Mind The Gap

Be Honest, Is It Bad To Have A Gap In My Resume?

Two HR hotshots offer tips and scripts for explaining your time off.

If you're worried about how to explain gaps in employment, HR experts recommend being upfront and ho...
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Between November and December 2021, more than 8.8 million American workers quit their jobs, joining legions of their contemporaries in a societal rush toward the exit door. Those 8.8 million people likely sent a similar number of resignation emails, and eventually a good swath of those 8.8 million will probably reenter the workforce in some capacity, if they haven’t already. When they do, many of their resumes will have a sizable gap. Fortunately, a gap in your resume won’t necessarily tank a CV like it may have in the past.

“We’ve evolved in our perception of a resume gap,” says Fran Hauser, a 15-year media executive and author of Embrace the Work, Love Your Career. “While this seemed to be more of an issue when I first started out in my career, it’s more accepted now. There’s no longer an expectation of a perfectly linear ‘climbing the corporate ladder’ type of resume.”

According to an October 2021 LinkedIn survey, 33% of working American adults said they are looking for an entirely new role or career, and 34% said they are already pursuing a side hustle or passion project. This was even more pronounced for millennials; a 2020 study showed that 58% expected to leave their job in three years or less.

“More and more people have been taking time off between jobs, especially now,” says Andrew McCaskill, a LinkedIn career expert. “Plus, workers are re-evaluating their priorities and passions, with work/life balance being the number one thing they’re looking for now [in a job].” To illustrate the point, McCaskill points to a 2021 LinkedIn survey of hiring managers, which found that nearly 80% would hire a candidate with a career gap.

That said, still expect questions about a gap to surface in interviews. Below, Hauser and McCaskill talk through the best practices to explain your time off.

Be Upfront About Your Resume Gap

If you take a career break, don’t hide it. “Start with honestly and openly including this time ‘off’ in your job search process,” says McCaskill, who’s built and managed teams throughout his 20-plus-year career. Indicate it on your resume, share it while you’re interviewing, and update any professional social media profiles, he says. (In 2021, for example, LinkedIn made it possible to include “stay-at-home parent” as an official title, and the company intends to introduce other nontraditional job titles and features in the future.)

Position The Resume Gap In A Positive Light

Strategize about applicable lessons you learned during your gap. “Think about what your break brought you, from new skills to a mental health refresh, and spend time practicing how you’ll discuss this period,” McCaskill says. “If you’re unsure, take pen to paper and write it out. This will help you be better prepared to discuss this with a potential employer.” Hauser suggests using phrasing such as, “I’ve learned a lot about myself and the type of work I enjoy doing and am good at. I’m excited about this opportunity, as it checks both of those boxes.”

Practice Talking About Your Mental Health

A 2018 Deloitte survey of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers found that 77% have experienced job burnout in their current role, but according to McCaskill, only one-third feel comfortable talking about their mental health at work. When people did talk about it, nearly half (49%) received a positive or supportive response, according to a 2019 Harvard Business Review study of 1,500 U.S. professionals.

If you left a job due to burnout, it could be helpful to talk about it when explaining your resume gap. Again, be strategic about what you share. You don’t need to divulge every detail of your mental-health journey. Briefly state how your last position made you feel and how taking time off affected your well-being, Hauser says. If being upfront earns you negative points from a potential employer, that’s not someone you want to work for anyway.

Lastly, if you left a previous job due to burnout or a toxic environment, keep the focus on you, and resist the temptation to speak negatively about your former company. Hiring managers understand the need for time off — but it’s never a good look to bash your old gig.

Experts:

Fran Hauser, investor, author, and former media executive

Andrew McCaskill, marketing, communications, and crisis management executive