6 Different 'Resume Gaps' and How to Explain Them

While we’re no longer in a world that any time off between jobs could be a dealbreaker, ‘resume gaps’ can still be seen as a red flag—or at least raise questions in an interview. Here are six common resume gaps and tips for explaining them effectively.

You got let go

Perhaps the most challenging of gaps to explain, getting let go is highly context dependent, so it’s important that you dedicate time to creating the narrative around how and why you were let go—and what you’re planning to do differently in the future to avoid a similar situation.

In many cases, companies will let go of employees on teams that are no longer necessary because of a pivot or unexpected downturn in growth, which doesn’t necessarily reflect on your character or performance. If this is the case for you, focus on the situation the company was in and why layoffs were made, and highlight any achievements in the role that help to demonstrate that your performance was not a driver of the decision.

Even if you were laid off for performance or interpersonal issues, rest assured that this isn’t a death sentence, and that rational interviewers will be open to understanding the circumstances. In addition to being clear about the narrative and events that led to your being laid off, it can help to offer your interviewer a reference from your old employer (that is, or course, if you have a manager or colleague who would be happy to speak highly of you). Importantly, avoid being bitter about what happened or speaking badly about your circumstances, as this can come off as immature and raise concerns for your interviewer.

You took time off to travel

Sabbaticals for travel are an increasingly popular resume gap, and portrayed correctly can indicate maturity and curiosity—both of which can be attractive to employers.

When explaining this gap, briefly touch on why you decided to take some time off (perhaps you were burned out or wanted to fulfill a longtime dream) and how you grew personally as a result of your travel. Think about your travels as another line on your CV—what were you hoping to get out of it, what did you learn, and how are you a more attractive employee because of it?

You upleveled your skills

Coding bootcamps, MBA programs, and any variety of formal or informal skills training are also common reasons for taking some time out of the workforce, and can make you a much more attractive candidate for the right role. While employers won’t often doubt your decision to uplevel your skills through additional training, they’ll likely be curious about why you made the decision—so again, have a clear narrative in mind and prepare some soundbites that succinctly explain what you’ve learned and how your new skills make you a great candidate.

Health reasons

While it can be tempting to gloss over health issues to avoid awkward conversations, taking time off for your health is a perfectly legitimate reason for a resume gap, so don’t be shy. It’s generally not necessary to dive into details, but can be helpful to assure your interviewer that you’re in good health and ready for the job.

Taking care of a family member or personal reasons

As with #4, interviewers won’t likely probe for personal details about why you’ve taken some time off work, so there’s no crime in mentioning that you were caring for family or needed some time off for personal reasons. Similarly, be transparent about the current status of the situation and why you were (or are) ready to go back to work.

Maternity/paternity leave

Last but not least, taking time to welcome a newborn into the family may be the best reason to leave an empty spot on your resume, but can be easy to forget to mention once he or she has become an integral part of your life. Especially as companies make more and more efforts to be parent-friendly, speaking about the time you took off to become a mother or father can help to demonstrate soft skills such as responsibility, attention to detail, and commitment to others.

About the Author

Napala Pratini

Napala is a consultant to early-stage technology companies. Prior to going independent, Napala led marketing initiatives across both consumer and B2B fintech for employers including NerdWallet and Earnest. In past lives she was a ballet dancer and a cancer researcher.