If you had a gap in your work—whether months or years—you are going to need to explain it when applying for jobs. These tips will help you.
Start by emphasizing your strengths. Include them in all your messaging:
- Add bullet points throughout your resume listing all the things you do best, how you’ve helped past employers, what you have to offer. Include them in your career summary as well.
- Highlight your strong suits in your cover letter.
- Practice stating them aloud.
- Present them with confidence to potential employers during your interview.
Why the Gap?
Think about the reasons for the gap and all the things you did during that time. What greater perspective did you gain because of this experience?
Once you’ve outlined the dates and the reasons for the gap in your employment history, include it when it comes to writing your cover letter. This information does not belong at the top of the page where HR will see it first. Place your employment gap explanation further down on the page.
Here’s a sample: “You’ll notice on my resume that I wasn’t employed between 2018 and 2020. During that time, I cared for an elderly relative while volunteering at the local food kitchen. I still look back on that time as a way that I developed teamwork skills in a fast-paced environment.”
Draw on the positive aspects of the situation. A lot of people focus on accomplishments in cover letters, but it’s also valid to state what you take away from the gap experience.
Although it looms large in your mind, you shouldn’t let the gap in your employment overshadow all the excellent work you’ve done. It’s not going to be the first thing you say to a hiring manager when the time comes to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question. Leave that time for why you want to work at the company. Let them bring up the gap if they are concerned about it.
When they do, give an honest answer. “I was a caregiver for two years,” for example, or “I was laid off and decided to take a break from employment since it was feasible for me to do so. And during that time, I learned XYZ.”
Start Where You Are Today
You might feel embarrassed by a work history of job hopping. Or maybe you’ve been laid off and can’t find full-time work in your field. You’re having a tough time with it, and you’re spending most of your time watching TV. What now?
You need to start where you are right now. Look around and see what opportunities present themselves. There’s always a project to be done for free. There’s always short-term work to be had. You can get a job you might be overqualified for. Do anything to get yourself into motion. Get some experience, get yourself out of a slump, and improve your job searching skills at the same time.
The same thing applies if you have a friend or family member in this situation. Advise them not to sit and do nothing while they are waiting for the perfect entry into the working world again. It might look a little messy, but that’s okay. Hiring managers often see this.
Where Do You Bring Value?
People in healthcare can return from service as a caregiver with a brand-new skill set. They can talk about their experience as a consumer of healthcare services and what they learned by advocating for a patient or by being a patient. The insight they gained from the end-user experience is valuable if they are planning to work in a hospital.
The same principle applies in education. Schools love to hire their former students. So, if all you have is that you’ve been with your alma mater for six years, consider this: that’s six years of consumer viewpoint. You can turn that around and say, “I know what it’s like to be a student in this department. I’m committed to the mission of this school, and I want to work on the other side now.”
Who would value your perspective as a long-time consumer?
You Can Do It!
Job seekers can find this experience to be very emotional. There are so many moving parts. If you have ADHD, you may need extra help to stay organized. If you suffer from anxiety, you can be triggered by all the uncertainties. You need to put self-care systems in place.
Find an accountability partner—a buddy who suggests a job once a week. Connect with other job hunters if you can. Always look ahead to the result you want as an inevitability. You’re going to get through this. You’re going to be in the workforce again, and it will be really exciting. Experience that feeling. Use it as a motivator.