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Got career gaps? Here’s what to do about it

May 2, 2022 - 14 min read

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What are career gaps?

7 types of career gaps

How to explain a career gap

How to include a career gap in your resume

How to fill employment gaps

Mind the gap (then move forward)

​​Let’s begin by setting the story straight: Career gaps don’t have to be negative. 

Many people think that career gaps are red flags that will cause potential employers to throw away their resumes. It makes job seekers self-conscious and unsure about constructing their resumes.

But really, a career gap doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Recruiters and hiring managers are starting to be more aware of the prevalence of career gaps. You should take time to think about how you’ll present your own gaps in your resume, but you can still get a good job. People do it all the time.  A career gap can even become a positive thing. 

If you think you’re the only one that’s ever taken a career break, you need to let that go. A LinkedIn survey of over 23,000 employees in 2022 found that almost 62% have taken a career break as some point in their lives. Plus, 35% of those surveyed said they’d be interested in taking a career break in their years ahead. 

To make you more comfortable with your career gaps, let’s start by learning what they mean and the types you may encounter.

What are career gaps?

A career gap means that your employment history has a period of time where you weren’t working in paid employment or in school. Either you decided to take a career break, or other uncontrollable factors decided for you.

Don’t think that you’re the only one with a career gap or that it’s an embarrassing thing. Begin to understand that it’s not realistic to work without any career gaps because everyone follows a different career path.

It’ll help you feel more at peace with your career gap, rather than ashamed or annoyed with it. 

A career gap can even have some benefits, too. It can give you the time to refocus your goals and how to achieve them or focus on certain aspects of your personal life. Thinking about your career gap with a positive attitude and mindset will help you find your next job

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7 types of career gaps

Why one person has a career gap is likely different from another person’s reason. You’ll be quick to learn that everyone takes time away from the working world for their own purpose.

Here are seven different types of career gaps to familiarize yourself with:

  1. Taking a parental leave
  2. Experiencing layoffs or termination, especially during volatile job markets (like recessions or the COVID-19 pandemic)
  3. Going on sabbatical for personal reasons
  4. Pursuing career changes
  5. Completing more certifications, training, or other upskilling of yourself
  6. Addressing your own health issues
  7. Being a caregiver for family members 

Career breaks can be exactly what people need to refresh their careers and have a better outlook on what they hope to achieve. They can be the difference between you burning out, and you prioritizing your own wellness. LinkedIn found that 53% of people say they feel more energized and better about their work after taking a career break.

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 Jennifer Shappley, the VP of global talent acquisition at LinkedIn, has shared that out of the hundreds, if not thousands of candidates she’s interviewed, more and more of them are taking career breaks for their own benefit.

Different career gaps bring additional challenges to our lives. A BetterUp coach will provide the guidance you need to develop strategies to boost your well-being, develop your career, strengthen your leadership skills, and more.

How to explain a career gap

Since we know some common reasons for career gaps, we have to know the best ways of explaining career gaps. Without trying to hide them, we can present them in a way that doesn’t hinder our job search.

Here are four ways to help you prepare to explain your career gap:

1. Get ready to discuss your story out loud

Your resume and cover letter aren’t the only places you’ll be expected to address your employment history. When you get to the job interview, a hiring manager might ask some interview questions specifically about your career gap.

To avoid getting flustered, you should think ahead to how you’d like to answer those questions. Prepare for how you want to present yourself. Think about what you want the hiring manager to know about you — start there, with the “take-away” rather than in the chronological minutiae. Your cover letter could have only briefly brushed over it, so don’t be too surprised if the hiring manager asks for more details. 

It’s best to have thought through how you’re framing the career gap (and test it with an objective outsider) before the conversation starts.

2. Keep it positive

We’ll repeat this: your career gap isn’t a red flag. It can signify something beneficial, so why not keep it positive? If you took time away from your career to do volunteer work or learn new skills, highlight them. Discuss how this time away has given you new career aspirations and helped you pursue personal goals.

If you did an unpaid internship, discuss how you benefited from it. If you were spending time with your family, talk about what you learned about yourself. 

Your career gap is a learning experience. Even if what you learned was outside of your function or industry, you gained new perspectives and skills to bring to this new role.

3. Tailor it to the job opening

Tie in anything you’ve experienced or accomplished to the job you’re applying for. Anything you think is relevant to what you’d be doing will help you make a better impression with your potential employer. Making connections between your skills and the job demands is always helpful, so consider what skills you gained in this period. 

Let’s say you did a lot of volunteering during your career gap. If the job you’re applying for does a lot of non-profit work, you can better connect with this company’s values and goals. Highlight that in your cover letter and emphasize what you enjoyed, how it developed a passion, or how you used it to find your purpose.

4. Be confident and own it

At first, it can be a little uncomfortable to acknowledge the period when you didn’t work. But that’s no reason to shy away from owning it. Recruiters want to hear you talk confidently and purposefully about your life experiences. They’ll be more inclined to ask for further details to find out more about your career gap if you try to hide it, so be confident about it from the beginning.

Note: Don’t try to oversell it or connect it too closely to the requirements of the new role. Focus on the transferable skills, as well as the resilience, self-knowledge, and interpersonal skills that might come from your career gaps. Don’t make up clever technical-sounding names for the roles you played — just be thoughtful and straightforward.

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How to include a career gap in your resume

Your career gap will pop up on your resume, whether you intentionally put it there or not. Recruiters will notice a hole in your employment history even if you try to draw attention elsewhere. 

Here are ways you can include your career gap in your resume:

  • Put it in your experience section. It demonstrates that you still view it as a period full of learning. Just because you weren’t getting paid for it doesn’t mean you learned nothing. As of March 2022, LinkedIn has added a new way of letting recruiters know you’ve had a career break by including new job titles like Caregiver, and 12 other options to add to your experience section.
    Or, you can your career break at the top of your profile. LinkedIn found that 51% of hirers said that they’re more likely to contact someone applying for a job if they provide detail and context behind their break.
  • Add your career gap as a placeholder within your resume. You can still include a date and description, but this is a good option if you feel like you want it on its own. Small resume gaps are typical while you’re transitioning between jobs or finishing school, so only acknowledge  significant time sections. 
  • Use a resume format that you’re comfortable with. If you want to address it at the top or bottom, do what you think suits your application the best. Where it falls might depend on whether you use a functional resume or a different format.
  • Complement your career gap with your existing or new skills. Show your potential employer what you have to offer. Emphasize how you continued to learn and grow through the gap in your career and how you maintained or developed your skills.
  • Provide enough context for your career gap. There’s no need to go into too much detail; you can explain the reason and what you did over that period, but it shouldn’t be the star of your resume. Depending on the circumstances of your career gap, you might not relish sharing the details. That’s okay. You can acknowledge it with context before moving on to what might be most important — your other work experience.

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How to fill employment gaps

Maybe you’re experiencing your career gap right now, or you’re preparing for one in the future. During that time, you can take on some productive activities to help make the transition back to work full-time or part-time easier.

Here are seven activities to think about doing during your career gap:

  1. Network within your industry or new industry, whether that’s at a conference, on LinkedIn, or with former colleagues 
  2. Attend workshops, read books, or listen to podcasts to stay up to date on your industry
  3. Volunteer your time to learn new skills or keep your skills sharp
  4. Take on contract or freelance work
  5. Mentor someone who’s recently joined your industry 
  6. Take time for yourself and get in touch with your values and interests
  7. Plan personal and professional goals for the future and how you’d like to reach them

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Mind the gap (then move forward)

No matter why there’s a gap in your work history, it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to step back into your industry again. It marks a time in your life where you could have learned new skills, spent more time with your family, adjusted your career path, or taken better care of your mental health. By no means is it something to hide.

Since career gaps come in all sorts of varieties, you’d be surprised at how many people have them. Next time you’re worried about how your career gap will make you look, be proud of your life experiences and move forward with a growth mindset.

Getting back into the working world isn’t always easy, but with BetterUp, you’ll receive the support and guidance you need to develop the skills to thrive in a new role, and build your career.

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Published May 2, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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