talking confidently about the gap because attitude is everything.
Decide from the start what your overall message is. Maybe you spent four years caring for young children, and now you’re ready to re-enter the workforce. Say that briefly, then talk about why you are up to date. Explain what inspired you to go back to work. Point out what impresses you about their company.
That polished professionalism comes from doing your research. Find out about the company enough to show genuine enthusiasm. Demonstrate your passion in your own style. You don’t have to act like a just-out-of-college kid to get the job if you are a more mature candidate.
I recommend talking your points through, out loud, to instill it as a behavior. You have to train yourself to be competent, just like any other good behavior. Speak with confidence. Lose the “ums” and “ahs.” Practice with someone who will give you honest feedback, or video yourself.
Every step on your career path becomes part of your story. Don’t let employment gaps undermine your confidence when it comes time to tell it.