How Should I Present a Career Gap in my CV?

One of the most common questions we get from clients is: How should present a career gap in my CV?

There are many reasons why you may have gaps in your CV. You may have taken time off to care for your family, pursue higher education, or simply to enjoy a sabbatical.

Regardless of your reasons, it’s not the end of your future employment prospects.

You do, however, have to explain the gap.

Employers tend to think the worst whenever they see a gap. They may imagine that you were fired, that you quit without notice, or some other worst-case scenario. If the gap is a lengthy one, they will wonder if your skills are still relevant to the industry. They need to know if they are going to regret hiring you.

Addressing a career gap is critical. Here are seven ways to present a career gap in a flattering light.

1. Be Candid

Honesty is the best policy.

If the topic ever comes up in an interview, be upfront with the hiring manager. Acknowledge that there is a gap and describe the circumstances surrounding it. By being candid, the employer is more likely to view you as a trustworthy person.

What you must never do is lie about the gap: hiring managers have plenty of experience conducting background checks, and if they find a lie, you have just lost a shot at your dream job.

2. Omit Short Gaps

If your career gap lasts for just a few months, followed by a period of extended employment, there is no need to highlight it on your CV.

Simply state your years of employment. If you worked at ABC Company from January 2011 to June 2012, then at XYZ Company from January 2013 to the present, all you have to do is say that you worked at ABC from 2011 to 2012, then at XYZ from 2013 to the present. Framed this way, a short career gap will have no impact on your career.

3. Explain Up Front

If you are presently unemployed and have been for a while, the best approach is to state it up front on your CV and cover letter. A brief sentence or paragraph will do. This will allay suspicions and help ease the employer over any potential awkwardness. Here are three examples of how to explain them:

Homemaker with prior experience in accounting seeking to return to the workforce.

Recent MBA graduate looking to take on greater responsibilities.

Full-time volunteer in multinational charity organisation ready for a career switch.

These sentences explain what you have been doing during the gap, and declare that you are ready to take on the demands of a new job.

4. Frame Gaps Positively

The above examples were crafted to positively frame career gaps. A positive frame depicts you in a positive light, showing that you kept yourself productive. The key to doing this is to understand what a potential employer wants.

Employers care more about whether you stayed productive and relevant than what you did during a gap. By positively framing your gap in these terms, you will show that you are as competitive as any other worker out there.

If you took time off to study, state your new qualification and the skills you picked up. If you spent the time as a freelancer or consultant, treat it like any other job and state your responsibilities and achievements. This shows that you took steps to remain relevant in the economy.

For experience in non-traditional areas, see how what you did applies to the job you are applying for. For instance, if you were a volunteer for a charity, think about the skills you used and list them down, such as coordinating teams of volunteers or fundraising. The key is to frame what you did in a way that is relevant to your chosen industry.

5. Frame Personal Time as Professional Development

If you took time off to recharge yourself or to recover from a medical condition, it is perfectly fine. The key, as always, is to be candid and to frame it positively. Where possible, show the employer that you also took time to develop yourself professional during your sabbatical. Here are some examples:

I travelled around Asia to immerse myself in new cultures and gain fresh perspectives. During this time, I also attended professional seminars to keep myself up-to-date.

I spent a year recovering from a long-term illness. I have since fully recovered and am ready to return to work.

This shows that you took care of yourself, have the integrity to account for your gap, and that you are prepared to return to work as a better person than before.

6. Avoid Negative Frames

A negative frame paints you or your previous employer in a negative light. This simply confirms your employer’s fears about you. Examples include:

My old boss didn’t like me, so he fired at the first chance he got.

This suggests he had a good reason to fire you.

I was sick and took time to recover.

This leaves the employer wondering if your illness will affect your work and, more to the point, whether how it will affect his work.

Focus on the positive through effective framing to allay an employer’s fears.

7. Be Prepared

If you get through to the interview phase, the interviewer will ask you for more information about your career gap. Anticipate the kind of questions the interviewer will ask, and prepare confident and detailed answers. This shows that you are ready for any future work-related challenges.

Manage a career gap in your CV by positive framing. Be candid, be positive and be prepared. A career gap isn’t a stumbling point: it’s a chance for you to show what kind of person you are outside of work.

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Russel Yee

Former Headhunter

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