Explaining gap in resume
One of the questions that troubles us all when putting together our resume is what information to put in and what to leave out. Your resume needs to be succinct and punchy, but also sufficiently informative, highlighting your key achievements and demonstrating your successful career progression.
All well and good, if you've moved steadily from one job to the next, with no gaps or mishaps along the way. But if, as many of us do, you have one or two gaps in your resume, whether it be due to further study, traveling abroad, maternity leave or temporary unemployment, how should you be explaining a gap in your resume to ensure that any gaps don't put you at a potential disadvantage with your future employers?
Non-consecutive dates indicate a gap in a resume
The people reading your resume will be well versed in observing whether the dates of consecutive employment periods match up and any long unexplained gaps will raise suspicions that things may not have gone well for you. On the other hand, your resume is only a summary of your career history, not chapter and verse, and you should avoid cluttering it with unnecessary detail and too many individual dates, which will make it appear poorly thought out and difficult to read.
How long is the gap to explain in your resume?
The first thing to consider is the length of the gap and whether it is significant enough to cover in a resume. A two-month travel break between companies really doesn't needs mentioning. Nor does a brief period of unemployment, if it has since been followed by steady career progression. Obviously these are things you should be ready to discuss at interview if the subject arises, but try and keep your resume as simple as you can.
Explaining gap in resume: studying or traveling
You also need to think about whether the gap in your career in fact results from a positive choice that enhances your potential attractiveness to future employers, in which case it needs highlighting. Examples would be a gap to undertake further studies, such as a business degree or vocational qualification, or perhaps a secondment or period of work experience that has widened your experience and built up your skill-set. More enlightened employers may also view a gap resulting from a sabbatical to travel the world in a positive light, as something that will have expanded your horizons, as long as the rest of your resume reads well.
Explaining gap in resume: maternity leave
If you have a gap in your career as a result of taking maternity leave, state it as such, being sure to draw attention to any relevant part-time or home-based work you may have done in the meantime. This is particularly helpful if you are only just returning to full employment. On the other hand, if you have devoted yourself entirely to your family for a while, don't allow it to knock your confidence when going back onto the job market. Instead use your cover letter to indicate that you are now fully ready for a return to work, have your childcare arrangements in place and have thought through carefully what you are seeking and what you have to offer.
Explaining gap in resume: unemployment
By far the most difficult area to cover in your resume is a prolonged period of unemployment - or perhaps more than one. It's generally best in the resume itself simply to put the dates of your various periods of employment, without going into detail as to why the gaps are there. Instead use your cover letter to explain the obvious gaps, such as redundancy following a merger, downsizing exercise or company relocation. Be sure to make your cover letter sound confident and upbeat, indicating that you have been actively searching for a suitable new role and that you see this as a positive opportunity to identify a position in which you will thrive.
Above all, don't be tempted to embellish the facts or fudge the dates - most companies will take up references before hiring someone and you are likely to be caught out. Better by far to be honest about what's happened, whilst impressing potential employers with your ability to handle difficult situations calmly and positively by focusing on the future, rather than dwelling on the past.
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