You might have employment gaps on your CV for a number of different reasons. Perhaps you were caring for a sick family member or bringing up children or grandchildren, or maybe you were made redundant.
Whatever your reasons, the most important thing to remember is that there’s no shame in having these CV gaps. They’re often perfectly understandable and can be easily cleared up by following a few simple steps.
Tips for explaining CV gaps ...
Be honest about gaps in employment
Prospective employers are more likely to judge you on your honesty, confidence, and integrity than on any CV gaps – so being dishonest on your CV is never a good idea.
Life is unpredictable and can take us in new and unexpected directions, and many employers are understanding of this. For this reason, it’s always better to be open and honest about your situation.
If you don’t include an explanation of your CV gap, or you try to hide it and get found out, employers might have concerns about what you were doing during that time and why you feel the need to hide it. This could lead to your application being rejected.
Keep your explanation brief
While it’s important to explain employment gaps, they shouldn’t become the focus of your CV. If you get tied up in trying to explain something, you could risk inadvertently making it into a bigger issue than it needs to be.
Try to keep your explanations brief. Confidently let prospective employers know why there’s a break in your CV, but don’t over-explain or give unnecessary details that could divert their attention away from your achievements.
It’s always worth preparing a short, confident explanation of each CV gap, linking back to why you want the role or why you think your experience makes you a good fit. This will make it more difficult for an interviewer to probe further.
Even if the root cause of your employment gap isn’t positive (e.g. redundancy or illness), it’s still worth trying to find a way to turn it to your advantage.
For example, if you weren’t in paid employment because you were caring for a family member, you could still put this down in the ‘work experience’ section of your CV, along with a list of skills you developed during this time. When hiring for certain roles, employers will value this experience highly.
Similarly, if you were made redundant but have taken a couple of courses or got involved in some local community projects whilst searching for a job, you should explain this. This signals to prospective employers that, yes, you lost your job, but you’ve followed that with a period of personal growth and development.
Most employers will also understand if you simply took some time out, as long as you can show why you want this job and are ready to go back into employment.
Whatever your reason for having a CV gap, always try to draw on the positive things that happened during that time. Companies are on the lookout for positive individuals, so this is a great way to demonstrate your resilience and positivity through difficult circumstances.
If you’re struggling to stay positive while job searching after an employment gap, you might be interested in Allen and Overy’s ReStart Employability Programme. This holistic 13 week course offers one-to-one coaching. It also uses personalised interventions to help you set achievable goals, plan for success, and consider any specific barriers you may be facing when returning to work.
Use your cover letter to explain employment gaps on your CV where appropriate
Prospective employers usually look at your CV to – in a nutshell – find out what your skills and experiences are. They’ll often receive hundreds of applications and will only have a certain amount of time to sort through them, so the more concise you can make your CV, the better.
This is where your cover letter comes in handy. It’s a great place to elaborate on anything in your CV that might require further explanation – but only if appropriate. You’ll need to make a judgement call on what the gap is and whether you want to tackle it head on or not.
If you’re currently working or have been in the last three months, it probably doesn’t make sense to highlight any gaps in a cover letter for fear of appearing defensive.
If, however, you’ve been out of work for a while and this is your first job back, your cover letter can provide an ideal place to introduce yourself and explain why you think you’re the best person for the role, before briefly outlining the reason for the gap and explaining why you’re ready to get back to work.
Be confident in your explanation
Be prepared to confidently explain any CV gaps in your application and at the interview stage. Even if your employment gap makes you uncomfortable and you’re worried what employers will think – try not to let it show.
If you act like it’s not a big deal, the chances are your interviewer will too. But, if you focus on any gaps or give an apologetic or defensive answer, then it’s likely an employer might want to enquire further.
Instead, show them that you’re enthusiastic and willing to learn, and prepare your response so you can lead back to why you think you’ll be a good candidate for the job.
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7 Common CV gaps and how to explain them in your cover letter
1. I had to take time off work to care for a family member
You don’t need to tell prospective employers any details about the illness or disability that led you to have to care for your family member, nor do you need to give details about the care you provided (unless it’s relevant to your application).
However, you should explain that you have been released from your responsibilities, or that there’s now enough extra support available for you to be able to return to work. If possible, try to close your answer with why you want the job, or why you think your skills are a good match.
For the last year, I have been caring for my mother who was unwell. However, she has now made significant progress in her recovery, so I am ready to return to work full-time. I am keen to work in a customer-facing role, where I can continue building on my existing customer service skills and think that this opportunity could be a great match.
2. I was made redundant
Explain (very briefly) why you were made redundant – for example, because of restructuring, budget cuts or the closing of the company. Outline what you achieved in your role and what you enjoyed about it, and then give a few very brief details about what you’ve been doing since losing your job. This could include things like volunteering or taking some personal development courses.
Show them that you’ve used your time as proactively as possible – and, if you haven’t, it can be a good idea to sign up for a course, some volunteering, or a local community project whilst you continue your search.
I was made redundant after the company I was previously working for closed down. I am proud of what I achieved during my time as a [insert role here], for example, [insert achievement here].
Since being made redundant, I have volunteered as a [insert role] for a [insert charity or organisation name here], which has helped me to keep my skills up to date and learn new ones.
I was particularly attracted to this [insert new role] role as I’m keen to work in an environment where I can develop my existing skill set and successfully execute projects that’ll help to drive the company forward.
3. I had to take time off work because I was unwell for a prolonged period of time
There’s no need to give details about your diagnosis or what treatment you had. All your employer needs to know is that you’re physically and mentally fit to return to work.
I had to leave my previous role due to a recurring medical condition. However, I have since made a full recovery and am fit, well, and ready to return to work as a [insert role], full-time.
Whilst I was on the road to recovery, I began [insert experience here e.g. blogging about my experience in an attempt to keep my writing skills sharp], and it has [insert effect of your actions e.g. since proved to be a useful resource to other people going through similar experiences].
I am looking to work for an innovative company, where I can really challenge myself, and I feel like this opportunity would be a great match.
4. I’ve been looking for work
The key thing about explaining that you’ve been unemployed for a lengthy period of time because you’ve been looking for work, is not to sound downtrodden or disheartened (even if that’s how you feel).
As tough as looking for work is, you’ll find a job eventually – it can sometimes just take longer than originally planned. So always try to come across as positive and upbeat; ready to grab any opportunity that comes your way.
Prospective employers usually look for enthusiastic individuals, so don’t give them details about why you might not have got jobs you’ve applied for and don’t tell them that you’re finding it difficult (even if you are!).
Instead, make it clear that although you’ve been looking for work since your last role ended, you’ve just not found the right opportunity yet, however, you’re particularly excited about the role they’re advertising because…
Since my fixed-term contract as an [insert role] came to an end seven months ago, I have been looking for a new, permanent opportunity to develop my skill set and make a positive difference.
Although I’ve had a few interviews during this time, I haven’t yet found an opportunity that’s the right fit for me. However, I was particularly drawn to the opportunity to work for a fun and progressive company like [insert company name], in a developmental role.
5. I took time off work to raise children
Many people take years off work to raise their children (or their grandchildren). Employers will often not be surprised by this, but will want to know why you feel ready to return to work now and why you’re applying for their role.
For several years, my main priority has been being a full-time mum to my three children. Now that they are grown up and self-supporting, I am keen and able to return to work full-time. Previously, I was a customer services manager, and I’m keen to continue developing my managerial and customer service skills.
6. I went travelling
If you took some time off from work to travel, then you can give details about where you travelled to, what prompted the trip, and why you now feel keen to get back into the workplace. Just don’t go on for too long about how amazing it was or they might not believe you’re ready to come back!
For the last year, I have been immersing myself in different cultures throughout South America, visiting Peru, Uruguay, and Bolivia.
My experience has really contributed to my personal development – giving me the opportunity to gain cultural awareness and take on new perspectives. I’m now ready for my next professional challenge and felt drawn to this creative opportunity with a forward-thinking company.
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7. I returned to education
If you have a gap in employment because you have returned to education – either a college course or a degree – then be sure to update your education history on your CV with this new achievement.
It’s fair to say that most employers won’t actually consider this a gap in your CV, however, your cover letter is a great opportunity to explain what you went back into education to achieve, and how you think this can benefit you in the role you’re applying for.
I decided to return to education to study [insert course name here] to [insert reason i.e. bridge a gap in my skill set, to change career, or because you’re passionate about the topic]. Now that I have successfully completed the course, I am excited about the opportunity to take on a role as a [insert job title here], where I can use and develop these new skills in X, Y, and Z.
- Remember that it’s only necessary to include your most recent skills and experience on your CV (usually the last 10-15 years), which means you don’t have to explain any employment gaps further back in your application.
If you feel nervous about leaving off previous experience, you can lump it all together, for example, ‘1980-2000: Various Customer Service Roles’.
- When you’re writing your CV, don’t feel that you have to include the month that you started and left a job – it’s perfectly acceptable to only include the year, which can help take care of smaller employment gaps of a few months.
- If you’re worried that the gaps in your CV are affecting your job search, try to be proactive. Consider using a professional CV writing service and/or take a course, seek some professional mentoring, or do some volunteering.
These are the things that’ll show your willingness to learn, grow, and develop your career, and increase your employability. Expanding your network will also increase your chances of knowing someone who has the perfect role for you.
- If what you were doing during a gap (e.g. caring for a family member or looking after children) was a full-time job, then this can be included in the work experience section of your CV, for example, ‘Carer’ or ‘Full-time parent’ – it doesn’t matter that it was unpaid.
You can also list any skills that you developed during this time like care-specific skills, organisational skills, general resilience, or enhanced communication skills that could be relevant to the role you’re applying for.
Employment gaps are more common than you think, and employers don’t generally view them negatively as long as you can confidently provide a reasonable explanation. It’s important not to let an employment gap put you off applying for your ideal job.
For more tips on how to make your application the best it can be, you might find it helpful to use our CV or cover letter templates, or to read our articles; Top tips for writing a CV, 6 ways to beat CV algorithms, and Tips for writing a cover letter.
Did any of these tips help you? Or do you have any other tips for explaining CV gaps? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.