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Andrew Arkley

How to Explain Gaps in Your CV: A Guide

Gaps on a CV have a bit of a bad rep. It’s a commonly-held belief that employers will see them as negative.

However, there’s plenty of valid reasons why you might have an employment gap on your CV. 

It may be that you’ve been travelling, took time off to look after children, needed rest due to physical or mental illness, or it may simply have been a period of unemployment whilst seeking a job.

If you’ve got gaps in your CV, don’t worry. It’s important to tell the truth at every stage of the hiring process, but with the right angle you can effectively explain gaps on your CV to employers.

Honesty is the best policy

The first rule of dealing with gaps on your CV is to always be honest. Whatever your reason for taking a career gap, you need to acknowledge it and tell the truth about it.

You don’t necessarily have to go into huge detail, but lying or failing to explain it will either make the CV gap more obvious or come back to haunt you later.

Don’t be tempted to alter your previous employment dates to conceal gaps. If potential employers request references, your lie will be uncovered and it’s very unlikely you’ll get the job.

Similarly, not explaining gaps may leave employers to speculate on the reasons behind them, and can cast doubt on your application. It’s better to be upfront and take the opportunity to put a positive spin on the gap.

Use formatting to your advantage

Remember, you don’t always have to include all of your experience on your CV.

Ten years’ experience is usually enough, so you don’t necessarily need to explain gaps that were more than ten years ago.

If you have a lot of experience you won’t be expected to go into detail about all of it, so this may allow you to mask the issue.

Another way to hide gaps is to list months of employment rather than specific dates. For example, if you finished work on the 2nd November, you’d write ‘November 2018’.

If it’s a longer gap that can’t be concealed this way, you’ll need to address it. However, your CV may not be the best place to do it.

Keep your CV short and to the point. Include a brief note about the gap in your work history, and then elaborate on it in your cover letter.

You could also consider writing a functional CV, which focuses on skills and experience rather than a chronological work history, and so gaps won’t be so obvious.

Put a positive spin on things

If you have gaps in your employment history where you weren’t particularly proactive, try to present them in a positive light.

For example, rather than saying ‘I needed a break’, try something like ‘I decided to take some time off to reassess my career objectives and gain a fresh perspective on the industry’.

If you were made redundant, focus on how you learned and developed during the gap and how that will benefit your future career prospects.

Then show how you’re positive moving forward and keen to get back into work again, which will move the focus from the gap to the future.

Use your time effectively

If you’re having trouble finding work as a result of gaps in your CV, try to use your time in a valuable way.

Do some volunteer work, take a professional development course or seek mentoring. This will show employers you’re proactive and keen to develop new skills.

If you can demonstrate that you’re attempting to progress your career, employers are much more likely to view a break in employment in a positive light.

Anticipate interview questions about gaps in your CV

If your CV is successful and you’re invited to interview, the interviewer will most probably ask about the gaps in your CV. It’s vital you have an answer ready for this.

Prepare a short response that acknowledges and explains the job gap. Again, present it in the most positive light possible and focus on how it’s helped prepare you for the job you’re interviewing for.

How to explain CV gaps due to travel

Being well travelled can actually be a big bonus on a CV, as travelling implies you’ll have work-related skills such as being organised and a good time keeper, as well as personal traits like confidence and adaptability. 

You should relate the skills you gained from travelling back to the job description. 

For example, write about how you successfully planned a full itinerary with multiple stops as an example of how organised you are. 

Finish up by saying how you’re ready to settle down and stay in one place for a while so that the employer won’t worry you’ll be ready to jet off again after a few months.

How to explain CV gaps due to mental illness 

The anti-discrimination act prevents employers from discriminating against you based on your mental health.

However, when explaining CV gaps, you’re not required to disclose the nature of your illness. 

It’s at your discretion how much you tell the employer. In the same way you would speak of a physical illness, you can phrase it as ‘a period of illness’. 

If you do wish to speak about your mental health, the potential employer doesn’t need full details. 

You should then show that you’re out of the woods and that you’re now ready to work. 

Bring the focus back on the job and what you can bring to it, and if applicable focus on things you might have done during your mental health career gap.

How to explain CV gaps due to unemployment

Long periods of unemployment can be very difficult. And it can be just as difficult explaining these career gaps on a CV without raising questions about why you were unable to find a job.

Again, show other experience which shows you were using this time for things other than job hunting. 

And when explaining the career gap, make it sound like you were being selective in your job search and waiting for the right fit, rather than your other applications were unsuccessful.

How to explain gaps in your CV

Gaps in your CV don’t have to be the end of the world. Be honest, proactive and positive to give your CV the best chance of success.

If you’d like help crafting the perfect CV, get in touch with us today – we’d love to help.

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