Common employment gaps & how to list them on your CV

Introduction

Professional resume writers and recruitment experts say that gaps in your employment history are a bad thing. But what if you can’t avoid them? You still need to list these career gaps on your CV, so what is the best way to go about this?

Large gaps (meaning 6 months or longer) are more worrisome in the eyes of recruiters and employers. Multiple gaps also send up a red flag because they display a pattern of unemployment. Some things that employers assume when you have gaps on your CV are:

  • You were fired.
  • Something is wrong with you as a person, i.e. your character, performance, drive, etc.
  • You do not have the necessary skills for the job/industry.

Although none of these things may be true, you need to convince the person reading your CV that you are not a risky hire. The fact is – companies want to hire the least risky option. Displaying a normal career trajectory is a good signal to companies (and the recruiters hiring on their behalf) that you could be the right person for the job.

Having an employment gap is not the end of the world. You simply have to explain the gap in the right way. Below is a list of the most common reasons for career gaps and how to address them in your CV.

You Were Fired

box employeeThe first thing an employer will think if you have an unexplained gap on your CV is that you were fired and that hiring you could pose potential problems.

If you were fired, you will want to shortly explain how and why this happened, what you learned, and how you have grown from the experience. Being part of a large layoff (say 1,000 jobs) should be noted because that is less about you as an individual and more about corporate strategy/downsizing.

Depending on when you were fired from a job, you may be able to leave it off your resume. For example, if it was a long time ago (7-10 years), leave it out. You only want to include your most recent and relevant positions on your CV. Similarly, if the job you were fired from only lasted a few months or is in a completely different industry than what you’re pursuing now, it may not be relevant enough to include on your CV.

Remember to be completely honest about this touchy topic, but do not go overly into detail (and do not bring it up in the interview unless specifically asked.) You want to focus on the positives of yourself and your CV, not the negatives.

You Quit

quit employeeLet’s say you quit your job, for whatever reason, and were unable to find work for some time afterwards. You should not simply write why you quit, for this can mean many things to an employer. They may think you are unambitious, not able to handle your duties, can’t achieve the right work-life balance, or even, you simply do not like working.

You don’t want recruiters to think that you will randomly quit your job one day without warning, or that you will leave if something different comes along. If you voluntarily left your job, you need to fill your time off with something productive. Since you didn’t have another job lined up after you quit, you will want to “replace” the lack of a job with some other activity that adds value.

You Had Health Problems

pills healthHealth problems (although technically illegal to discriminate against) can be a warning sign to employers that you can’t do the job 100%, may not be up for the demands of the job, or will have to take time off again due to illness.

Mentioning past health problems should be done only if you had to take a large amount of time off. Maybe you had to get an invasive surgery and spend time in therapy/recuperating. Or perhaps you had to undergo cancer treatment. The best way to go about this is to explain what happened, and how these issues will not affect your future performance (read: their bottom line).

It is unfortunate that people with health problems need to tackle such a complex, personal subject on their CV. It is still better to be honest with employers than to regret it later and have a bad experience/relationship. But remember, employers cannot discriminate against you based on your health.

You Had Family Duties

family baby parentsYou were taking care of your newborn baby. You had to care for your children while your spouse was working. You relocated to a new city where your spouse got a job. You were taking care of a sick relative. These are all common reasons for large gaps in employment. Most employers are very understanding about these situations.

There is a way to set yourself apart from others who have a similar gap due to family responsibilities – it is to be doing something alongside your family duties, such as an online course or training program. If you do not have enough time to pursue something like this, simply write a short description of your employment gap and move on. You do not want to draw unnecessary attention to it.

You Were Travelling

travel photosTravel can be an amazing and rewarding experience. It helps us learn new things, break barriers, open our minds, and so much more. Some companies encourage travel, but other do not.

To some corporations, frequent travelers or travel enthusiasts can be seen as a risk. Large gaps taken to pursue travel may signal to recruiters that you are not in constant need of employment or money. Companies want workers that they can count on and that put work above everything else.

If you have taken a long amount of time off to travel, explain why you did so and what you learned from the experience. If you plan to pursue constant travel in the future, you may want to focus on jobs that are openly accepting of this, or that allow freelancing/working from “home”. This will make it easier to balance work and travel. You will also not waste time on companies that are at odds with your passions and priorities. 

Other

unemploymentIt can be tempting to blame the “economy” for your unemployment. It is true that in recessions, many people lose their jobs and are unable to find work due to companies not hiring. However, you do not want to write this on your CV because it displays a lack of determination on your part.

Similarly, having many short jobs or internships can be viewed negatively as it shows that you can’t stick with a job. Jumping around to too many jobs is a red flag to recruiters. It is better to leave these off of your resume completely if they do not add value. If they do add value, it is better to list them towards the end of your CV, letting more relevant skills or experiences take center stage.

criminal policeFinally, if you were unemployed because of a criminal act (for example, you were in prison), you can put this on your CV and explain clearly what the situation was. Only do so if they specifically ask if you have a criminal record. If you had to go to prison, you will want to explain how you have changed since then and any programs you took advantage of while serving your sentence. Many jobs have programs specifically for reformed convicts. 

Conclusion

Your CV needs to stick out in a pile of hundreds or thousands of candidates. You do not want to give a recruiter any reason to discard your CV. Keep in mind – an employer will scan your resume for less than 30 seconds before moving on. You need to convince them that you’re worth their time! Keep these 3 things to keep in mind:

Be honest. Do not lie about your employment history and educational achievements – most recruiters check this. But even if they don’t check, you do not want to get caught in a lie later on. It will hurt your career if word spreads that you are not truthful.

Don’t leave gaps unexplained. Show how you used your time off constructively. Did you take an online course, do volunteer work, attend industry events, conduct your own project? Show how the skills you learned are useful in the job you’re applying to. Make sure that you are up-to-date with industry trends, even if you haven’t been working.

Include a cover letter. If you have something important to talk about, put it in your cover letter. While your CV will include only quick bullet points, your cover letter is your chance to explain in full detail your employment gaps, skills, experience, attitude, personality, and more!


The Lean MBA is a constructive way to fill career gaps on your CV. This 1-year, 100% online program teaches 12 functional modules of business administration. Study just 15min/day, pay less than 1€/day.

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