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How to Explain a Gap in Your Resume
In an ideal world, all professionals would have continuity and consistency in their careers. However, there are unforeseen circumstances which may contribute to why some people have gaps in their resume.
Traditional views on employment and career progression see gaps in one’s resume as a sign of inconsistency and unreliability, which may also negatively and adversely impact your chances at getting hired. Gaps, however, are common and are normal, and despite certain misgivings from hiring managers, they are often willing to listen and consider if you are able to explain why such gaps exist.
Luckily, gone are the days when the prevailing attitude is to see gaps in a resume as automatically to be taken that the applicant is unreliable or is not to be trusted with any major responsibility. For some, this may come as a result of family dynamics, choices in life, and other reasons that should not necessarily be penalised. At the same time, one cannot also categorically say that a person who has stayed employed without any interruptions is also credible and responsible. These unforeseen circumstances may also sometimes be pivotal to the professional progress and growth of an individual.
As such, one way to work around unavoidable gaps in one’s resume is to be transparent and honest about it. Here are some reasons why people have employment gaps:
- Maternity/Paternity/Child Care
One of the most acceptable reasons for having a break in your resume is to have children or to care for very young children at home after giving birth. 18 weeks’ paid parental leave is standard across Australia, but certain states and employers may provide more time off for those who have recently given birth. State this clearly in your resume. This reason for taking a break usually does not require any protracted explanation or justification. We recommend just stating “Maternity Leave/Family Leave” on your resume and including the covered time period.
- Sickness/Care Roles
Another reason that is usually out of our control is a medical leave. Some medical conditions may take a while to resolve, and the recovery phase is crucial to avoiding any further complications. Some employees may also emerge from sickness with underlying permanent conditions that may affect their mobility, and upon their readiness to work, it is important to be clear on what you need from your company so that they can assist and support you with your needs. Focus on finding companies that value diversity and have programs to cater to people with different needs. Moreover, if you took a break to care for a family member who was sick, take the time to explain how this taught you empathy, multitasking skills, and liaisons with multidisciplinary care teams and service providers – all bankable skills that will be appreciated by employers.
Being exposed to different cultures is a privilege that some of us enjoy, and these are often sources of great ideas, novel opportunities for self-improvement, and engagement with people from other cultures and backgrounds. In an increasingly international and multidisciplinary workforce, skills and competencies such as independence, decision-making and situational analysis are becoming more and more invaluable. If you took a break to travel, focus on the things you have learned during your time away and explain these briefly to fill the gaps in your resume. For instance, some people may pick up languages or skills that are useful in their career. These will be an invaluable skill that no in-house training may be able to provide as effectively.
- Career Change/Study Leave
Yet another reason that can explain a gap in resume is taking a break to learn a new skill or to go back to school. Career changes and educational break may even work to your advantage as it signals your willingness and your openness to new learning and ideas. Be upfront about why you took a break and explain the things you have learned during your educational or career break. This is especially useful in transitioning to new industries or in achieving a new focus in your career. Changing careers may also signal your flexibility and resilience, which are important 21st Century skills that must be valued by contemporary workplaces.
For professionals within the academic community, a sabbatical is often provided for to allow personnel to take time off to pursue other interests, study areas, and personal pursuits. It may also even be spent to take some time off for rest and relaxation, which has become a priority for workplaces that value excellent work-life balance. Your sabbatical period may be used to read, write, pick up a new hobby, invest in old and new relationships, or do nothing at all – just state plainly that you were on sabbatical. What is important are the lessons and skills you learned during your break, and for some, it may just be knowing when to recognise your own need to take a quick break and refresh.
Gaps that should be declared in your resume are the ones that last a full year or so. Some employers consider it a given that time off between jobs is unavoidable. A gap of a few months to nearly a year is fine. Anything more than a year may raise questions, and it is best to be more proactive and open about this than to fumble an answer during the interview. Transparency and honesty are still the best policy, and gaps, especially unavoidable ones, are not a reason to conceal or misrepresent. Be open and be honest, but more importantly, prepare and always have an explanation ready.