Gaps in work history
How long is too long, and how to present yours to employers
No gap is too long if you manage to convince the employer that you have not lost work habits or contact with the field you want to work in.
Whether due to private reasons or the job market situation (short-term contracts, high unemployment, redundancy etc.), it is very common to have periods between jobs without work. Employers and HR-ists are aware of that, and they recognize that a gap in your CV might have nothing to do with your competence.
Still, they might worry that you have forgotten what it is like to work, and that you have not updated your knowledge. Your primary attention should thus be focused on assuring employers that they do not need to worry about your ability and motivation to do the job well.
Here are some tips on how best to present your periods without a job in your CV, motivation letters and during job interviews:
- Try to focus the attention elsewhere.
A recent period without work that lasted for more than 3 months is considered a gap, and it is better to make it transparent in your CV rather than to have the employer discover it by chance after you have tried to hide it. However, there is no need to make the gap in your working history the main topic.
When you talk to your potential employer, or to an HR person, and they ask you about the gap(s), admit it and reply by emphasising your skills, knowledge and motivation for the new job.
You can redirect the focus in your CV, as well, by choosing a form that does not over-emphasise the chronology of your work experience. Consider targeted, performance or functional types of CV, which direct the main attention to your deep interest, your previous achievements or your potential for work in a new area.
- Explain the reason for your gap in a neutral manner and without apologies.
Again, the usual limit is 3 months: you do not need to explain anything shorter than that, nor do you need to explain gaps from 10 years ago. For a recent gap longer than 3 months, provide a brief explanation in the motivation letter and, if asked, also during the interview.
If the reason was private, let´s say you have been taking care of your child, an aging parent, or recovering from an illness:
Say that you had a private reason for being out of a job. You do not have to provide any details at all, or you can, but do it just very briefly.
Do not be apologetic, do it in as neutral a way as you can. Everybody might have a life situation that requires staying away from work, it is alright.
Assure them that the situation has changed, the reason has been solved, or you have found a solution that allows you to participate in work life again. No details are necessary.
If you have been unemployed after being fired.
Say that you lost your job and that now you are very motivated to work again, using your existing skills and developing them further.
If you have been unemployed after being redundant.
Tell them very briefly about redundancy, but avoid talking negatively about your previous employer. There is no need to explain internal details of your redundancy either (you should prove you are loyal and confidential about your employers, including the ex-ones!).
Employers and HR-ists come across redundancy all the time, they can understand that it happens.
- Prove you are up to date and you have kept on learning.
Mention anything that shows you had at least a bit of contact with the professional field you want to work in, even during the time without a job: following news, studies, self-studying, courses, participation in professional events, informal or voluntary work, or any first-hand experience related to the field. Before you go to the interview, do some research about the latest happenings in the field on the internet or consult somebody who has been working in the area. Any time you can demonstrate the latest knowledge and up-to-date information, do so.
You can tell them also if you have used the time for some other kind of learning or professional growth, even if it was not in the field directly. If you have seen new places, learnt new things or a new language, gained new skills and experiences, or found where your professional interests are, you can mention those too, especially if you say what you have learnt or taken from it. It proves you have been using your time for development.
- Show them your good work habits.
Do it through how you act: come on time for your early morning interview to show you can still get up early enough for your job; dress appropriately; be professional in your e-mail, phone and face-to-face communication.
This all reassures an employer that there is no need to worry about your gap.
Be honest about your gaps, but do not focus all of the employer’s attention and time on them – instead of long apologetic explanations, it is better to show them your up-to-date competences and motivation.
If you are currently without a job and your gap is getting longer and longer, try to find an opportunity for a bit of voluntary work in the field, or a training course. It will help you fill in the gap in your CV, but also, it is a chance to meet new people and get some fresh air during the time of searching for a job. Remember that the most efficient strategy for learning about new job openings is to be in contact with people from the desired professional field.
Find more tips for your job search here.