Common CV gaps and how to explain them

You may have employment gaps on your CV for a number of different reasons. Perhaps you were caring for a sick family member, bringing up children or you were made redundant. Whatever your reasons, the most important thing to remember is that there is no shame in having these CV gaps – they are 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 your CV gaps – so being dishonest on your CV is never a good idea. Life is unpredictable and can take us in new and unexplained directions and many employers are understanding of this, so 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, then employers may have concerns about what it is you were doing during that time and why you feel the need to hide it – which could lead to your application being rejected.

Keep your explanation brief

Whilst it’s important to explain employment gaps, they shouldn’t become the focus of your CV. If you focus on it too much, or get tied up in trying to explain something, then you could risk inadvertently making it into a much bigger issue for your interviewer than it needs to be.

Try to keep your explanations as brief as possible – 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 in advance which leads back to why you want the role or why you think your experience makes you a good fit for the role. This will make it more difficult for an interviewer to return to the topic.

Stay positive

Even if the root cause of your employment gap isn’t positive e.g. redundancy or illness, then still try 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, then 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. 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, then you can explain this – letting prospective employers know 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 to follow a lifelong ambition, as long as you can lead back to 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 always on the lookout for positive individuals, so this is a great way to demonstrate your resilience and positivity through difficult circumstances.

Use your cover letter to explain employment gaps on your CV - where appropriate

Prospective employers usually look to your CV to – in a nutshell – find out what your skills and experience are. They’ll often receive applications in their hundreds and will only have a certain amount of time to spend sorting 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 may require further explanation – but only if appropriate.

You will need to make a judgement call on what the gap is and whether you want to tackle it head on or not. If you are currently in work, or have been in the last 3 months then it probably doesn’t make sense to highlight any gaps in a cover letter for fear of appearing defensive. If however you have been out of work for a while and this is your first job back, then it provides an ideal place to introduce yourself and explain why you think you are 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 interview stage. Even if your employment gap makes you uncomfortable because you’re worried about what employers will think – try not to let it show. If you act like its not a big deal, then the chances are that your interviewer won’t think it’s a big deal. If you focus on any gaps or give an apologetic or defensive answer, then it’s likely an employer may want to explore further. Instead, show them that you are ready to get back to work, by letting them know 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.

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 is 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.

Example:

For the last year, I have been caring for my mother who was unwell. However, she 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 e.g. 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 e.g. 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 to a course, some volunteering or a local community project whilst you continue your search.

Example:

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 Project Manager, 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. 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 which will 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 are physically and mentally fit to return to work.

Example:

I had to leave my previous role due to a recurring medical condition. However, I have since made a full recovery and am fit and well, and ready to return to work as a Copywriter, full-time. Whilst I was on the road to recovery, I began blogging about my experience in an attempt to keep my writing skills sharp, and it has 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 my writing ability 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 will 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 with both hands. Prospective employers usually look for positivity and enthusiasm, so don’t give them details about why you may not have gotten jobs you’ve applied for so far 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 came to an end, you’ve just not found the right opportunity yet, however you are particularly excited about the role they are advertising because…..

Example:

Since my fixed-term contract as an Administrative Assistant came to an end seven months ago, I have been looking for new, permanent opportunities to develop my skill set and make a positive difference. Although I’ve had a few interviews during this time, I haven’t found an opportunity that’s the right fit. 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 and why you’re applying for the role.

Example:

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 able and keen 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 may not believe you are ready to come back!

Example:

For the last year, I have been immersing myself in different cultures that the Latin American countries Peru, Uruguay and Nicaragua have to offer. 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.

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 to education to achieve (any specific skills or knowledge), and how you think this can benefit you in the role you’re applying for.

Example:

I decided to return to education to study [course name] to [insert reason i.e. bridge a gap in my skill set, to change career or because you are 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 , where I can use and develop these new skills in X, Y and Z.

Additional tips

  • 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 than this in your application. If you feel nervous about leaving off previous experience you can lump it all together, for example as “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 could help to take care of smaller gaps of a few months.
  • If you’re worried that the gaps in your CV are affecting your job search then 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 which will show your willingness to learn, grow and develop your career and increase your employability. Expanding your network will also increase your chances of bumping into someone who knows of 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 e.g. ‘Carer’ or ‘Full-time parent’ – it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t paid. You can also list any skills that you developed i.e. care specific skills, organisational skills, general resilience or enhanced communication skills that could be relevant to the role you’re applying for.

And remember…

Employment gaps are more common than you think – and employers don’t generally view them negatively as long as you are confident in your response and can provide a reasonable explanation – so it’s important not to be put off applying for your ideal job. Good luck!

Do you have any other tips for explaining CV gaps? Email us at [email protected].

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