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How to explain unemployment gaps in your resume

By Emily Gee | 17 July 2019


Whether you just took a mid-career break to travel the world or have recently decided to return to work after becoming a new parent, you might be concerned about what this long absence will mean for your career.

If you’re wondering how to explain an unemployment gap in your resume, you’re not alone. In fact, two-thirds of women and 50% of men have taken a career break at least once during their working life. Many reveal that re-entering the workforce is challenging—but with the right tools and resources, it is possible to re-frame your unemployment gap into something positive that can make your job search much easier.

The truth about your resume

interview reading applicant's resume

Before we get into some of the ways you can fill gaps in your resume, let’s discuss what your resume is, and how you should be using it in your job search.

It is a common misconception that your resume is a rundown of your entire work history, with every task you’ve ever done listed in dot points. The truth is, your resume is an overview (or highlight reel) of your experience and career achievements to date. The goal of your resume should be to pique a hiring manager’s interest enough to land you a job interview, where you can then discuss your experience at length.

Think of your resume as part of your marketing campaign to get hired. It should showcase your best qualities and downplay anything that is irrelevant or unhelpful to your case. You don’t need to emphasise the gaps in your resume, but neither should you try to hide or alter dates to mask your employment status. If the gap is less than 3 months, there’s no need to discuss it at all, but any longer than 3 months, there may be more justification required.

How do I fill gaps in my resume?

  1. Volunteer work.
  2. Freelancing or business ventures.
  3. Training and gaining new qualifications.
If you’re intending to take a career break or are unemployed, it’s still a good idea to keep your resume updated. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Volunteer work.

Volunteering is a great way to help close gaps in your resume while also providing you with valuable experience you can take into future roles. The great thing about volunteer work is that it is relatively easy to find and can be quite flexible, whether you’re looking for something to dedicate yourself to long-term or a short-term project to help keep you busy between jobs. Employers will always look favourably upon voluntary experience because it shows enthusiasm, strong values and work ethic.

2. Freelancing or business ventures.

There are more opportunities for freelancers today than ever before. If you’re concerned that your gap is too long and may limit future employment opportunities, you can sign up to a freelance platform and start doing freelance work to keep afloat and manage your finances. Alternatively, you may have a side hustle that you can leverage to make the gap seem more like a business pursuit than an unexplained career break.

3. Training and gaining new qualifications.

As the workforce grows and new skills come into demand, many professionals choose to take on additional training to help them secure a higher salary and boost their career prospects. In the past, people may have used the expression “going back to study”, but with the flexibility of today’s learning it’s less about going back than it is about keeping pace with the changing landscape.

If you’re worried about having to explain a gap in your resume, consider drawing on knowledge from a course or industry training to keep your skills not only relevant but ahead of the competition.

Top reasons for career breaks and how to explain your gap in employment

redundant concept

  1. Becoming a new parent.
  2. Caring for a family member.
  3. Illness or injury.
  4. Travel.
  5. Unemployment.
  6. Termination or redundancy.
Employment gaps are normal, and nothing to feel uncomfortable about. Often, it’s not the actual gap that comes into question, more so what you did during the time you were out of the workforce. You also want to reassure your employer that you are 100% ready to return to work. Here are some of the main reasons you may have employment gaps in your resume and how to approach them with your employer.

1. Becoming a new parent.

It is common for new parents to take some time off to raise young children. There’s no need to include this in your resume, but you can discuss it in person with your hiring manager. It’s a good idea to talk about why you’re ready to return to work and how you will go about the transition.

2. Caring for a family member.

Again, there is no need to include this in your resume, or go into more detail than you’re comfortable with. Your employer will understand, and you can emphasise your eagerness to return to work now that your priorities have shifted.

3. Illness or injury.

Being ill or injured over a long period of time can make the idea of going back to work daunting. You can discuss this in person with your employer so you can clarify whether or not your illness or injury will prevent you from being able to perform certain duties. 

4. Travel.

Depending on the role you are going for and your reasons for traveling, you may decide to include your travels in your resume. However, you want to be careful with your wording and frame your experience in the context of the job you’re applying for. 

For example, a job in the travel industry will look favourably upon your travel experience, but if you’re not applying for a job in travel you may instead list volunteering programs or other activities you took part in that may boost your work profile.

5. Unemployment.

If you’ve been on the job hunt for over 6 months, it can start to weigh you down and affect your confidence. This can make applying for jobs much harder. During this period, you may not be thinking about studying, but even doing a short course can help you regain your confidence and give you additional material to update your resume.

6. Termination or redundancy.

It’s never easy to lose your job and can be hard to approach it with your employer. Despite many candidates feeling that termination is a deal breaker, this isn’t necessarily the case. You are not obligated to discuss your termination or redundancy on your resume, but you can clarify any misunderstandings during your job interview. 

Need a career boost?

No matter what stage you are in your career, learning and development is an ongoing process that can help you secure your dream role. Upskilled offers a wide range of flexible online courses to help you learn the skills you need and gain confidence in your chosen field. Chat with an education consultant today on 1300 009 924 to learn more.
 
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