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Switching Careers or Going Back to Work? How to Explain Gaps in Employment on Your Resume

gaps in employment

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

More than 60% of U.S. adults have considered returning to school to resume their education. And yet, many decide that the risks of leaving employment for further study are simply too high.

However, the days of jobs for life are over. Nowadays, the average worker spends around four years at each employer.

People chop and change jobs all the time to go traveling, switch careers or return to school. Therefore, gaps in employment don’t have to be something to fear.

But, you need to know how to explain your employment gaps effectively to prospective employers on your resume. Check out our guide to find out how!

1. Should I Worry About my Employment Gap?

Most employers are understanding the need for people to take breaks in their careers. In fact, many employers will have undergone breaks themselves.

That’s why the best approach is to be direct and honest about the reasons for your employment gap. Never lie in your interview!

If you wanted to return to school to improve your qualifications and knowledge, just say it! If you have a sick parent who you wanted to care for, tell them!

Be honest and direct with your potential employer. But, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to think carefully about how to explain your employment gap.

2. Always Emphasize Your Progress  

For many employers, the concern is that you have not made any developments or improvements since your previous employment.

If this was several years ago, then alarm bells will ring for your interviewer.

That’s why you need to demonstrate that you have worked hard to improve your previous weaknesses during your employment gap.

For example, if you have undertaken education or training which has better prepared you for the next career challenge.

If you previously lost your job due to a particular problem, explain how you have corrected this.

If you were dismissed by your employer due to alcohol abuse, then you could cite your time in rehabilitation and extended period of sobriety.

You may even have decided to use your experience to switch careers by studying for a degree in AAS Substance Abuse Disorder. This creates a compelling narrative for your employment gap.

3. Remain Positive About Former Employers

You may be tempted to characterize your former employer as a villain when explaining your employment gap.

You need to avoid blaming other people. In many cases, your interviewer will be sympathetic to your former employer too.

Instead, underline the positive recommendations you received and examples of your success. This is much more effective than concentrating on how others prevented you from succeeding.

4. Do I Need to Explain Gaps in Employment?

No, you’re not obligated to reveal all of your experience in your resume.

This is especially true if the employment gap was in the past, and you’ve been in employment since then.

It is, however, important not to lie on your resume. You’ll be found out eventually and you’ll regret it.

However, there are ways that you can encourage prospective employers to breeze over your employment gap in your resume. Here are a few tips:

  • Years, not Months: list your employment history by the year (e.g. 2013-2015) rather than the month (e.g. November 2013 – March 2015) to hide your employment gap. This may get you the interview, in which you can discuss any additional gaps that stand out during the actual interview.
  • Experiment with Resume Formats: don’t highlight the dates on your resume with bold font, but include the dates with a lighter font and smaller size to play down the employment gap.
  • Omit the Gap: It’s not essential to include your entire employment history, especially if you have been employed for over ten years.

There are many ways to understate your employment gap in your resume. And yet, much of this depends on the reason for the gap in employment.

5. Reasons for Your Employment Gap

There are several common reasons for employment gaps in your resume.

You may need to explain your break from working differently according to your reason.

Did you Lose Your Job?

Unemployment can be mentally damaging to many people. It has been linked with identity loss and depression among other problems.

However, even if you continue to be embarrassed that you lost your job, put this aside in your job resume.

It’s much more difficult to explain your employment gap if you were let go or dismissed by your previous employer.

If you were laid off because of downsizing, then you need to highlight examples of your achievements and high performance.

Make sure you receive recommendations from your previous employer. But also, customer or colleague endorsements can also help you make the case.

However, if you were dismissed from your previous position due to incompetence or other reasons, you may find it harder to address your employment gap.

Did you Quit Your Job to go Traveling?

Your interviewer probably doesn’t want to hear about how you went scuba diving in Thailand or trekked up Machu Pichu.

Explain why you wanted to quit your job to go traveling. You might have wanted relief from a demanding work life.

You need to focus on how your traveling experience was relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Concentrate particularly on how travel developed you as a human being. What did you learn about other cultures? Did you learn many languages?

If you volunteered on your traveling experience, then make sure you include it on your resume too.

Did you go Back to School?

In contrast to losing your job or going traveling, going back to school is much easier to explain to prospective employers.

This is especially the case if you completed studies on a relevant topic to the job you’re applying for.

If your education program is not relevant to your chosen career, then you can still explain why you wanted to return to school.

You can emphasize how your education has helped you to expand your career options going forward.

Now you have completed your studies, you can demonstrate your determination to achieve in your career too.

Why Education Filled the Gap?

Many employers think positively about returning to education. Instead of being concerned about the employment gap on your resume, explain to your interviewer why it was important for you.

Switching Careers

More than 80% of workers in their twenties want to switch careers already. We can’t be expected to find our dream jobs the first time around.

Many people can expect to be in the workforce for more than 40 years. Therefore, it’s understandable that we wouldn’t want to spend our whole lives doing the same thing.

Going back to school is a great way to switch careers or retrain yourself.

Improve Your Resume

If you want back to school to improve your resume in the first place, then you’re well-positioned to make a compelling case for your employment gap.

After all, more than 38% of employers have raised educational standards over the past 5 years. Moreover, many high-paying jobs require more than an undergraduate college degree nowadays.

Experience is still valuable. However, you stand a better chance of being able to switch employers if you have educational qualifications to back up your experience.

Saved up to go

We know there is over $1.5 trillion in student debt which is keeping many young adults from realizing their potential. However, if you’ve enjoyed employment and saved up the cash, you can afford to return to school to resume your education.

You can explain to your interviewer that you now had the money to pursue the educational qualification which you always wanted.

Instead of wasting money on a degree, you weren’t sure about, you waited until you knew for certain it was the right choice.

Finish What You Started

There are numerous reasons why you might not have completed your studies the first time around. Maybe you stopped at an undergraduate degree, and now it’s time to resume your studies at a graduate level.

Employers will be impressed with your determination to continue the pursuit of your studies, even if it resulted in an employment gap.

Explain that when you had the opportunity to pursue your education once more, you grabbed it with both hands.

Emerging Fields in Education

From computerized accounting to robotics engineering, there are numerous emerging educational fields that may not have existed when you were in school.

You can explain on your resume that you took it when you had the chance to study one of the newest disciplines in your field!

Gaps in Employment as an Opportunity

We often think about gaps in employment as a negative thing.

There are some reasons for your employment gaps which employers won’t look on positively. However, many employers understand the different demands of workers.

The desire to return to school to resume your education is mostly considered a sign of commitment and desire for personal development by employers.

If you want to discover more about the range of educational degrees and courses at InterCoast Colleges, get started here!

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Jon Steven
Jon Steven
4 years ago

What if you were working government contracts? They are not “employed” jobs and they tend to be for 6 – 8 months for me. How would you go about explaining that on your resume?

3 years ago

Great article. Thanks for putting this together. This is such a common question and one that recruiters love to ask. The one thing I would add to your article is that the question about “employment gaps” can come in many different shapes and sizes. A few different version are: – Why did you leave your job at (company name)? – I noticed you have been out of work for a while, why have you been out of work so long? – I noticed a gap on your resume. What are you doing to keep your skills current? – It seems like you have been… Read more »

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