How to: Explain a gap in your CV
Mind the gap…
There are many reasons why someone may decide to take a break from work. But no matter what the reason is, knowing how to address these empty spaces on your CV can be a challenge – and failing to do so could even mean missing out on finding the perfect role for you.
We’ve already put together a career break CV template, but to help make sure yours doesn’t hold you back, here’s everything you need to know about explaining a gap in your CV:
What is a career gap?
A career gap is a period of time spent out of work or between roles.
This could be a voluntary decision to take a career break for reasons such as travelling or starting a family. Or it might not have been your choice, coming as a result of redundancy or personal circumstances changing.
The important thing to remember is that no career gap is insurmountable. You just need to know how to handle it when it comes to applying for a new role and communicating the gap.
Five tips to explain gaps in your CV
Firstly, you don’t need to include all of your experience on your CV.
If you have a long career history, and have held a number of different positions, there’s nothing wrong with scaling back the detail – which could be an easy way to take care of a few gaps.
Similarly, when stating the dates of your employment on your CV, omitting the month and only showing the year is perfectly acceptable. The same goes for your reasons for leaving your previous positions. This keeps your CV to the point, and helps keep gaps to a minimum.
Additionally, if you do have a significant gap in your employment history, there may be better places to address them than in the middle of your CV.
Your cover letter, for example, can be used to elaborate on the gap and to suggest why you view this position as the perfect way to get back into work.
Remember: Some gaps can be addressed simply through formatting.
The single most important thing to remember when dealing with a gap in your CV is that, whatever your reason for taking a break from employment, honesty is (almost) always the best policy.
You don’t have to go into everything in detail (some situations may benefit from discretion), but leaving it out completely or lying about the reason will only make the gaps stand out further.
Additionally, never be tempted to extend your period of employment in a previous position just to cover up the gaps. There is every chance that the interviewer will call your previous employers to verify your time there.
If you haven’t been honest, you won’t fool them for too long.
Remember: Hiring managers do this for a living. Acknowledging and explaining a gap won’t harm your chances of employment. Lying about a gap will.
If you’re struggling to find work, and feel that gaps in your employment history are to blame, always try and be proactive.
Use your time off to take a course, seek some professional mentoring, or take up a voluntary position. This will demonstrate to the employer that you’re utilising your time effectively, and help set your CV apart.
If you can’t find a voluntary position or course to suit you, there are always other ways of demonstrating your talents.
Writing a blog, for example, can be a great way to showcase your skills, and also actively exhibit your willingness to further your career.
Remember: Don’t just sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring. Make the most of your time out.
Instead of apologising for your gaps, try and put a positive spin on them.
Changing your phrasing from ‘I couldn’t find a job’ to ‘I decided to take a few months out to refocus my career and pursue a position within my desired industry’ can make your career gap look deliberate rather than desperate.
Also, if taking a break wasn’t your decision, a bit of positivity can go a long way. Focus on what you learned from the experience and what steps you’ve taken to make positive changes to your career to improve your overall performance.
Remember: Optimism is always a good look.
One of the key things to remember is that, should your CV prove to be successful, you are likely to be offered an interview. And, during the interview, it’s almost inevitable that you will be asked about these gaps in some form.
Prepare what you’re going to say in a short and pertinent response, and you won’t be caught off guard.
Also, use your pre-interview preparation to research the company and the industry as a whole. That way, you’ll prove to your interviewer that your absence has not affected your passion for the profession or your ability to keep up-to-date with the latest industry trends.
Remember: If you’ve already practiced your response, you won’t be caught out when the question comes up.
Ways to explain gaps in your CV during an interview
Obviously, there are many different reasons for taking a career break, whether it’s by choice or not.
Whilst this is by no means a comprehensive list, we’ve outlined some of the possible reasons below, including some ideas for how to address them at an interview.
- Do say – ‘I took six months out to immerse myself in a different culture and feel I’ve not only gained a new perspective, but I’ve also learned some valuable life lessons. I’m now ready to start focussing on my career’
- Don’t say – ‘I spent six months travelling because I wasn’t ready to settle down. I don’t remember most of it’
- Do say – ‘I’ve spent the last year caring for a sick relative. Their health has now recovered and I’m ready to re-enter the workforce’
- Don’t say – ‘I’ve had personal issues which I’d rather not discuss’
- Do say – ‘Due to a recurring medical condition I felt unable to continue in my previous position. However, I’ve now returned to full health and feel ready to take on my next challenge’
- Don’t say – ‘I have a recurring health problem which has made it difficult for me to hold down a job’
- Do say – ‘My previous employer was forced to make a series of budget cuts. They had a ‘first-in, last-out’ policy and, unfortunately, as I was relatively new to the company, I was made redundant. However, I’m proud of what I achieved during my time there, something which can be reinforced by my previous manager, who is also one of my provided referees’
- Don’t say – ‘My previous company had it in for me from day one’
Final thoughts on career gaps
Remember, whatever your career break entailed, it’s all relative.
A few months out a couple of years ago will probably be ok. However, if you’re talking years out of employment, then planning is key.
It’s not unusual to have a gap in your employment history and it’ll only stand out if you don’t explain it. The main thing employers want is for you to demonstrate your enthusiasm and readiness to re-enter the workforce.
Finally, confidence and honesty are desirable qualities for any interviewee. Approaching the situation with the right degree of both will speak volumes about your personality.
So be honest and always attempt to address the issue early, allowing the recruiter to concentrate on the rest of your CV. That way, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Need more CV advice?
It takes an employer just seven seconds to save or reject a job applicant’s CV. This means creating a succinct CV is absolutely vital if you want to land that all-important interview.
To find out how to make your CV stand out from the crowd, buy James Reed’s new book: The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview.
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