Resumés, etc.

How To Explain A Gap On Your Resumé

You’ve made a brave (or perhaps forced) decision to take some time off of your career. Hiring managers might balk at that decision and the time away from practicing relevant skills. Here’s how to explain it on your resumé so you’ll get to the interview stage.

Explain the Gap Strategically
So you’ve taken a couple years off. Hiring managers won’t hold it against you for taking time off, as long as you’ve demonstrated that your skills are still sharp and that you are capable and motivated to take on a large workload and steep challenges. How? Add one or two sentences to your resumé describing what you did during the “gap.” Don’t only mention that you started your own business, but also add the “activities” you did that kept your transferable skills honed. These activities don’t have to be grandiose, but they can highlight your role as a [fill in the blank] in a way that is impressive to future employers.

For example:

Starting in May 2013, I left [COMPANY] to work as a stay-at-home mom for my three children. During this time, I started my own local jewelry company, which became profitable after just 6 months, and I served as the lead planner for multiple charity events, raising over $75,000, for my children’s school.

Notice how your participation in even minor extracurriculars, like your children’s recreational activities, can demonstrate your organizational, administrative, and detail-oriented skills, among others.

Don’t Focus on Failure
Most importantly, leave off any “failure,” like the fact that your business didn’t succeed or that you ran out of money on your trip around the world before you could hit 7 countries. Even if you failed, you tried and (at least on paper) did amazing things. Show your employer that you’re not a pity party, you’re a hot commodity that took a slightly untraditional path.

Delete the summary and bullet-point list of skills at the top unless you have 10+ years of experience – trust me, it ages you.

Make Yourself Look Younger On Paper
With very few, well-worded exceptions, keep your resumé to one page. Delete the summary and bullet-point list of skills at the top unless you have 10+ years of experience – trust me, it ages you. Your objective is typically redundant, obvious, and takes up space that would otherwise be better used to display your experiences or skills. It also uses up a significant amount of the 30 second (or less) time period the hiring manager has to make a decision whether you’re worth interviewing. Skip it. Most importantly, have one (or three) friends or former co-workers review it before sending it out.

Move Your Skills to the Bottom
I’ve seen countless resumés with a 2-inch list of skills at the top just underneath the applicant’s name. Don’t do this. If you include skills or certifications, which is a great idea, make sure they are relevant to the position and condensed at the bottom of the resumé under your experience.

Use the Right Font, Size, and Formatting
Remember the 30 second review? A large part of that review is based on how your resumé looks and how easy it is to read. If your resumé consists of clumps of paragraphs in a small font, your hiring manager won’t even bother to attempt to read it. With the exception of creative resumés, aim for Times New Roman or another traditional font, size 11 or 12, and use consistent formatting.

Use Bullet Points, Not Paragraphs
Use bullet points to express your experience, not long-winded, unwieldy sentences. Paragraph-form is acceptable, however, it is the opinion of most hiring managers, including myself, that bullet-point formatted qualifications are exceedingly easier to digest.

List Major Achievements & Awards Strategically
If you have one or two achievements or awards, feel free to list them via bullet points underneath the relevant work experience in which you received them. If you have a list of achievements or awards, it looks great to list all of them in a separate section entitled “Awards & Achievements.” Here you can list (and bold where relevant!) any and all accomplishments relevant to the position you’re applying for.


With over 8 years of experience helping others improve their careers, I founded Unfold Careers to provide affordable career advice to students and professionals struggling to meet their career goals. Send your resumé to hayley@unfoldcareers.com for a complete resumé makeover.