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How to Explain Employment Gaps in your Resume

Resume word cloud

One of the most difficult obstacles a job seeker faces is knowing how to address the gaps in employment history. Many life circumstances can lead to absences from the workplace and breaks in employment history.

This could include:

  • Experiencing illness or injury preventing work for a period of time.
  • Caregivers who exited the paid workforce to raise children or care for ailing family members.
  • Being laid off, or employed in a series of casual or temporary work arrangements, leading to difficulty maintaining a steady history of employment.

To make up for a lack of recent history, highlight the transferable skills and capabilities you bring without focusing heavily on the fact that the experience may be older.

Tip: Try and picture what your potential employer needs, or what the requirements of the role you wish to apply for may be, and relate your home, volunteering or other skills, tasks and responsibilities to “work-language”.

Dig Deeply into Your Experience

The first step to smoothing a gap in employment history involves examining your expertise, skills and experience, referencing your previous work experiences, as well as any volunteer or home-based skills.  Take stock of your experience and knowledge from past employment, volunteering, care giving, study or business ownership:

Self-Study or Academic – Did you learn anything new, take online or community education courses, self-study relevant to your field, or undertake classes to maintain a licence or certification? Did you read books relevant to your profession?

Creative Did you create anything or make items and sell them locally or online? Did you pursue any hobbies or join any groups? Did you use the time to write a book, design a program, etc., even if it is not published or in use?

Leadership – Did you volunteer your time or skills, or lead any groups or activities?

Business – Did you produce items for sale or offer services for hire? Manage and run a small business/self-employment? Did you do some consulting work, such as helping a friend or neighbour with business or technology needs? Did you project manage a household renovation project or do the books for a family business?

Care giving – Did you manage the household and finances of adult parents under your care? Did you help anyone or take care of anyone?

Accomplishments – A reliable formula to follow is CAR (Challenge / Action / Result). Briefly outline the challenge or scenario, the action taken or contribution made, and the result or outcome. Example: if you have volunteered in a fund raising capacity you could write something like; “Operating on a limited budget and time frame, led a team of X event volunteers to successfully coordinate and execute the South West Volunteering Event, raising $X for local animal welfare resources”.

Build the Resume Carefully

There are many strategies for structuring a resume format that highlights your assets and skills, so select one that works best to demonstrate your capabilities. Below, we will look at two different strategies to consider in building your resume effectively.

Chronological Resume

This is the most common resume format and most preferred by employers, and as the name suggests, involves listing work history in (reverse) date order. Options for addressing career gap in a chronological resume may include listing relevant employment as normal, but:

Without dates but instead the number of years in each role.

Without the number of years or dates.

Closing the employment timeline and including the gap (i.e. Parenting Career Break, Employment Sabbatical, or however you choose to frame it).

This method is straightforward, but may carry greater risk as the gap is listed first on the resume. Therefore, it is important to dig deeply into your experience and smooth the gap with anything you accomplished/learned/contributed to during the gap, then strengthen with a brief. That paragraph might say, “Afforded the opportunity to focus on education, travel, and outreach. Volunteered for… Completed XYZ course…, etc.”

Define why the gap exists in the clearest way as possible, i.e. if the gap is the most recent item on the resume, attempt to soften and close wherever possible. A job seeker who has nothing to add from their time out of the workforce will likely require only one line inserted into the timeline with no description. In this scenario, a functional resume may be appropriate.

Functional Resume

functional resume is a less frequently used resume format, which focuses on highlighting acquired and transferable skills and experiences (rather than the chronological work history). These kinds of resumes need to be carefully crafted to make clear what skill/experience/achievement was made where, and are generally utilised for people who:

  • Have substantial recent gaps in their employment histories, and have not learned/volunteered during this period and have no new information to list;
  • Are completely new to the workforce or a particular industry, or are;
  • Attempting a significant career change.

A great resource for information on building a functional resume can be found at The Balance.

Tip: Carefully plan and rehearse your explanation for your work gap. You do not want to become flustered during an interview and say something potentially damaging! Consider and practice your response so you can offer a positive explanation for your absence from the workplace.

Consider Recasting the Titles of the Gaps

What’s in a name?! Often, job seekers do not realise the value of their unpaid experience, until they reimagine their titles into more substantial descriptors of their role or time spent away from paid employment. Unpaid experience can still be valuable. Consider:

  • Home Caregiver to Family Member; Household Manager, Estate Manager;
  • Office Administrator/ Assistant (for the person who helped their family manage the business and is applying for Administration roles);
  • Business Manager/Sales (for someone who started a small business while caring for aging parents);
  • Personal Sabbatical; Study Leave; Professional Leave; Managed Leave of Absence.

Tip: For more helpful advice and tips, see Forrest Personnel’s Parents Returning To The Workforce: FPI’s Top Tips