Employment gaps…what to do

We've talked a bit about making a career change. A reader contacted me to ask for resume advice and we got onto the topic of gaps in employment and how to address them on a resume. Some of you out there may have worked through the same issue and might have some advice to offer. And recruiters out there can chime in with feedback on how they perceive gaps in employment. Here's the reader's situation:

S is located in a metropolitan area (but not a major technology center) and last fall, his position was eliminated as part of a restructuring. Most of his background is in technology marketing and that is what he wants to continue to pursue. But since the fall, he has taken some time off to spend with his children. Now he's back in the market and looking. He feels the need to address the gap in employment (maybe partly because I recommended it...recruiters notice the gaps). How should he do it? How should it be addressed on the resume? How should it be addressed in an interview situation?

Anyone ever deal with something like this successfully? Recruiters out there, any additional advice for S?

I'll save my advice for later...see what you guys come up with. ; )

Comments (24)

  1. AndrewSeven says:

    I was laid off a while ago and I didn’t hurry to get back in the grinder.

    I did essentially two things.

    1. I spent with my girlfriend.

    2. I worked on home brew projects in .Net

    I like coding and I really learned a lot and it put me in the unique situation of being able to throw away bad code and start over rather than being stuck with it.

    When I had enough (no longer enough $$ ;), it didn’t take long before I was back to work as a ".Net Developer".

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Andrew-how did you address the gap in employement on your resume and in interviews? Did anyone ask about it (recruiters, hiring managers)?

  3. As a recruiter, I see a lot of resumes with anywhere from 30 days to 9-12 months left blank. If the person has been doing independent consulting with a variety of clients, I tell them to include that experience by calling the "employer" their own name; ie Johnson & Associates and listing the accomplishments under that main title – if they were doing sales, they should show $$ or % of revenues they increased for "XYZ type of company" for example.

    If they have been doing volunteer work during that time, they should include that too – showing the charity, using the title "Volunteer ____ (administrative, marketing, whatever) and highlight the accomplishments they achieved for the company.

  4. Tracy Thomas says:

    I’m not a recruiter.

    What is wrong with the truth? I would leave the gap on the resume, and explain it if asked with the truth. Layoffs are a reality in today’s economy, so I don’t think there’s anything to hide there. Spending time with your children is a personal choice that an employer should respect. It says a lot about the person that they chose to do that. If the company doesn’t respect that, perhaps that also says a lot about the company as well.

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Terri-good advice

    Tracy-whoah! I am not suggesting that anyone do anything but tell the truth. The question is *how* to address it, not whether to lie (OK, if I have to say it: don’t lie).

    The reason to address it on the resume is that 1) recruiters notice it, 2) there’s a focus in the staffing industry on hiring *passive* candidates (I’ve already shared my opinion on that but realize that the industry doesn’t necessarily agree with me) and 3) each potential candidate is competing with other candidates for the same positions and recruiters might opt to call the candidate without the gap versus the one with it. Therefore, the candidate might not get the opportunity to explain it in the interview. So if the goal is to get to the interview stage and have an opportunity to explain the situation, people might want to think about addressing it on the resume. It’s just advice…worth what ya paid for it ; )

    My intent is just to provide the recommendations, not justify the way things are. Unfortunately, I don’t have control over the latter. ; )

  6. Garry Trinder says:


    Person past history has little correlation on his abilities.

    Experience – yes, but not abilities.

    If you were hired by CIA as agent for 2 years will you list this in your resume?

    If your wife talked to you that she need to spend a few time for her career – but you must take care of kids during this – will you write this in resume?

    If recruiter takes a look ONLY on gaps – than this is bad recruiter.

    Sure – most of people with gaps (read driving taxi sometime) can be non-qualified. But most of people without gaps will are non-qualified too.

    I believe that person must be judged by combination of factors. Gaps in employment are one of them – but this must not be critical.

    Simply list everything you have in resume – do not try to hide anything.

    If somebody ask – give an answer (BTW, if it was something personal you are not willing to share – you can indicate this).

    Do not complicate anything.

    If you are really valuable employee – then it was not loss for you – but to company not hired because of typAs in resume 😉

  7. Scott Magoon says:

    How about addressing it in a cover letter? Mention in a positive or neutral (i.e., not negative) way why you left your last job. Then if you did something related to advancing your career or education while unemployed highlight that. Did you work on developing some skills? Did you study for a certification or graduate school admission test? Tracy has a good point – layoffs are a reality and it can take a few months of full effort to find meaningful employment again. I personally wouldn’t clutter my resume with something to explain a gap. My resume highlights my employment history, skills, accomplishments, and experience. It’s not a comprehensive summary of my life. If there is good stuff on the resume I don’t see why a short gap should be any kind of red flag to a recruiter. Sure, a question for the interview, but not a disqualifier before that point. Heather, I am curious what you have to say on the matter.

  8. Apoorva Joshi says:

    Have a Note on your paper resume (or the one you send out to recruiters) which points to a url where you have a detailed version of your resume which also explains employment gaps (may it be took time off to spend with family or play golf).

    Note could read something like, "For further details on projects, employment, interests and how I spent my vacation, refer to http://whatever.com". OK, you dont need to reproduce those words but you know what I am getting to.

    I’d rather have a concise resume which I give out to the recruiter (save her time) and if she likes what she reads, she’ll check out my "detailed" version online to know more about me.

    The bottom-line is if you have a rock solid resume with employment gaps I dont think it should really matter. A weak resume is what might be my concern as a recruiter.

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    OK, so my recommendation is a hybrid of what has already been presented (Scott’s giving some great advice here). Yes, layoffs are a reality, but if you have been away from the workplace more than a month or 2 (which, I know, happens frequently), you still need to address it. If you took a sabbatical, summer off with your kids or to travel or attend classes, I think I would still put it on the resume as a simple line ("Traveled to Europe and Asia"…something like that). If you took that time to improve your skills, by all means, put that in there! Am I the only one that finds it nearly impossible to pursue education and work at the same time (and hence, the MBA of my dreams eludes me! Dang!)

    If all of your time off was spent job searching so there’s not anything that you could call it other than that (and again, honesty is key), then do address it in your cover letter. Recruiters rarely read cover letters (sorry, it’s true), but they will read them if there’s a question on the resume, because many candidates will include details. Even if you put a line on your resume about travel or something, I would still address it in your cover letter so that it’s understood this was an opportunity that you took advantage of and that it was planful (probably not a word, but whatever, I’m feeling sassy this morning).

    Another thing that recruiters think about WRT lay-off situations is how the affected employees were chosen…was a whole department eliminated or was it a few individuals and how were they selected. If your whole department was cut or your type of role was eliminated bc of a process or strategy change, mention it. The key here in the explanation (both in the cover letter and in the interview) is to present it in the most positive light that is truthful, if that makes sense. You want to eliminate any question marks in the recruiter’s mind.


  10. Brad says:

    Great thread here…

    Heather, can you define a "passive" candidate? You’ve referred to this before and I’m curious. Thanks.

  11. SP says:

    I never put the months on a resume, only the years and unless you do not do anything for one complete calendar year there are no gaps and you are not lying. I did this because I wanted to leave things off my resume that were not relevant to the position I was applying and I did not want to show gaps.

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    Brad, "passive candidate" means someone who is not actively looking for a job. There are differing degrees of course…some people that are flat out not intereted in making a move to those that are open to the right position but haven’t started a full-scale job search.

    SP-as a recruiter, that would be a red flag to me. Other recruiters may disagree, but 11 months can be significant. When I see only years on the resume I wonder what is going on. When we check dates of employement, we check months (and I would also ask a candidate who only had years listed)…but definitely a red flag in my mind. Other recruiters out there may want to agree/disagree..what do you think recruiters?

  13. Scott Magoon says:

    My resume details seven jobs starting in 1992. I list only the years for the first four. Then the months and years beginning at the end of that fourth job to the present. I used to list only the years but changed to add those months. I can put myself in the shoes of the resume reader and think that years-only would look like I was hiding something. But I think it’s a fair compromise to leave them off from jobs I had before 2000. I frankly do not know how I would even find those dates at this point. Also, in my case they were with one company so it probably doesn’t matter.

    But the point I want to make is that an interview (or any type of recruiter conversation) is a two-way street to me. I was asked recently by a recruiter in the pharmaceutical industry to provide my high school GPA. Red flags go both ways, folks. That person overlooked very relevant experience and my ability to frame my skills in terms of that industry and instead focused on something much less relevant. That answered an important question for me, thank you very much.

  14. HeatherLeigh says:

    Scott-you are right. Red flags do go both ways and they should be identified and totally checked out. Unbelievable that someone would ask your high school GPA. That’s crazy.

  15. Andy says:

    I always just put that any gaps in employment were spent doing what I will go back to doing if I don’t get hired: "selling drugs to their kids". 😉

    Seriously though right out of the Marines and after my first year of college I took a year off and went and lived in the woods to see if I could survive like that for an extended period of time. I just put that I took a sabatical from my studies and if they ask further I tell them what I was doing. It gets some raised eyebrows but I’ve never had a problem getting jobs so I don’t think it’s affecting my hireability.

  16. HeatherLeigh says:

    Andy-good idea…and also…you are CRAZY!

  17. Chris says:

    After college, I took a year and a half to travel in Asia. When I returned to the (conservative, defense-oriented) DC computer job market, I cannot count the number of interviewers who, sitting behind a desk looking bored and stiff and suburban, said they had always wanted to do that and said I stood out in the pile because I had done something interesting like that.

    Same thing after graduate school – I returned and got a top-notch MSFT programming position.

    Now, after 9 years at MSFT, I took more time off for travel but am back looking seriously for another stint. I have just started the search and it is not yet clear whether this latest travel is going to be looked upon as favorably. Early indications are that it is not a problem, but I have to assume it raised red flags with some.

    My point is that I think it really depends on who you are, what the time off was for, where you are in your career, and of course who you are talking to.

  18. HeatherLeigh says:

    Makes sense Chris (I might be one of those bored suburban looking people myself). I guess my point is to explain the gap on the resume so people don’t make assumptions about what you were doing during that time. You can obviously explain it all in the interview, but just leaving a gap on the resume might not give you the opportunity. I’m not trying to tell people not to have gaps. Just that leaving a gap of time unrepresented by any notation may give the impression of an un-planned sabbatical.

  19. Jasmin says:

    Hi all-

    I really appreciate this blog and found it very helpful. I have some questions and would greatly appreciate your input.

    I recently graduated from college in December, and am passively looking for employment while visiting a friend in Brazil. I am learning Portuguese, and plan to be here until the end of March. My concerns are: How long is too long of a gap? And, when should I settle with a less-desired job instead of waiting out for a better position? How common is it to take time off after college? Thank you!

  20. HeatherLeigh says:

    Jasmin- I graduated college during a recession and took jobs that I didn’t want to keep to get by. Some of the less desirable jobs can give you some interesting exposure and help you pay the rent, but I think only you can decide what is right for you (as for me, I needed money right then to make car payments). I do think that the farther you are out of college without a full-time job, the harder it will be to land the more desirable positions. THere’s no rule on how long the gaps shold be, because it depends on what the gap is for. Having a 3 month gap to travel sounds totally reasonable to me. I’d just recommend documeting it on your resume.

  21. AC says:

    I can tell you that I have several years worth of "gap" unemployment on my resume.  And, the belief that some recruiters will not touch a resume with long gaps is probably true.  However, I covered my gaps with a 10-year long career sabbatical to obtain a college education and an advanced degree in information technology.  I also travelled around the world at the time.  But, the main reason I left my previous career is that I just didn’t want to work for my employer and I wanted to spend time with my family.  When I went back into the workforce, I located temporary professional work through staffing firms associated with my industry.  The recruiters in temporary staffing firms are accustomed to people who need flexible work arrangements including those returning to the workforce.  Using a temporary staffing firm (especially those associated with professional or executive work not just administrative) is the bridge to close your gap and get the current references you need to move on.  As for all the "gaps" on my resume, I leave them there.  If it is a concern to a recruiter, then they won’t hire me and that is their loss.  I don’t concentrate on the past…I concentrate on what I can do for someone NOW.  I do not address gaps in a cover letter.  I state that I have been working on my education and here is what I can do for the organization NOW.  My response to gaps in employment is that no one has to apologize for being what they are…if you want to take a break from the workforce, you can do that and still get back in (and still make the same amount of money you did a few years back).  Wages haven’t increased that much since the late 1990’s.  Keep your skills current by working on "projects" – whether at home or through "project" work and develop a "portfolio" resume rather than a chronological one.  Gaps are important for the chronological resume, the don’t mean anything for the "portfolio" resume.

  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    AC – I’m not really going to agree on your assessment of the impact of resumes gaps, but I sure like your attitude! 🙂

  23. Dan Neuwirth says:

    Have a two year gap of employment, actually worked during that time, part time working with a person who owned his own company on an on call basis. During this time I tried to change careers from teaching to somehting else. Couldn't find a job that would have paid more than unemployment I was getting. Do I need to put something on my resume? I recently went back to school took 3 graduate classes, got two A's, a B+ and a letter of reference from one of the professors. I am now substitute teaching in 4 school districts and am looking for full time employment, in the teaching world. Before I looked to get out of teaching my experience and qualifications were outstanding. Any help is appreciated. I addressed it in a cover letter, first thing but don't know if i want that to be the first thing I want the recruiter to read?

  24. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hey Dan, do you think that maybe "freelance work in _____" is a phrase that you can use that makes sense? As far as school, put it in your education section of your resume. If you intend to finish the degree, you can out "in progress:, if not put a line that says "classes completed in _________" and just use a short title of what each class was.

    Stuff that you shouldn't mention in cover letter or resume are the unemployment thing (don't tell anyone that!) and the grades of your classes (if they want to know, they will ask but it's not significant enough to take up space on your resume).

    OK, does that help at all?

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