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How to Explain a Career Gap on Your Resume

Two people sitting and talking.

Even if you have expertly prepped for an interview, stress over how to address a resume gap can be enough to throw you off your game. But as long as you follow some of our helpful tips below, you should have no trouble responding to this tricky question with ease.

Be honest and authentic while emphasizing the positive

A large part of being unflappable during an interview is thinking through potential questions and outlining a response in advance. Your response should:

  • Clearly articulate why the gap occurred. The honest answer is always the best answer. If you were looking for work, just say that you were looking for work.
  • Not be defensive. An interviewer is just doing their job. Being defensive is a red flag.
  • Emphasize the positive. Did you do anything with your free time, like volunteer or pick up consulting work? If so, be sure to say that you put your time to good use. Not sure how to weave volunteer work into an interview? Take a look at our how-to guide.

The “why?” of an employment gap matters

There are two types of employment gaps, transitional and long-term. Transitional employment gaps are roughly nine months or less and are easily substantiated by the almost glaringly obvious answer: You were looking for work. A transitional employment gap may have occurred because:

  • Job hunting takes time and is unpredictable. Sometimes you luck out and you can have a seamless transition from one job to the next with less than a month in between. While there is no predictable minimum or maximum amount of time that your search may take, argues a three-month minimum is a reasonable benchmark. Or perhaps your time between jobs was a conscious decision because you wanted to take a few months to recharge.
  • You were unexpectedly out of work. You could have been laid off or fired, or perhaps your organization closed. Any of these reasons lend themselves to a situation where you would have found yourself scrambling and didn’t have something on deck.
  • You just graduated. Regardless of when you begin your search, finding work straight out of college or graduate school can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

Longer-term employment gaps usually speak to a major life event like parenting, caring for a family member, or dealing with personal health issues.

Pulling it all together, a response could look something like:

  • “I was unable to have something lined up after my last position ended. During those four months, I was looking for full-time employment and volunteered twice a week with an after-school tutoring program.”
  • “After my last position ended, I needed to take time to recharge. The work was incredibly demanding and I wanted to make sure I was putting my best foot forward at my next job.”
  • “I was very focused on finishing my MS program, so I didn’t start looking for work until after graduation.”
  • “During those six months, I was caring for a family member. I didn’t start my job search until things had stabilized at home.”

Embrace the inevitable and be prepared

Employment gaps happen for a ton of different reasons and can last for varying lengths of time. However, it’s time to rethink the perception that employment gaps are some kind of albatross. Instead, they can be a natural part of the career lifecycle and the more confident you are while talking about them, the more comfortable you’ll be when the question is asked in an interview setting.


Find out what type of resume format can best help you explain career gaps with our post, 3 Resume Types to Help You Embrace Career Gaps.

About the Author | Sarah Goff has nearly fifteen years of experience working in NYC’s public sector in what can only be described as an elegantly haphazard career path. She geeks out on politics and social policy and is deeply passionate about the the social sector. She has participated in numerous public sector fellowship programs and has her M.S. in Public Policy from The New School.

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