How can I explain gaps in my work history?

Posted on Posted in Ask Alison

There are a number of reasons why there might be a gap in your work history – perhaps you took time out to travel, you’ve had a period of absence due to ill health or been a stay at home parent. Whatever the reason don’t be tempted to leave it out of your CV. Employers are suspicious of any gaps in your career history so be upfront.

Some of the common reasons for a gap are listed below with suggestions for how to cover them in your CV or cover letter.

You’ve been unemployed.

Whether you’re unemployed through redundancy or because you were fired from your last position you need to show that you’ve been actively looking for work and have been keeping up to date on the latest news on your particular industry.

Employers want to know that you haven’t been wasting your time watching daytime TV so you need to show them that you’re still marketable. Have you, for example done any volunteering? (See one of my earlier posts), completed any training courses or attended any conferences relevant to your area of expertise?

You’ve had a gap year (or two).

However you spent your gap year, the chances are you’ll have picked up some transferrable skills along the way. If you were on a working holiday or you did some volunteer work overseas you will be able to easily (and positively) highlight the skills you gained but, even if you spent the bulk of your time basking on a beach in Bali, many employers will view the fact that you’ve been travelling in a positive light – it shows that you have a sense of independence and are culturally aware.

Just be sure to stress that you are now ready to focus on your career – employers don’t want to invest in someone they think will take off on the road again.

You’ve recovered from ill health.

If this was a significant time ago (for example, more than ten years) it can be left off your CV (see my earlier post on how much of your work history you need to include in your CV). A more recent gap, however, and it should be acknowledged. You should simply explain that you had a period of absence due to ill health but you are now fully recovered and ready (and able) to return to the workplace.

You’ve been a carer for a family member.

This can be handled in a similar way to the above. State that you have spent time caring for a sick relative but, now that they have recovered, you are in a position to return to work.

You’ve been bringing up your family.

This is one of the most common reasons for a career break so you should just state that you were raising your family but your children are now in full-time education (or childcare) and you are ready to resume your career.

If, during this time, you have been a member of, for example, your child’s Parent Teacher Association then you should mention this on your CV as you will have gained a range of transferrable skills.

You’ve been in prison.

If you have a gap in your CV because you’ve spent time at Her Majesty’s pleasure I would suggest that your CV states ‘not available for employment’ or ‘unavailable for work due to personal circumstances’ for the time that you were in prison. You can then provide details in a covering letter or state that you will discuss at interview.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the gap in your employment history, keep it positive, always be honest and resist the temptation to embellish the truth – if you lie on your CV you WILL get caught whether that’s at the interview stage or, embarrassingly, once you’re in the job.


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