How to address employment gaps on your resumé

Do you have an employment gap on your resumé? If so, it can be a source of significant anxiety, and some potential employers may have questions about why you haven’t been working.

The good news? If you’re looking to rejoin the workforce, right now is a great time. Nashville’s low unemployment rate and growing economy means there are jobs that need to be filled.

The following guide to addressing employer questions about your employment gap will help you land an interview, answer questions about your situation and prove you’re a great candidate.

Looking to start your job search? Try checking out our job board, where Chamber members post open positions.

Use your cover letter

Before you even get to the interview, addressing your employment gap in your cover letter can be a great way to assuage any doubts on your potential employer’s behalf and could make you more likely to land an initial interview.

This explanation shouldn’t take more than a few sentences and should:

  • Give the facts about your employment gap
  • Explain why you’re seeking employment now
  • List any relevant experience or education during your employment gap

Sometimes, people can be tempted to overshare about their situation, thinking that more explanation is better. Try to resist this temptation. Being factual and professional is always better than turning your resumé into a reality show-style sob story.

“Why haven’t you been working?”

This question is fairly obvious and will probably be the first one asked about your employment gap. There are many answers to this question and they tend to differ depending on whether you are a man or a woman.

The reasons men might leave the workforce are a lack of secondary education, criminal records and a reduction in labor jobs traditionally done by men. There are also a small percentage of men leaving the labor force to be the primary caregivers for children, but those are relatively rare cases.

For women, the reasons for leaving work are overwhelmingly to care for children or other family members. Societal perceptions seem to play a huge role in the gap between the number of men and the number of women leaving work to care for children. And while women don’t report regretting their decision to take time off work to care for a child or family member, around 35% of women said the decision ended up hurting their career.

Whatever your reason for taking a career break, the most important part of crafting your answer to this question is to be honest without overwhelming your potential employer with too much information.

If the answer is a lack of education, try leading with any education efforts you’ve recently pursued, like enrolling in free community college through Tennessee Reconnect or pursuing skills training in your particular field.

If you were recently incarcerated, check out the resources offered by Project Return. Project Return is an organization dedicated to helping people return to work and rejoin our community after incarceration.

If you have been taking care of children or another family member, dealing with health issues or any other personal reason, focus on explaining why you are choosing to return to work now after giving a brief explanation of your situation. While your reasons for taking off work may be incredibly emotional, it’s best not to let your interview delve too far into personal issues and instead focus on why you are a great candidate.

Prove you are good candidate

Sometimes, employment gaps can be misinterpreted by potential employers as proof of unreliability, particularly if coupled with a lot of short-term jobs before the employment gap occurred. While this can be explained away in certain industries that have seasonal employment shifts, like retail, construction or the service industry, a lack of long-term positions may stand out as a red flag.

To help combat this, you could try creating a resumé that focuses on your skills as well as relevant work experience. These so-called “combination resumés”, which combine features of traditional chronological resumés and functional resumés that focus primarily on a summary of skills, are becoming more popular.

You can also work to show your reliability and trustworthiness with high-quality references. The good work of a reference can go a long way to improving your chances of getting the job. Research by the Society for Human Resource Management found that references checks are conducted more than 80% of the time across all position types.

If you don’t have a lot of past employment experience, you may be worried about not having many employers to list as references. Relax – you can also use coworkers, teachers, advisors, supervisors of any volunteer work, vendors, customers and more as references. Anyone who can accurately speak to your work ethic, skills and qualities can be a good potential reference, just make sure you describe your relationship to the reference on your resumé.

Another way to set yourself apart as a reliable candidate is to always follow-up, politely, when you’ve submitted your resumé. If you haven’t heard anything back in a while after submitting your application, start by sending an email to your contact at the company letting them know you applied and why you are a good candidate. Be specific about why you’re a good fit and you could stand out from the crowd, even with an employment gap on your resumé. Read more about how to follow up on an application here.

Employment gaps on your resumé shouldn’t keep you from trying to reenter the workforce. Be intentional and proactive. Looking to start your job search? Try checking out our job board, where Chamber members post open positions. You can also submit your resumé to our free resumé bank to possibly be recruited by one of our Chamber member businesses.

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