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How to Handle Gaps on Your Resumé

If you’ve spent time out of work, the resulting gap on your resumé can feel like a yawning chasm. But if you handle it right, this needn’t be the case. The most common reasons for taking time out are parenthood, illness, being laid off or fired, caring for family, study, travel, or time to think. Fortunately, any of these can be framed positively – it’s simply a matter of finding the right way to present your time. Here are some ideas for ensuring that gap doesn’t hold you back.

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How to Handle Gaps on Your Resumé

Don’t just fail to mention it

It might seem tempting to simply not address that part of your career history and hope that the employer doesn’t go through the timeline of your work history with too much precision. However, this is in fact the worst approach. 

It’s much better to find a strong, positively-framed explanation for the gap and to commit to it confidently. Otherwise, you’ll be trying to hide something throughout the whole recruitment process and the company may assume the worst – for example: that you took time off through idleness.

Show what you did to keep up with the field 

Your reasons for taking time off may be perfectly reasonable - but one question that is legitimate for employers to wonder is whether you’re still up to speed on the job. This is particularly the case if you specialize in a fast-moving field, with significant changes to the law potentially having been made since you last worked.

This is easily resolved, however, by showing the employer that you kept up to date while you were away. Are there any newsletters or podcasts relating to your line of work that you could keep an eye on while you’re off? Mention that – and if you get to an interview, it’d be a good idea to also drop in a reference to a recent development in the field. When they ask you if you have any questions, you could say, “I’ve been reading that a lot of lawyers are finding the new X Regulations to be impacting Y client group in Z way – have you been finding that too?” This will let them know you’re ready to go!

Focus on the skills you acquired

Studying is the most obvious way you can acquire knowledge directly relevant to the job, but anything you do can help you grow as a person and develop your skills. Did you go abroad and try learning the local language? You’ve learned communication skills – trying to speak with a limited vocabulary has sharpened your ability to find the right words in English.

Even if you were in jail, you can use this method. This is probably the hardest of all resumé gaps to explain, but you can’t do anything about it now other than try and find the right way to frame it by focusing on how you’ve developed. Did you find a new perspective on life? Did you discover a new determination to succeed? Maybe you learned how to communicate with a diverse range of people? \

Lost your last job? Stay positive about it

Being laid off is perfectly normal. It’s commonplace for firms to close or be forced to downsize, but make sure they know this was something outside your control.

If there were more negative circumstances around your departure, be careful not to sound acrimonious. Maybe you fell out with your old employers because they were, in your experience, unreasonable, churlish people – but this firm doesn’t know that, and they’ll be curious about the other side to the story. Don’t spend precious time trying to convince them you’re right: say, “I’m proud of what I achieved in my time there, but I feel that the company culture didn’t suit my ambitions in a way that working for [your company] would”.

Time off to think? This job is the culmination

Did you need some time off to think about what you wanted to do with your life? That’s ok – but make sure you present the job you’re applying for as the culmination of that thought. You could tell the employer, “I needed some time away from work to think through my options – now I realize [x] is particularly important to me, which is why I am applying for this role”.

Time off to travel? Show you’ve got it out of your system

Did you leave work to backpack around Cambodia or hike across Nepal? This is increasingly common and many employers will be perfectly understanding – after all, why not make the most of these opportunities? But you don’t want your employer to think you might simply take off again. Present yourself as having lived out your dream and now being ready to settle down in a position. Tell the employer, “I’d always wanted to experience South America so I’m glad I took the opportunity to go – now I feel ready to find a long-term job where I can really work on developing my career”.

At the end of the day, if the employer feels you’re the right person for the job, then a gap on your resumé won’t matter. Steve Dalton, author of The 2-Hour Job Search, said, “Once I like you, you’d basically need to tell me you committed a felony to change my mind.” Be honest, focus on what you’ve learned and you’ll soon be turning apparent negatives into the positives you need to land that job!

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