5 Ways to Explain Employment Gaps
by Radhika Papandreou
A year to take care of a sick parent.
Two years since being laid off from the factory.
Three years to raise a baby.
Sixteen months since COVID-19 lockdowns permanently shut down the restaurant.
Employment gaps like these were typically interpreted by employers—often unjustifiably—as signs of unreliability. So it isn’t surprising that for all the talk of this being the best job market in decades, people who haven’t been employed for a long time are anxious about finding a role. This group is also surprisingly large. Earlier this summer, there were 3.4 million people who hadn’t been employed for at least six months.
Fortunately, experts say, these gaps are not seen as a huge red flag anymore. “Employment gaps don’t have the stigma they had 10 or 20 years ago, primarily because we’ve seen changes economically and socially,” says Sondra Levitt, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Few employers are holding a COVID-inspired layoff against a candidate; a recent survey found that 96% of hiring managers would hire a candidate laid off due to the pandemic.
Still, experts suggest candidates provide a good explanation for their employment gap, rather than leaving it up to the imagination of a hiring manager. Here are some tips to get it right.
Honesty is the best policy.
Be truthful and provide some context about your employment gap. If it was a pandemic-related layoff and you were unable to find work for an extended period, don’t worry—most employers understand the situation, says Radhika Papandreou, managing partner of Korn Ferry’s Chicago office and sector leader of the firm’s Travel, Hospitality, and Leisure practice. It is better to be honest than try to hide your employment gaps, because hiring managers can see through it, she says.
Leverage stopgap jobs.
If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, experts suggest taking up stopgap jobs. Fill your time with freelance consulting, short-term projects, or contract work in the field where you plan on getting your next job, says David Meintrup, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. He says higher-level executives can pursue interim executive temp services as a stopgap job. Individually, these roles might not be enough to merit a line on a resume, but collectively they can show a hiring manager your commitment to a field or role.
Tell a story.
Be confident and own your employment gap, experts say. Have faith in your experiences and abilities, and be unapologetic about your employment gap, says Levitt. “It’s about the story you tell of your career journey,” she says. Whether it is on your resume or in an interview, talk about your takeaways from the gap. What did you learn during the time away? How did you grow professionally and personally? Reflect on these aspects, identify some transferable skills, and incorporate them into your story.
Volunteering and caregiving count.
The work you do doesn’t always have to be associated with pay. Tell a potential employer about any volunteer, community work, or caregiving you did during your employment gap, says Levitt. Meintrup says employers can view volunteering or taking time off to care for a sick family member positively. “It demonstrates a character of service and commitment,” he says. So depending on your comfort level, you can choose to include your medical and personal reasons when explaining an employment gap.
Fill the gap on your resume.
Although it isn’t mandatory, you can format your resume to indicate reasons for your gap. Apart from including your consulting or volunteer projects, you can also add a section for a medical or personal leave, says Meintrup. “Sometimes we’ll put in a line that says personal/medical leave, or personal care assistance for a family member,” he says. It is also fine to leave the gap blank. Levitt suggests adding any tangible experiences gained during the gap on your resume’s skills and interests section.
Radhika Papandreou is Managing Partner in Korn Ferry’s Chicago office where she leads the Chicago office and the North American Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice.