Many people shy away from explaining gaps in their CV for fear of getting it wrong and putting their application at risk. Actually, unexplained gaps are generally more off-putting to recruiters. There’s no need to be afraid of including this information and no need to lie – be honest and be positive about it.
First, a couple of caveats. For a gap more than ten years ago, you can probably exclude it anyway, as it’s not usually necessary to go back that far in your work history unless it’s particularly relevant to the role you’re applying for. If the gap in employment is only short ie. less than a couple of months, you might want to list your work experience in years rather than specifying months, thereby negating the need for explanation. However, if your unemployment has been for a longer period, it’s best to include months and tackle the reasons head-on.
So, how do you explain an employment hiatus? If you’re currently in the midst of one, make it easier on yourself and do something about it now! Use this time constructively – you could start a course, learn a new language, sign up to volunteer for a local charity. Ideally, you’ll do something relevant to the career you’re pursuing but, regardless, recruiters will view this period of productivity positively.
If the gap is already in the past, think about what you gained from it, no matter what the cause, and be prepared to discuss it in the interview. If you’re confidently displaying this information in your application, highlighting how you capitalised opportunities and used the time effectively, this part of the interview should be commensurate with the discussion around your work experience. Here’s some examples:
- You were caring for your young children, so you took the time to learn something new to boost your chances of getting back into work.
- You left your previous role a while ago (voluntarily or otherwise), so you spent the time focusing on what you really wanted out of your career and took steps to pursue this.
- You went travelling, so you used the opportunity to learn a new language and increase your cultural awareness.
- You were made redundant, so you decided to volunteer within the local community, developing several new and relevant skills to enhance your prospects.
- You were off with a long-term illness, but ensured you kept up with industry news and trends by attending relevant seminars and online courses. It’s best to make a point of saying you’re now healthy and ready to re-enter the workforce or, if it’s a longer-term illness, that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure you’re ready to return to work and/or move into a more suitable career.
I’d recommend including any or all of the above within the chronological experience section of your CV as this looks more deliberate, rather than an afterthought or as though you're trying too hard to justify it. Don’t feel that you need to provide lots of personal details – one or two professional, concise bullet points to explain what you did during the period of unemployment is sufficient. You could include something in your cover letter if it is a little personal and this feels appropriate, but don’t exclude it completely from your CV, as cover letters aren’t always requested.
To summarise, start using the time if you still have it and, if not, don’t ignore it on your CV and be ready to discuss it in your interview in a professional and positive way.