How to cover a career gap on your CV

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October 1, 2020

Nearly everyone in our brilliant community of highly talented women has gaps in their career history and we can understand why employers can feel nervous about this. But all is not lost! Shining a positive light on your experience away from paid work will reap rewards. Chris Salmon, Operations Director of Quittance Legal Services explains all...

Gap on your CV? Shine a light on it! 

A gap in your work history could be seen as a red flag by a prospective employer. A recruiter’s main concern is that if you have unexplained gaps in your CV, you might be the flighty type.

This article looks at how you can present a break in your work history in the best possible light to a prospective employer.

When might a career gap be a problem?

A prospective employer will certainly pick up on a gap in your employment. 

If the gap was less than three months long or more than 5 years ago, it shouldn’t cause either you or a prospective employer undue concern. A longer, more recent, or current break in your work history will, however, need to be addressed.

If you have an otherwise unblemished work history, with back-to-back relevant experience, a gap can raise even more questions.  Why would an otherwise model candidate have an uncharacteristic gap in their employment history?

Three ways NOT to present a gap on your CV

  1. Leave an unexplained period

  2. Conceal the gap by stating the years you were employed but omitting the months

  3. Explain the gap in general terms, e.g. “Due to an illness, I was unable to work during this period”

An unexplained gap leaves employers with little option but to imagine what you were up to. Maybe you were gallivanting around the world? Maybe you were incarcerated? Maybe you were in rehab?

Concealing a gap may be an even worse strategy.  Employers are wise to this approach and they may assume you are being duplicitous.

Explaining a gap in general terms is a more honest approach but it misses the opportunity to portray your time off in a favourable light.

Top four ways to present a gap in your career history

Be upfront, provide details and accentuate the positive. With a little emphasis, you can allay an employer’s concerns, strengthen your application and present yourself as an open and honest candidate. 

1. Find the value

You may have had time for an injury, redundancy or perhaps just a career break. Whatever the reason, find the angle that highlights your qualities. If you can relate something you did with your time off to the position you are applying for, so much the better.

For example, if you were off work due to illness, explain how you took a relevant online course, improved your language skills or got up to speed on industry news. Stress that you are fully recovered and raring to go with a new challenge.

If you’re a mum returning to work simply say you had a career break to raise a family. You are now returning to work as they have started school - or whatever your circumstances are.

If you are currently unemployed, highlight any courses you have taken and skills and experience you have acquired during your time off.

If you were made redundant, explain how the company changed direction and reduced staff numbers with a ‘last in first out’ policy. As you were one of the newer employees, you were made redundant. If you can get a good reference from the employer you could mention it at this stage.

If you are currently unemployed, signing up to a course, volunteering or beginning a professional qualification, allows you to take control of the narrative and present yourself as a proactive individual.

2. Explain your CV gap in a cover letter

Once you have decided how to frame your time off, you could tell your story in a covering statement or letter.  There’s no need to be verbose - 50 to 100 words should do. The statement should anticipate and address the prospective employer’s likely concerns and emphasise the positives about your time off.

Chris Salmon, Operations Director of Quittance Legal Services, said: 

Be truthful and resist the temptation to be virtuous or boastful. Focus on the skills you acquired, not the karma points. If you spent your time volunteering at an orphanage or saving whales, you may even need to tone down your account or an employer might think you are embellishing the truth.”

3. Present the gap in line with your employment history. Here’s a CV example: 

Recovery following a serious illness - March 2018 to December 2018 - I was unable to work for several months following an accident at work. During my recovery, I focused on developing my skill set and took an online accountancy course. I am now fully recovered and eager to get back to work.

4. Lead with your skills and put your employment history further down the page

If you are a recent graduate or have a short work history, you could put your educational achievements first.

Be prepared to talk about your career gap

You should expect the gap to be raised at the interview. If it doesn’t come up, consider raising the gap yourself. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to identify and address the interviewer’s unspoken concerns. Prepare a concise and consistent response in advance and you shouldn’t be caught off guard.

Take the opportunity to research the company and demonstrate this knowledge at the interview. Claiming that you have a real interest in the sector will be more convincing if you pursued your interests even during your time off, and can back that up with insights about recent news and developments.

Good luck!


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