career gap

The Difference Between a Career Gap and an Employment Gap

Life happens.  Layoffs happen.  New babies happen.  Relatives become sick, people take time off from work to go to school, and many other things occur which could result in a significant employment or career gap on your resume.

For the sake of this article, we will define a general employment gap as a time where you are…well…unemployed.  However, a career gap is slightly different in that you may still be employed, but not employed in a position within your industry and/or career path.  

In the spirit of assisting you in writing an effective resume, we are going to show you how to properly represent both types of gaps.  

Unexplained Employment Gaps – are your Gaps really Gaps?

Trusting a recruiter or hiring manager to use his or her imagination when reviewing your credentials is never a smart approach.  Therefore, when it comes to gaps in employment, never (seriously…never) leave them unexplained.  In many cases the gaps are due to a very reasonable explanation such as:

  • Working towards a degree or certification
  • Having and/or caring for children
  • Taking time off to handle a personal health issue
  • Dealing with a serious illness in your immediate family

Many people will experience at least one of these instances throughout their work history, and by simply explaining why the gap exists, you will mitigate many concerns the hiring manager has.

How to explain an Employment or Career Gap

Many recruiters will tell you to be prepared to explain your employment gaps during the interview.  

I disagree.

In today’s market, only a small percentage of applicants make it to the interview stage.  Not too long ago, we posted a position that received 772 applicants. As you can imagine, we had to be very smart about how to sort through the volume in order to be able to select which candidates we would speak with.  

Unfortunately, those candidates who had a trend of short-tenured positions and large unexplained employment gaps were the first to be culled from the applicant pile. Meaning…they didn’t have the opportunity to explain the gap in the interview as they didn’t win one.  

And isn’t the point of a well-written and highly effective resume to win an interview?  

All recruiters and hiring managers want their candidates to be upfront about their situation.  If it seems awkward to explain your gap in the resume itself, consider writing a cover letter which clearly and succinctly explains your employment gaps.  By taking just a few extra moments of time at the submission stage you are more likely to be awarded that coveted interview.

Should you attempt to hide Gaps in Employment on your Resume?

I will make this one super simple – no.

Recruiters and hiring managers are wise to the many tricks people use with their resumes to hide their employment gaps. And as stated above, it is always better to be open about your past work history and your current situation.  Some simple things to consider:

Be honest about your employment dates.

Unfortunately, we often see job seekers stretch dates to hide gaps.  Meaning, the end date of the position before the gap, and start date for the position after the gap are adjusted in order to either shorten the gap or completely hide it.  

My goodness…why? If the positions were perms, once an employment verification is performed it will become clear you falsified your resume.  If the positions were contracts, the start and end dates can easily be verified via the company you contracted to or your references.  

You should also know that many agencies such as ours keep all of your previously submitted resumes and cached views of your LinkedIn profile on file. We are therefore able to easily discern ‘shifts’ in dates.  Just don’t do it…you will permanently burn bridges if you are caught. 

Include months and years for each employment, contract, and/or assignment. 

I once received a resume that showed all of the job seeker’s employment, but there were no dates included.  Jeepers…who in the world recommended that practice? Hiring entities want to understand the rich breadth and depth of your experience and this just isn’t possible if you have failed to include the dates of employment for your previous positions.  

Additionally, be sure to include both months as well as years for each position.  While only showing the years can cover several months of unemployment, it will be clear to the hiring manager that you are hiding something.

Fancy formatting won’t hide poor job tenure or employment gaps. 

We receive them often…resumes that are graphically stunning.  However, the beauty of the formatting will not hide the fact that the job seeker has had several unexplained employment gaps and short-term positions. 

I actually find ‘crazy’ or ‘fancy’ formatting to be hard to read. I, like most hiring managers, want to read resumes like novels. My goal is to glean the job seeker’s story from the resume’s pages in order to capture the job seeker’s career goals, character, and personality. If you don’t use traditional formatting, that will make it more difficult for me (or any hiring manager) to read that story, understand your qualifications, and visualize you working on one of my teams. 

The data is the data, so make it readable.  Said differently, unless you are applying for a graphic design job, use a traditional format when it comes to crafting your resume.  

Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

Most hiring managers don’t care about short breaks in employment. I promise it will not be a concern if you experienced a layoff and didn’t find another position for two or three months. Additionally, don’t worry about explaining gaps in employment that happened 10 years ago.  Hiring managers are more concerned with your recent work history.

How to Fill a Career Gap on Your Resume

Since we covered the basic do’s and don’ts of addressing overall employment gaps on your resume, let’s now discuss how to explain career gaps. Some of the largest obstacles resume writers face in this space include:

  • How to (or whether to) list non ‘career’ positions such as temporary work, and 
  • When to (and how to gracefully and effectively) represent a short-term job on your resume. 

Should you list a short-term job you only held for a few months?

Absolutely…if the following applies: 

Did you learn skills relevant to your career path?  

If the short-term job enabled you to gain skills and experiences which made you more competitive for the job or career you are pursuing, you should absolutely include it on your resume.  But be sure to fully list your key accomplishments, job responsibilities and soft skills learned, though. Especially those which best align to your desired position’s job functions.

Was the position intended to be temporary? 

One of our CRAs drove for Uber when the economy took a downturn during the pandemic. You may have experienced a similar situation.  Alternatively, perhaps you have volunteered for a non-profit or contributed to a political campaign for the few months leading up to Election Day.  

I also see consultants who list several short-term positions on their resume as this is the nature of their “work style” (i.e., they love to focus on rescue or SWAT projects).  Jobs which are intended to be short term can absolutely be included on your resume and may actually work in your favor by showing your versatile experience.  Just make sure to indicate on your resume that the volunteer work was only supposed to last six months, the job was seasonal, or the position was a consulting role and intended to be short. 

What were your intentions in accepting the position? 

Millions of people have been laid off and have had to take any job in order to feed their families. There is no reason to be concerned with someone looking down on you for taking a temporary job in order to make ends meet. After all, hiring managers have likely had to make similar decisions and will find it honorable that you did whatever necessary to provide for yourself and your family. Just be sure to clearly label these types of positions so the Hiring Manager understands why you deviated from your career path.

If all else fails, consult an expert

And I don’t mean a resume writer.  I certainly don’t want to go on record to state that I feel resume writers are a waste of money (although I do believe that a large percentage of them are). What I do want to state is that if you aren’t sure how to articulate your work history as well as employment or career gaps in a way that tells a positive story about you and your career goals, seek out someone who can help. 

If you are an experienced CRA, providing this service is something we offer to those CRAs we represent (free of charge!).  Reach out to us today; we would love to hear from you.