Career gaps can be red flags to employers – but they don’t have to be. Learn how to take advantage of your current career gap or remediate an old one.
When it comes to career gaps, the struggle is real. Forbes recently reported that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, “There are millions of long-term unemployed who can’t seem to find a new role.”
And there are plenty of other reasons why you may experience a career gap. You might go back to school, spend a year backpacking through Europe or South America, or decide to start a family.
Still, other career gaps are caused by things beyond our control – an extended illness, a serious injury, the need to care for a sick family member, or some other trauma.
If you’re worried about how to overcome a career gap, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll discuss why career gaps no longer raise the red flags as they once did. We’ll also talk about how to fill a current career gap or talk about a past one. Learn more about how to explain employment gaps on a resume.
Are Career Gaps Still A Problem?
Career gaps once immediately raised red flags with employers. They might worry that the applicant was let go from a previous job due to poor performance or unsatisfactory behavior. Or, they might think the applicant is not really serious about returning to work.
In recent years, however, taking time away from “traditional” work to pursue personal goals has become more common. And, the need for self-care, especially when it comes to mental health, has also entered mainstream discussions. For example, in 2021, athlete Simone Biles courageously stepped down from Olympic competition in order to prioritize her mental health.
Employers realize that life happens and that there are valid reasons for career gaps. This has been especially true since the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns and layoffs on a massive scale.
In short, career gaps are not as problematic as they once were, but you may still need to explain yours. You can also leverage career gaps in your favor. Keep reading to find out how.
How To Fill Your Current Career Gap
When you fill a supposed career gap with meaningful activity, it ceases to be a true gap. If you are currently between jobs, consider filling the gap with one or more of these resume-boosting activities.
- Go back to school. Degrees you earn will appear in the Education section of your resume, eliminating the gap. It’s a great way to advance in your current field or start a new career path.
- Take a class. Continuing education looks good on your resume, especially if it is related to your career path. Free and affordable classes are available online. Many culminate in a certificate or certification.
- Teach a class. Whether you volunteer or are paid for it, why not share your skills with others? This, too, can appear on your resume, either under Work Experience or Volunteerism.
- Pick up freelance or gig work. The gig economy is booming. Gig work can allow you to fill the gap on your resume as well as put some extra cash in your pocket.
- Start your own business. Have you ever dreamed of starting your own business? Now could be the time to give it a try. Entrepreneurism shows a good work ethic and can appear in your Work Experience section.
- Volunteer. Pick a cause you’re passionate about or one in need of your skillset. Your work can appear on the Volunteerism section of your resume.
- Coach a team. Sports or academic, coaching displays teaching, leadership, and teamwork skills. Don’t forget to list it on your resume.
- Travel. Travel can be transformative, fostering qualities like empathy and cultural awareness. Put it in your Hobbies and Interests section or simply explain your gap in person.
Explaining Past Career Gaps
How should you handle past career gaps? One way is by minimizing the length of the gap. Career gaps lasting a few months to over a year maybe “erased” by the way you format your resume. For example, if you were furloughed from April 2020 to December 2021, you have a career gap of 20 months.
However, if you list only the years and omit the months, one experience ended in 2020 and another began in 2021. The gap is no longer noticeable.
For longer gaps, simply be ready to offer an honest explanation. Think in advance of what you will say. You may include some explanation in your cover letter, or you may wait for the hiring manager to ask.
Brief explanations are usually best. You may say something like, “I needed some time to care for a temporary family matter, but now I am excited to return to the workforce.” You do not need to include excessive personal details, especially if the events causing the gap are painful to recall. You may wish to assure the hiring manager that past events will not interfere with future performance.