I and my career consultant colleagues are used to fielding a broad array of questions from job seekers. One of the questions we hear most often is some variation of, "How do I overcome a career gap on my resume?"
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Today I'll show you how to keep a period of unemployment from sinking your chances of landing a job:
Why You Can't Leave a Gap Unexplained
First, it's important to understand why an unaddressed career gap can be a concern to potential employers. In the absence of information, employers tend to think the worst. Were you fired? Let go for performance or other issues? Did you walk off the job without notice?
Simply put, employers want to know: Did you lose your job through your own fault, and am I going to regret hiring you?
That may not be the case at all, but if you don't take the time to address an employer's concerns, they'll move on to other applicants who don't seem as foreboding. It's a lot easier to look at another resume than it is to spend time exploring possible reasons for one candidate's career gap.
The reasons for concern also change as the gap lengthens. If a gap is one or two months long, the above concerns are most prevalent. If a gap is three months or longer, the employer's biggest concern becomes whether or not your skills are still up to date.
As you plan your strategy for handling your career gap, it is important to understand what an employer's most likely concerns are so that you can specifically target them.
Start With Your Cover Letter
If your career gap is current – that is, you're currently unemployed – then you should address it in your cover letter. A cover letter not only grants you more space than your resume, but it also allows you to adopt a more conversational – but still professional – tone as you explain your gap. That makes it the ideal place to address what led to your period of unemployment.
Perhaps you experienced a medical issue or moved to another state to follow your spouse's job. Maybe you took time off to raise your children. Whatever your situation is, hiring managers will want you to account for your time out of work.
Join the Conversation: Do Employers Care Too Much About Career Gaps?
If your gap is longer than two months, include information about what you have done to stay productive and up to date. Have you done any freelance or consulting work? Have you spent time volunteering your skills to an organization? Have you taken classes or received new certifications?
And what if "all" you've done is help raise your kids? That's a lot! If you've been keeping busy as a stay-at-home parent, include that information. While your job may not exist within the professional world, the skills you use to run a household and care for small children certainly translate well. Budget maintenance, negotiation, time management, communication – these are all valuable skills employers would love to see in a candidate.
List Your Gap on Your Resume
If your career gap is current, or if it occurred between your two most recent jobs and was more than three months long, I recommend including it as a "job" on your resume. What you're trying to do is close the gap and quell any of an employer's potential concerns.
What might a gap look like when listed as a "job" on your resume? Well, for example, if you stayed home for nine months between your current job and your previous job, you may want to list your gap as a "Household Manager" role, and then list the duties for which you were responsible – like you would with any other job.
Ultimately, addressing an employer's career gap concerns is less about what you specifically did during your time away from work and more about proving that you stayed productive, kept your skills up to date, and did something meaningful.
A version of this article originally appeared on ResumeSpice.
Savannah Ober is a resume expert at ResumeSpice.