If you’re searching for a new job and worried about gaps in your resume, you’re not alone—periods of unemployment in your career journey have historically been looked down upon as a general rule. But times are quickly changing, and resume gaps can now not only help you tell a more compelling story in interviews, but also serve as a tool to gauge future employers’ empathy and inclusiveness. Follow these best practices to make resume gaps work in your favor.
As with many things in the workplace, context can be the make-or-break piece of whether you receive a “yes”. Rather than glossing over resume gaps, use them as an opportunity to help your interviewer understand how you think about things, add important detail to your story, and see your various roles in the context of a greater overall journey.
For example, if you took time off to complete a professional program or other skills training, don’t just state the name of your program and move on. Instead, walk your interviewer through why you wanted to uplevel in the first place—perhaps due to lack of upward mobility in your previous role or a desire to further specialize in something you’re passionate about—as well as how the program helped you to fulfill your goal(s).
Context is particularly important if you took time out of the workplace for something that doesn’t show up elsewhere on your CV, such as for personal reasons, to travel, or for maternity/paternity leave. While none of these should be a reason for an employer to pass on your application, they can certainly raise questions, so have your background and backup ready when the question arises—and don’t get offended if your interviewer asks for details. If you’re unsure of how the gaps will be perceived, it can be easy to interpret these questions as accusatory, so be careful not to get defensive.
In addition to providing context to your interviewer, having the narrative around your resume gaps down pat can help the conversation to flow smoothly between the various pieces on your resume. Different types of resume gaps can require varying your approach; Personal reasons, for example, likely don’t require much explanation, while taking time off to travel can often benefit from some extra color. Before going into any interviews, spend time practicing this narrative, as it can be easy to get flustered and lost in the weeds about a topic you’d rather not speak to—or gloss over a point that might benefit your profile.
Evaluating your interviewers’ response to your resume gaps can also be a great way to test your potential employer for inclusivity and empathy. Do they value work-life balance? Are they supportive of employees with new families or who need time to care for elderly parents? And, at a very basic level, does your interviewer know how to ask the right questions—and care about your answers—particularly when it comes to more personal issues?
If, despite a solid narrative and contextualization, your interviewer doesn’t seem to accept or understand the gap(s) in your resume, there could be a deeper cultural mismatch at play. While many companies are embracing a more modern outlook on time taken between jobs and what is considered “standard” career progression, there are still some managers who have hard and fast rules of thumb that they won’t bend, despite general trends in the job market. If you find yourself needing to be on the defensive when it comes to your resume, consider whether the employer is really a good fit for you—after all, the company should be focusing on your strengths and how they can add value, not on nitpicking each piece of your background or trying to fit every interviewee into a mold.