How To Handle Gaps in Employment on Your Resume

If you are searching out new job opportunities, then you know just how important your resume is to the process. Resumes are not a dead document from a bygone era. They are still relevant and very much a baseline expectation from almost every single employer. So you want your resume to stand out and be impressive. But what do you do if you have gaps in employment on your resume? How will you answer to those periods of unemployment?

There is always a risk that potential employers would write off your resume once they understand that there was a time period of unemployment. While that may not seem fair, one must understand that employers are always looking for the best, most qualified person to hire. A resume with gaps in employment may negatively communicate that you are not up to date with current industry trends, or that you lost interest in your previous career - neither being a risk they are looking to take on.

If you have been working to put your own resume together, you’ve no doubt had a feeling that those periods of unemployment might raise questions. Since you can’t rewrite history, what is the best way to handle those very real periods of unemployment in order to minimize the questions and assumptions of a hiring manager or recruiter?

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Four Ways to Deal with Employment Gaps on Your Resume

1. Write a Functional Resume

If you find yourself dealing with a gap in your employment history, consider writing a Functional Resume instead of a Chronological Resume. A functional resume focuses on the skills and achievements you have gained during your career. It’s more about the hard and soft skill takeaways from your previous experience than simply listing your previous roles and responsibilities in sequence. A functional resume will focus on specific skills you have developed that are applicable to the industry you are applying for. Examples are skills like programming, sales, and product development. You’d also want to focus on specialty training and certifications you may hold that would apply to the new role.

In focusing on the skills you possess, you show the potential employer that you have what it takes to get the job done and be a star performer on their team, without raising questions of unemployment by listing each job role in succession.

2. Only List Employment Periods in Years, Not Months

In some cases, an employer may require a chronological resume, or an applicant may want to stay traditional and present a chronological resume. In this case, there are still ways to minimize the impact of unemployment periods.

Often times, candidates will list periods of employment on their resume with the month and year they started and ended each particular job. We recommend using only year ranges on your resume, especially if you have a few months of unemployment. It’s an honest and straightforward way to present your job history without raising any unnecessary questions about unemployment. After all, an employment gap is nothing to be ashamed of. Gaps in employment history can happen to anyone, from people who were laid off to those who took an extended amount of time off to travel abroad. Minimizing the questions from potential employers is the key, and using year time periods can be a quick and easy way to accomplish just that!

3. List Volunteer Work Where Applicable

If you have a more lengthy period of unemployment to deal with on your resume, it’s an effective strategy to focus on other things that can still be considered ‘work’. For example, did you volunteer for any local or social causes? Did you coach a sports team? Did you serve in a homeless shelter, or volunteer for a political campaign? 

All of these non-paid experiences can still bring value if used in an effective way. If you gained leadership skills from coaching the sports team, that is a tangible takeaway you can present to an employer. If you developed a greater understanding of politics or social interaction during your campaign involvement, that could potentially translate well to experience that would be beneficial for jobs in politics, social work, or even marketing. 

It’s best to examine the volunteer work you performed alongside the expectations and requirements of the job you are applying for. Then identify areas where your volunteer experience helped to prepare you for particular functions of the new job opportunity.

4. List Any Training During Unemployment

Most motivated individuals won’t take downtime in employment to sit idly and hope for the best. Individuals who have taken advantage of that time to improve themselves with training and education are one step ahead! 

If you focused on entering into a new career field during your employment gap, having invested in training and education for that new field makes for an easy way to show employers that you were still adding value to yourself as a candidate even while you weren’t working. Similarly, if you were working to stay in the same field, but pursued additional training and certifications during the downtime to improve yourself, those can also be shown to a potential employer to fill the job gap. It shows them more than just the educational benefit. It shows them that you are a motivated individual who doesn’t sit back when things don’t go as planned.

Dealing with gaps in employment can seem overwhelming, but these tips ensure you can minimize the negative impact of those periods and maximize the beneficial events that may have taken place during that time. The idea is not to be deceptive, but instead to show the strengths and benefits you bring to an employer, and not a negative focus on things which may have been out of your control. If this still seems like a daunting task, consider hiring a professional resume writing service. Their skilled and certificated resume writers are used to dealing with unique employment history and understand the best ways in which to present applicants to potential employers.