I was talking with Ruby, a young job seeker, who mentioned she hadn’t worked for more than a year now, and she was worried about how this would affect her chances of being hired. I asked her what happened. Ruby explained that she had already been feeling burnt out and miserable at her job. She was planning her wedding and honeymoon, and when she realized she didn’t have enough vacation time for the honeymoon the couple wanted, she thought, “why am I putting myself through this?!” And so Ruby quit. She worked her final two weeks and left.
Ruby is not alone. Between COVID-19, the Great Resignation, and layoffs before, during, and after, many of us have employment gaps we don’t know how to handle.
The good news? According to CNN, the same events that created these gaps have also created a new normal where employment gaps aren’t such a big deal. Provided you have an explanation, that is.
avoid these missteps
To start, these are some of the things you should really never do or you risk ruining your chances of getting that great job you want!
- Stress over gaps of 6 months or less. Most people will assume this was time spent looking for your next position.
- Fudge your dates. If the company does a background check (most do), that gap is going to show and ruin your credibility.
- Lie big time. It’s one thing to refer to your honeymoon as “travel,” but quite another to say you were fighting fires or feeding orphans when you were really hanging out at home.
- Get caught without an answer. They’re going to ask, so have an answer ready.
Follow these steps
Instead, use these four steps to manage your employment gap and appeal to hiring managers.
Decide How to Frame the Gap
Start with the truth, please, at least to yourself. Then look at what was going on beneath the surface. That’s where you’ll find how to effectively and truthfully frame what happened:
- Were you fired? Quit in a spectacular display of verbal fireworks? You can frame these as you and the company no longer being a good match for each other.
- Did you get laid off? Depending upon context, you could frame it as a financial or economic decision or as a change in company structure/management that eliminated your position.
- Medical or mental health crisis, whether yours or a family member’s who required your care? In the U.S., interviewers can’t legally ask health-related questions, but you still need to address the gap. You can simply frame it as dealing with a medical crisis that has thankfully been resolved or as caring for a family member and now ready to return to the workforce.
- Raising kids? This is another topic interviewers can’t ask about, although you can offer information. If you prefer not to, “caring for family member(s)” covers it.
- Other helpful frames include: travel, sabbatical, relocating, and volunteering.
Include It on Your Resume
Surprised? HR and hiring managers get nervous when they see extended employment gaps, and the unknown is always scarier than a simple answer. So for gaps longer than six months, put them on your resume similar to how you would list a job. Some examples:
Extended Layoff (February 2022 – November 2022)
- Personal assessment and skill training following a layoff due to company restructuring.
Medical Recovery (March 2021 – July 2022)
- Rest and recovery after a medical crisis.
Use a Combination or Functional Resume Format
If you have more than one employment gap, using one of these resume formats becomes increasingly important. Unlike standard chronological resumes, which focus on your past employment, functional resumes focus on your skills and talents and may not include past employment at all. As the name implies, a combination resume combines elements of both a chronological and functional resume; it highlights your skills first and then covers past employment, but not as in-depth as the standard chronological format. If this all sounds like Greek to you, I get it. Google “combination resume template ” or jump on a call with me and I’ll help you sort it out.
Be Prepared to Discuss During the Interview
They’re going to ask, so be prepared. During interviews, you want to share your frame, add a key point or two that relates to the position you’re interested in, and offer the interviewer some reassurance that it won’t happen again (probably).
What About Ruby?
When I asked Ruby about what she’d been up to during her employment gap, she had gotten married, with a lovely wedding and honeymoon, and then relocated to Atlanta for her husband’s job. Now that they were settled in their new place, she had explored why she was so burnt out before and made a plan to make sure it didn’t happen again. She was ready for new opportunities.
She just wasn’t sure how to put all that in a resume!
After some discussion, we agreed that since Ruby completed her two weeks’ notice, it was fair to frame her employment gap as follows:
Planned Career Break (November 2021 – present)
- Personal travel, relocation to Atlanta
- Self-led study of relationship between productivity and personal work styles
Ruby and her employer both had two weeks to plan for the future. So while her decision to give notice was abrupt, the actual termination of her employment was planned just like if she had left for another company. Framed this way, Ruby’s gap is likely to be seen as a just fine decision on her part and won’t likely interfere with her job search.
Employment gaps—once a huge red flag for hiring managers—are increasingly common. Moving forward, they may even become a sign of a well-rounded candidate. For now, be sure you include a brief listing for gaps over six months on your resume, consistently frame what happened, and have an explanation ready for interviews.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed at tackling this on your own? Just click below to set up your one-on-one call with me and we’ll sort it out together.