Asked&Answered: Addressing a Gap in Employment on your Resume

Welcome to Asked&Answered, our monthly column in which Ellen Mehling, METRO's Job Bank Manager and Career Consultant, tackles reader questions on job hunting and career development. If you'd like to send Ellen a question, please visit our submission form.

How should I handle a gap in my work history on my resume?

ResumeOn the resume itself, you shouldn’t give the reason for a gap. If the interval between two jobs is more than a few months in duration, however, it must be addressed in your cover letter.

The best way to explain a break in your work history is honestly, factually, and briefly. Focus on what you have to offer, and be prepared for an interviewer to ask for more details.

There are all kinds of reasons for a gap in employment. Because of the state of the economy, employers understand that many skilled, experienced professionals may find themselves unemployed or underemployed for a period of time. What they’ll want to know from you, the applicant, is the reason for your time out of the workforce and whether the issue that kept you from working is still in effect.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

 • The smaller the break and the further it is in the past, the less of a concern it will be to the employer.

• Don't try to hide the gap on your resume by using a functional format. Employers and recruiters want to see a timeline of where you were and when. They strongly prefer the traditional reverse-chronological format. If you try to conceal your time out of the workforce, the reader may assume that the reason you were not working is worse than it really is.

 • It is best to "fill” the gap with work-related activities as much as possible. This can include service in library-related organizations, volunteering, freelancing, taking classes or other continuing education, and/or writing professionally or blogging. Employers want to see that you are using your time productively; if they ask about what you've been doing lately, it is best to have an answer other than "looking for work." These activities will also help you to stay up-to-date professionally and will strengthen your network, which will make landing that next position easier.

• If a gap in employment was due to a past personal or health matter (yours or a family member's, for example) briefly clarify your current circumstances to hiring managers. Convey that this will not be an ongoing issue, without going into too much detail about the nature of the problem.

What you want to do is address the reason why you were out of work and hopefully remove any hesitation the reader may have to considering you because of it, without dwelling on it. Best of luck!