How to Explain a Resume Gap

Dec 13, 2018

By Deborah Vieyra

Life happens. There are multiple reasons why your career path may steer away from a linear trajectory — family commitments, a period of unemployment, health issues, or a decision to study or travel. When it comes to applying for fellowships and graduate school, explaining away a resume gap can feel like a major quandary. While it may seem insurmountable, it’s important to note that nobody is expecting you to live out a life devoid of chinks. Everyone has surprises in their lives that either positively or negatively impact their journey.

Before we delve into how to explain a resume gap, the first thing to note is that having one is by no means the end of the world. Many successful applicants have had gaps in their resumes that made their story a little more nuanced than the cookie cutter narrative that we are somehow all expected to follow. Don’t be hard on yourself — and never let a resume gap be the reason not to apply for something that you have your eyes set on.

Here are a few ways to help you explain those blank spaces so that they don’t impact your chances.

#1 Structure your resume to emphasis the positives.

If you structure your resume in a particular way, you may not have to explain a resume gap to anyone. If your resume gap is only for a few months, write out your chronology in years rather than months. Here’s how. If you worked at your previous job until May 2017 and started a new position in February of 2018, you were employed in 2017 and in 2018. That’s all you need to state on your resume.

Alternatively, you can choose to construct your resume in a manner that is not chronological at all. Rather, you can emphasize highlights which show you in your best light. It is not necessary to include every job you ever had on your resume. Rather, create a document that shows you in your best light.

If there is no way around articulating the gap on your resume, the next step is this:

#2 Honesty always wins.

If you are asked about a resume gap, always be honest. If it is revealed that you have not disclosed the real reason for a period of unemployment, or have lied that it took place at all, it will be far more detrimental than a resume gap ever could be. Remember that the members of a selection committee are people. Give them the opportunity to understand your story, rather than denying the real reasons for it. Having said that, be sure to remain positive and focused in your answers.

And that brings me to the next point.

#3 Flip the script on the gap.

You never know — maybe your resume gap is the very thing that will make your application successful. Yes, you heard that right. Rather than saying that your previous boss was a jerk, explain that after you were let go, you took the time to reflect on where you wanted to go in your life and to refocus your energy. Rather than saying you wanted to bum around Europe for a while, let them know that you took the opportunity to learn and grow through experiencing new cultures. Suddenly, the very period you were worrying about is your greatest asset.

At the heart of explaining a resume gap (both to yourself and to others) is to be forgiving. If life were a straight and easy road, opportunity for growth would be minimal. Give others the opportunity to understand your story and how it has shaped you into who you are today.

Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.

© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.