Job Search: How to Frame Gaps in Employment

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Find out more about the different types of employment gaps you may experience, and how to frame each one as you go about applying for jobs.

[Featured image] A person in a black turtleneck and yellow blazer sits at home working on their laptop.

A gap in employment occurs when there’s a long stretch between jobs, usually starting around three months. These gaps can occur for any number of reasons, including choosing to stay home and parent your children, taking medical leave, caring for an ailing family member, going back to school, reassessing your career goals, or even being unable to find a role that suits your skill set.  

A job is just one part of your life, and there may be times when your other responsibilities become a greater priority than working. While there used to be a stigma about applicants with an employment gap on their resumes, those attitudes have started to shift, especially after the COVID pandemic led to temporary layoffs, furloughs, and other disruptions to people’s careers in early 2020. The seismic nature of the global pandemic also caused many people to reevaluate their work and seek different options, such as greater flexibility, more meaning, or a complete career change.  

This is all to say that having a gap on your resume has become incredibly common. It’s estimated that two-thirds of people have experienced some kind of employment gap and one-third of women hope to take a break at some point in the future. And more than half of hiring managers surveyed by LinkedIn believe those with an employment gap are an “untapped talent pool” [1]. In this article, we’ll go over how to frame your gap in employment on your resume and cover letter, as well as in interviews. 

Resumes: Short-term vs. long-term employment gaps

Gaps in employment can be short term or long term. The type you’ve experienced will determine how you integrate that information into your job search materials. A short-term gap typically refers to a period of unemployment lasting three to six months. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, long-term gaps occur when you remain out of work for six months or longer [2]. 

No matter what type of employment gap you’ve experienced, a resume objective can be useful to discuss your career goals and what you want to accomplish in your next role. Developing a one- or two-sentence overview near the top of your resume can help you draw a recruiter’s attention to the future.  

For example: UX designer with vast experience developing websites and apps for highly visible clients. Now seeking to apply my knowledge to a fintech start-up.  

It’s also worth mentioning that if your employment gap is from a long time ago, you may not need to include it on your resume if you’ve held several positions since then. Learn more about how far back your resume should go and how many pages to include depending on the length of your career.

Short-term gaps 

When you’ve had a short-time gap in employment (less than six months), you can decide how to frame it. One option is a functional resume, which highlights your skills while placing less emphasis on dates of employment. However, applicant tracking systems (ATS) tend to have trouble scanning these types of resumes

Some people choose to avoid discussing gaps altogether by formatting their chronological resume to showcase the years of their previous employment rather than the months and years. 

For example: Digital marketing specialist, Oxford, Mississippi (2020-2022) 

However, because many ATS are designed to scan resumes for specific information, including the month and year may be worthwhile. In that case, your gap in employment will be clear on your resume, and you can use your cover letter to discuss it in more detail. 

Long-term gaps

When you’ve had a long-term gap in employment, a one-line explanation will suffice to call out your gap and signal to a recruiter the larger narrative of your career trajectory. You can add this line to the employment history section of your resume. For example:Took planned personal leave (2021-2022) 

If your gap is due to a larger responsibility, such as being a stay-at-home parent or going back to school, you can detail that information across one line as well. For example:Stay-at-home parent, Charlotte, North Carolina (2020-present) 

You can deepen your explanation by including a few bullet points about the responsibilities you handled during your employment gap, especially if they drew on valuable workplace skills, such as organization, problem-solving, and communication.

Stay-at-home parent, Charlotte, North Carolina (2020-present) 

  • Oversaw competing schedules for three children under the age of 9, organizing appointments, school, and activities  

  • Developed a local online parenting group that currently includes over 45 families; planned meet-ups and collected resources and tools to feature each week  

Enrolled in graduate school (2019-2022) 

  • Earned an MBA from X University 

  • Completed an internship with ABC Company

Online networking sites and career gaps

Beyond your resume, building your online networking presence can be useful when you’re actively searching for a job. Recruiters may access your LinkedIn profile to learn more about your experience, skill set, and goals. Because of the growing ubiquity of career gaps, many online networking sites, like LinkedIn, now offer tools to add this information to your employment history. 

Placeholder

specialization

Good with Words: Writing and Editing

Writing. Editing. Persuasion. Learn the mechanics and strategy of effective communication.

4.7

(1,629 ratings)

50,183 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 4 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Persuasion, Creativity, Writing, Time management, Editing

Integrating a gap into your cover letter

Employers value communication, so being direct can be useful when framing an employment gap on your cover letter. Whatever the reason for your gap in employment, you get to decide how much you want to share. For instance, if you had to step away for seven months to help a family member, you don’t need to disclose the specifics. Instead, you can say that you needed to take personal leave. 

With that in mind, language goes a long way in providing context. For instance, rather than say, “I was laid off at my last job,” consider shifting to “I was let go after an economic downturn required a reduction in staff.” Or rather than “I went back to school,” you can emphasize the educational goals you wanted to pursue with “I chose to focus on advancing my education so I could continue growing in my career.” 

Instead of getting mired down by why you had to take a career break, it can be more useful to discuss what you did during one, especially if it involved ongoing development, such as meeting with a career coach, completing a professional certificate, or taking time to reevaluate your values so you can find work that better aligns with them. 

Let’s return to the family member example from earlier. If you choose to keep your explanation short, you can instead highlight what you’re now seeking. For example: I needed to take a career break to help a family member, but I managed to use some of that time to think more specifically about my work values. I’ve come to realize how important it is to be a part of a company seeking to make a lasting difference in users’ lives, which is why I’m particularly excited about the open web developer role at Company A. 

Here are two other examples:  

Following my department from Company X, I spent the past three months reflecting deeply on my values. At that time, I enrolled in a leadership course offered through X University, and I’m excited about bringing a wealth of new techniques to my next opportunity. 

I’m passionate about creating experiences that keep users engaged and build brand loyalty. After taking time to care for one of my family members, I’m excited about finding a more challenging front-end developer position with high impact and growth opportunities.

Learn more: Cover Letter Tips: How to Stand Out to a Hiring Manager

Discussing an employment gap in a job interview

The way that you communicate your employment gap on a cover letter will also help you during an interview. Ideally, the interviewer has reviewed your cover letter, so they’re aware of your gap. In that case, they may ask questions about it, which you’re free to answer to the extent you feel comfortable. 

You can also proactively address a gap by bringing it up. But if you’re not asked, you don’t have to mention it and can instead focus on highlighting your skill set and previous experience. In discussing an employment gap, it may help to: 

  • Keep it brief: You don’t have to go into too much detail. 

  • Highlight skills development: If you’ve been working on your skills, either by taking an online course or enrolling in a professional certificate, bring up this information because an employer may like to hear what you’ve been doing to continue growing. 

  • Discuss career goals: If you talk about your gap in employment, connect it back to your career goals. Now that you’re actively interviewing, what are you looking for and why would this new company be the place to help you achieve it?

A gap in employment is nothing to be ashamed of. In an interview, you get to own your story, so before you speak with a recruiter or meet with a hiring manager, take some time to think about what you want to share and how you want to discuss your employment history. 

Next steps 

Learn more about writing resumes and cover letters with the University of Maryland’s course Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters on Coursera. Enroll for free to gain important tips you can apply to your job search materials. 

You can also hone key job skills by enrolling in a Professional Certificate from Google, Meta, IBM, Salesforce, and other leading companies on Coursera. Learn about in-demand areas like project management, UX design, data science, marketing analytics, and sales.

Placeholder

professional certificate

Google Project Management:

Start your path to a career in project management. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that will have you job-ready in less than six months. No degree or experience is required.

4.8

(71,513 ratings)

944,894 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Organizational Culture, Career Development, Strategic Thinking, Change Management, Project Management, Stakeholder Management, Business Writing, Project Charter, Project Planning, Risk Management, Task Estimation, Procurement, Quality Management, Project Execution, Coaching, Influencing, Agile Management, Problem Solving, Scrum, Effective Communication

Article sources

1

LinkedIn. “LinkedIn Members Can Now Spotlight Career Breaks on Their Profiles, https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/product-tips/linkedin-members-spotlight-career-breaks-on-profiles.” Accessed January 19, 2023.  

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Big savings for your big goals! Save $200 on Coursera Plus.

  • For a limited time, save like never before on a new Coursera Plus annual subscription (original price: $399 | after discount: $199 for one year).
  • Get unlimited access to 7,000+ courses from world-class universities and companies—for less than $20/month!
  • Gain the skills you need to succeed, anytime you need them—whether you’re starting your first job, switching to a new career, or advancing in your current role.