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Stop Worrying About the Gap In Your Resume

Stop Worrying About the Gap In Your Resume

You may have been working for 15, 20, even 30 years. But then you stopped for a while. Maybe you left your job voluntarily, maybe not. Maybe you didn’t work for six months or six years.

Now you are looking for a job and all you can think about is the gap in your resume. Instead of feeling confident about your skills and talents and experience, you are worried and sleepless and wondering how you are going to explain your time away from work during an interview.

If you even get an interview. Because, you know, you have that gap.

At a time you need to present yourself well to potential employers, your defensiveness about taking time off might sabotage you. And when you don’t get the job, you will blame the gap.

I know. I’ve been there.

[Related: Lessons From My (First) Career Break]

Several years ago I stopped working full-time to care for my elderly mother. She wasn’t supposed to live much longer, and I wanted to be there. Weeks turned to months and soon a year had passed. Just as I was ready to start a job hunt, Hurricane Sandy flooded my house. Cleaning up and moving to temporary housing, and then moving again, delayed me a few more months.

I had never expected to be away for so long. I liked working. I’ve been doing it since my first after-school job stocking shelves at a chain store. When I started interviewing, I got all sorts of reactions, from “I wish I had done that when my father got sick,” to “Couldn’t you just hire someone?”

Soon I realized that I had to—very consciously--do two things:

  1. Accept my choices. I had to let myself off the hook. I was single when I stopped working, adding financial concerns to the equation. I had been willing to take those risks. But there were times that I was frustrated that I’d fallen behind in my financial life and in my career, not to mention how little time I'd had for friends and hobbies. I had to let go of any disappointment or sadness about those circumstances.
  2. Accept that other people might criticize my choices. I knew that some companies were never going to hire me. There was no point getting angry about it, or even thinking about it. People stop working for many reasons—to care for children or a sick or elderly relative, to pursue their own business, to relocate for a spouse, or to heal from an illness. Life happens. It would be great if more companies accepted that, and realized that people who take time off can not only keep up, but also can bring new skills, maturity and perspective to their jobs. But that is an employer's choice, not mine.

How to Handle a Career Gap on Your Resume

Coming to terms with your life circumstances clears out a lot of the negative energy you might not realize you are carrying. Once you do that—and that's the hard part—a few practical tactics can help. No matter why you weren’t working, there are two basic guidelines to follow when explaining the gap during a job search:

  1. Frame it in a positive way.
  2. Talk about it briefly and directly.

You want, if possible, to skip addressing a gap on your resume. If the gap is short, you don’t need to mention it.

If you have been consulting, doing contract, freelance, or temporary work, group those under a single heading such as Freelance Web Designer or Start-up Consulting. I was able to pick up contract and freelance work from time to time while I was caring for my mother. I started a blog and a networking group for women who shared my interest in social impact. I also took some online classes to improve my tech skills. I do believe it is crucial to keep some ties to your career and to keep learning if you do want to rejoin the workforce one day.

[Related: Prepared For A Job Change? 5 Strategies That Can Help]

Use Your Cover Letter to Explain a Gap

Your cover letter is the place to set the tone regarding your time away from work. Remember that you need to own the experience. If you made a choice to leave your job, claim it. Say you chose to care for your spouse or to relocate. Say you decided to start your own business, though it turned out not to work out for you.

You don’t need to provide any details. They won’t help your case; in fact, they will only draw more attention to it. Just lay out the fact of your time off in a single short sentence—and then move on.

You overall letter needs to be a good one: a few strong paragraphs that draw out your unique ability to do something for the company. Focus on the future, and you may find that your gap will be history.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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