Nowadays, a gap in your CV can occur for any number of reasons such as illness, parental leave, sabbatical leave or simply unemployment. Most employers are understanding when it comes to CV gaps; however, gaps longer than a few months tend to raise questions or concerns. To make sure that unemployment breaks don’t derail your job search, here are some tips for presenting them in a positive light.
While gaps in your CV don’t automatically make you unemployable, they can make you look like an unreliable employee if there are too many gaps or make employers wonder if you will stay the course at their company.
Therefore, it’s important to explain them in a positive way and to highlight the skills and qualities that make you an attractive candidate.
Our number one tip is: honesty is the best policy. Lying on your CV is never a good idea and can backfire on you.
If an employer or recruiter finds out that you lied during the application process, then your chance of landing the job is gone. If you’re found out after you’ve been hired, an employer can even fire you and you can lose credibility with your colleagues and future employers. What you may think is a small white lie can result in lasting reputational damage, long after the lie has been forgotten.
Explaining gaps in your CV
While there are a wide range of reasons for gaps in your CV, here are some of the most common ones and tips for explaining them:
Gaps due to employment reasons could appear for any number of reasons. Perhaps you were let go from a previous job or you’ve been unable to find a job. Whatever the reason, it’s a good idea to emphasise your achievements and skills in previous roles to show prospective employers that being unemployed hasn’t affected your employability.
You could also highlight skills that you’ve picked up from taking a course, volunteering or through keeping up with industry developments.
During a sabbatical, you may have travelled through areas where transport was not well organised, for example. In this case, you can state that you have learned to respond to unexpected situations.
Travelling also offers great opportunities to expose yourself to new cultures, learn new language skills and develop your interpersonal skills – all of which are highly sought-after skills in the international job market.
- Parental leave
If you’ve taken a break because of parental leave, you could focus on the skills you have learned as a parent, for example, multi-tasking, negotiation, communication, problem-solving, to name but a few.
Whether you’ve honed these skills in a paid position, on a course or as a parent, employers will see them as valuable assets to the workplace.
If you’re changing careers or industries, you may have taken time out to go back to education to acquire a qualification or to develop specific skills.
In this case, you can explain that you identified that you had a skills gap and that you wanted to build on your skills before jumping into a new career. This demonstrates careful planning and that you’ve given some consideration to your long-term career plans.
If there are special circumstances that have caused the gap (s) in your CV, you could explain this in your cover letter to provide employers with more context. For example, if you had to take time off to recover from an illness, you could mention this without going into details and reassure employers that you are now fit for work. If applicable, you could also highlight any skills you may have acquired through further training, workshops or personal projects.
Make use of your personal profile or statement
Your personal profile or statement is a great opportunity to smooth out any gaps in your CV. While you don’t need to directly explain why you left previous positions, you can use your personal statement to tie together disparate experiences.
For instance, if you left a role to switch to a different career or industry, you could explain that you spent some time brushing up on your skills before applying for a new job and how your different roles led you to where you are today.
If the break wasn’t your decision because of dismissal or redundancy, you could say that you took some time out to focus on what you wanted from your next role.
Show how you used your time
CV gaps can make employers concerned about your readiness for the workplace. You can alleviate some of these concerns by showing how you spent your time (meaningfully) while unemployed. Including the following sections in your CV can help you do this:
Internships can provide you valuable, practical experience even if most tend to be unpaid. Rather than focusing on mundane tasks such as fetching the coffee, cleaning or photocopying, emphasise tasks where you brought value to the company such as managing the company’s Facebook account, event support or conducting research.
Pursuing a professional qualification, learning a new language or taking part in a workshop all demonstrate a dedication to learning and an interest in professional development.
According to a survey by Deloitte, 92% of employers believe that your skills are boosted through volunteering. This is because volunteering demonstrates care for the community and a dedication to causes outside of your immediate interests.
From communication skills to the ability to work with people of all ages, volunteering equips you with skills that are transferable to any position or industry.
- Hobbies and interests/extra-curricular activities
For example, reading can indicate open-mindedness, intelligence and a willingness to learn new things. Sporting activities, on the other hand, tend to demonstrate leadership, teamwork and communication skills.
Include a wide range of activities to display a breadth of skills.
Consider using a skills-based or functional CV
If you prefer not to draw attention to the gaps in your resume, a functional or skills-based CV is a very good choice. This is because, in this type of CV, you don’t list your experience and education in reverse chronological order as in a chronological CV.
In contrast to a chronological CV, a skills-based CV is organised by your skills and then your work experience and your education. As the focus is on your skills and abilities rather than the timeline of your work history, any gaps are less noticeable.
When stating the dates of your employment on your CV, it’s perfectly fine to include the month and year. This minimises gaps while still giving an accurate representation of the duration of employment. However, never extend dates of employment to cover gaps as the truth will out when a prospective employer checks with your previous employer(s).
When listing your skills, be sure to only include ones that match the job requirements. Showing employers that you have relevant skills can go a long way to smoothing out gaps in your CV.
Look to the future
There are few people today without one or two gaps in their CV. Due to the unpredictability of life, some things happen that are out of our control. Most employers will understand this, providing that you have a reasonable explanation for periods of unemployment.
Their main concern is whether you’ll be a reliable candidate or whether you’ll quit after a few months. If you can alleviate these concerns, there should be no need to worry.
If you make it through to the interview stage, it’s a good idea to be prepared to talk about your gaps in person as you will almost certainly be asked about them.
As a rule of thumb, explain the situation clearly; however, avoid giving too many personal details. Instead, reassure interviewers that the reason for the gap is no longer an issue and focus on your interest in the job and the skills you bring to the table.
A gap in your CV doesn’t have to be a problem. Approach gaps positively and employers will be likely to do the same.