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Explaining gaps in your resume

We’re used to feeling like WFH is normalized, but what about no work at all? Yep, time to normalize that too.

Maybe you were away on an intergalactic bounty excursion. Perhaps it was that gap year you never got to take and wanted to reclaim. Whatever the reason, if your resume has a big ol’ hole in the work experience section, you might be worrying about how to make it look less daunting. Breaks between jobs happen for a number of reasons, and we’re here to help fill the time (literally and figuratively).

Abbey Charles
Abbey Charles
· 4 min read
Train track with the words "mid the gap" painted on the curb

We don’t need to run through all the various end-of-world scenarios that keep coming down the pipeline of humanity to understand that taking time off work is necessary. From losing a job because of circumstances beyond your control, to taking care of family, to needing a solid reset from the madness of the world–these are all okay. And now that you’re ready to tackle your next big project, let’s talk about how to talk about it. 

Be honest, be proactive

Let’s say there are two people applying for a job, and both have a 12-month gap on their resume because they wanted to take time off to travel. One person glosses over it, hoping the prospective employer won’t really notice, thinking it must look bad to just take off and adventure. The other completely owns up to it and adds it as an experience to their resume: 

Planned Career Break – Feb 2019 to February 2020

  • Took intentional time to travel to 17 countries in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe
  • Engaged in cultural activities pertinent to the areas visited, and learned beginner travel-based conversational skills in four languages
  • Learned React/Redux and used it to build an app that cataloged every meal I ate while traveling

Which of these people would appear to the employer as more trustworthy, all other things equal? Taking time to enjoy something grand doesn’t make you any less employable, and being up front about it shows that you’re invested in sharing this information, rather than trying to be covert about it. In fact, LinkedIn has gone as far as offering 13 different options for “Career Break” so you can add it straight to your profile. 

The same also goes for any gap that isn’t all fun and games. Fill out bullet points with the hard work you put in raising a family, or caring for a loved one, or the improvements you made on yourself during the mental health break you needed to take. It’s a little vulnerable, yes, but being honest and proactive goes a long way.

Change up the format 

There are a couple of ways you can change up how your resume is laid out that can help obscure some of the smaller gaps. One way is to pull the month out of your entries, leaving the year. 

This:

  • Senior System Administrator, Acme Corp. – June 2022 to Present
  • System Administrator, Rush Inc. – August 2018 to January 2022

Becomes:

  • Senior System Administrator, Acme Corp. – 2022 to Present
  • System Administrator, Rush Inc. – 2018 to 2022

This is an easy solution in the short-term, but you should be prepared to clarify (being honest!) in the interview, if it does come up. 

The other way to change the format is to create a functional resume. The main purpose of a functional resume is to highlight the skills someone has over the positions they held. This doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t add the dates to it, rather that it emphasizes the importance of the work you were doing over the time period you were actually doing it. Another benefit to the functional format for freelancers is that you can talk about multiple projects done under the umbrella of your freelance work without having to note exactly when you worked with a client.

Tie the gap into the job

Life is absolutely chock full of learning experiences, and the time we spend at work is only one way in which we enrich our brains. Take a look at the job description and find descriptive phrases and words that you can then tie back into your time between jobs.

  • Multi-tasker
    • Managed daily care of an elderly relative while simultaneously teaching 3rd and 5th grade classes to my school-aged children and getting a certificate in project management
  • Detail-oriented
    • Organized a two-week sailing trip for a group of 12 expats from 5 different countries, helping to coordinate various visa and entry requirements for all participants
  • Self-starter
    • Built an app for community members to help provide coverage for family members and full-time unpaid caregivers to take breaks for anywhere from a few hours to a few days

These kinds of skills aren’t just honed in the office, they translate to very real and very useful situations in your everyday life. Don’t downplay what you accomplished in that time off, because the chances are really good that you did way more than you’re comfortable giving yourself credit for. Whether you learned a new language or how to clean a wound, you learned something new and valuable. Let it show, on your resume and in your voice, and know that it was just the break you needed.

Looking to get back into the game after a long break? A freelancing career with Gun.io sounds perfect. 

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