Most of us have employment gaps on our resumes – travelling, sabbaticals, re-training, relocating or just needing a reboot are common reasons for stepping out of the workforce. Having children, looking after your health, or a loved one, can also take you out of the 9-5 grind. Maybe you have a seven-year itch to scratch, or a travel bug is hitting you hard. A flexible work-life balance is what most people want – it’s the number one thing sought for by my career coaching clients.

Employment gaps aren’t viewed in the same negative light they once were, yet finesse in explaining them goes a long way. Being prepared to address gaps in your resume and in an interview is essential and it’s a valuable lesson in our IT interview training. The right approach can turn a career break from a hindrance to an asset in your job search.

Formatting Matters

The month and year are all that you need in a resume to mark the start and end of a role – this will help reduce or eliminate the focus on smaller career gaps.

If the gap is more significant than three months, then you’ll need to address it in the resume – long unexplained gaps are the elephant in the room and will be ringing alarm bells in the recruiter’s mind. Be proactive and address these gaps head-on in your CV, not just in your cover letter.

Mention the gap in your CV – tackle the issue head-on.

Preparedness is Key

You will be asked in an interview to explain any gaps. Never go into an interview hoping you won’t be asked. Fumbling over a response, long pauses and scrambling to explain a gap is a sure-fire way to turn a few months off into a disastrous interview. Prepare a concise, honest and appropriate response and practice it. Get comfortable with the words and expect this to come up.

Confidence is key when explaining a career gap. Make your time out of the workforce look like a conscious positive choice which you stand by – they’ll respect you for it. Just don’t sound so excited about your six month holiday in Europe that they think you’re just gathering some cash to take off again!

Prepare for the questions you’ll be asked.

Honest New Skills

People see through lies and nothing gets interviewers more offside than being lied to. Work out a truthful and straightforward answer before your interview.

If you genuinely picked up new skills (maybe a new language) or grew your knowledge and experience, let them know – but don’t lie or exaggerate. Most recruiters will pick up pretty quickly that your two months partying and lying on a beach in South East Asia was not a journey of self-discovery and inner growth.

If you were raising children – good for you.  Great employers will respect and value this – there’s no need to talk about multitasking, time management, and organisation skills on your resume. Keep it simple. If an employer has an issue with you taking time out to be a parent to a child, they’re not worth working for.

Remember, explaining and embracing a gap won’t hurt your employment credibility, lying about it will.

Highlight any transferable skills gained during career breaks, such as research, relationship building, event management, budgeting etc.

Ever Optimistic

Making employment gaps appear deliberate shows confidence, bravery and self-direction – three highly sought after traits. Showing an employer that you are proactive enough to prioritise your time to refocusing / retraining /up-skilling etc. demonstrates a strength of character and leadership.

Think through your phrasing and make it as optimistic and powerful as possible. Make the time out sound like your idea, or at least like something you used to your advantage. There’s a huge difference between the person who grows and develops more skills away from the workforce and the person who languishes in self-defeat. If the career break was obviously not your decision, showing that you made it into a positive life-enhancing event demonstrates admirable character traits that will appeal to an employer.

The key here to sounding authentic is to not just talk about the process, but the outcome. If you talk about refocusing, what did you refocus to, if you discuss up-skilling, what was the result?

Be honest and confident when talking about career gaps.

Proactivity Makes Good Employment Gaps

Gaps can be easily filled with study or skills development. Free or affordable online courses (Cousera, edX, Udemy) are excellent ways to use downtime for personal development. Writing a blog or a photo journal are other examples of proactive endeavours. Engaging in on-going study or training shows a commitment to self-improvement and allows you to add to the education section of your resume.

Whatever your time out of the workforce entailed, it’s up to you to sell it to employers. A positive, enthusiastic attitude, a readiness to explain the situation and a bounty of new skills and experiences can make a career gap, career-enhancing. This is an opportunity to showcase your personality to an employer, so use these tips and make the most of it.

Focus on building skills during any break in your career.

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