If you’ve struggled with it, know that you’re normal. Yup. 100% human … I’m presuming, of course. 😉
Cover letter writing experts agree. Addressing employment gaps in a cover letter can create the biggest headache.
Jobseekers like you feel like date gaps in a work history are equated to wearing a scarlet letter … or, so it seems.
But, no matter how painful, addressing unfavorable work situations can be tricky.
To help, below are a few tips (and content samples) to help you address an employment issue. Not knowing your EXACT situation, I covered different situations. One of these examples should fit your current situation.
When you’re employed, there’s nothing to explain. There are good reasons for changing employers. For example, higher pay, better benefits, new horizons, and better working environment.
Sometimes, the reasons can be awkward to explain in a cover letter. For example, when a jerk boss causes you to resign or get fired. [Editorial Note: When fired, check out this in-depth guide on what to do before and after a layoff or firing.]
Fired? Should You Still Explain The Employment Gap in Your Cover Letter?
The truth is, getting fired isn’t an end of the world (even though it might feel like it). The cover letter shouldn’t get the task of explaining what happened at your last employer.
This is why you may not want to explain a firing in your cover letter.
There are other ways of addressing employment gaps (including getting fired). For example, a job interview is a good time.
Despite your best instinct, try to ignore your need for explanation. Explaining employment gaps in the cover letters you write isn’t that critical.
Should You Use Cover Letter “Fudge”?
You could make THIS all go away with a few clicks of a mouse.
Hiding a gap in your employment can be the quick fix.
But, you don’t need me to tell you about the fudge factor, right?
The truth is, there are many great solutions for handling employment gaps.
For example, think about using a different resume format. For example, a combination resume format versus a combination format. And, with your cover letter, don’t talk about the gap … at least for the time being.
This might sound counterintuitive …
A big issue with some employment gaps is when the person doesn’t learn anything from the experience.
Were you fired? Who was at fault, you or them? Be honest. If you, what did you learn? If you screwed up, learn your lesson, take your lump, and move on. Whether you’re 20, 40, 60, or 80 years old, you’re going to screw up and learn more lessons.
Life works that way.
We’re all getting heaping, healthy servings of lessons and lumps. 🙂
Were you let go due to a layoff, merger, departmental downsizing, or heck, you left because your boss was a jerk?
I’d tell you to get over it; but hey, we’re all pigheaded, not only you. 😉
Did you leave your job to be with your kids or ailing parent for a while?
I’m going to tell you something you can’t tell anyone else. Ready?
Okay, here we go … human resources and bosses have kids and ailing parents too.
But, there is a dark side …
Do employers REALLY care about gaps in your work history?
It seems unreasonable that employers obsess over gaps in employment — particularly in light of the economic situation over the past few years. Nonetheless, there are some in American culture that presumes someone who’s experienced a period of unemployment is probably lazy, unproductive or has some character defect. It seems unfair and inaccurate, but it’s an unfortunate fact.
In short, don’t draw undue attention to this in a cover letter.
In fact, unless it’s a gap of over a year — to recover from a long illness, care for a sick relative, take care of young children, or retrain for a new career, for instance — there is no reason to explain it at all.
That is information better left for the interview.
HERE’S A RECAP:
So, in short, your reasons for leaving or wanting to leave a job shouldn’t by default be included in your cover letters.
FREE DOWNLOAD:Click here to get your copy of Professional Cover Letter Examples for Managers & Executives. Available via download.
Let’s say you’re not listening to me. And, you want to explain the employment gap anyway.
Okay, I understand that.
Sometimes we just feel the need to explain the WHYs, if only to make ourselves feel better.
Below I’ve outlined 3 writing examples that explain an employment gap.
Use the one that works best for you:
Sample Cover Letter Content Explaining Gap in Employment
Are you wondering if your cover letter should use the same header as your resume?Here’s a quick how-to cover letter guide to help you with this.
Writing Ideas #1 & #2:
“After working in systems administration for 7 years, I decided to pivot to a new area and took time out from my career to complete a data science master’s degree. An internship with Company X during my studies convinced me that this field is the perfect match for my skills and interests.”
“After completing my master’s in accounting, I worked for 8 years as a senior auditor for Organization Y while also obtaining my CPA license. Following a five-year career break to raise two children, I am now searching for a challenging position in a small- to medium-sized firm. Over the past four years, I have held volunteer positions as a treasurer and tax advisor for two community organizations.”
Writing Idea #3:
“I was employed for four years as a shift manager in steel manufacturing before my position was eliminated due to large-scale corporate downsizing. In addition to engaging in an aggressive job search, I have been completing an online certificate in (subject) and volunteering as a team coach for a high school softball team.”
As you can see, cover letters can sometimes be useful tools to clarify issues in your employment history.
Just remember when to provide an explanation and when not to.
Want more on crafting great cover letters that let you put your best foot forward? Here are some additional resources for you:
Filed Under: Resume & Cover Letter
Job applicants have a whole host of things to be concerned about when crafting their resumes, as they do everything they can to highlight their strengths and convince potential employers that they’re right for the job.
Many struggle with things like employment gaps, however, and wonder how those periods of joblessness should be addressed. You can handle those gaps with ease once you learn a few simple strategies for dealing with a less-than-consistent work history. We’ll show you how to effectively fill in employment gaps on a resume.
When are Gaps a Concern?
First, it’s important to recognize the types of gaps that are critically important in any resume. There are two factors that really make gaps worrisome for hiring personnel: the time period in which you were unemployed, and the length of time you were away from the workforce.
For example, if you were unemployed for a month or two twenty years ago, odds are that your prospective employer won’t care. On the other hand, if the gap was more recent and longer in duration, you’d better have a plan to deal with it.
The reason for the gap matters too. If you have a habit of quitting your job on a whim, you’re going to have a more difficult time explaining why your work history is so unreliable. If you took time off to care for your mother, travel, or go back to school, that gap will be far easier to explain.
How Long Is Too Long Of An Employment Gap?
There is no exact answer for this as everybody’s situation is different. The biggest hurdle to overcome with employment gaps is explaining them to the employer in an effective way. You need to show that your time off was either a necessity or helped expand your knowledge in some way.
Here is what career expert Allison Green says regarding the length of unemployment:
Using the proper resume format is also really important when you have employment gaps.
We wrote a good post here on – How Long is too Long Of An Employment Gap
The Best Resume Format For Employment Gaps
One of the best ways to deal with employment gaps is to make sure that you use the right resume format. In instances where you have a number of gaps, the functional resume is ideal.
That’s because it focuses on your actual skills and abilities rather than your detailed work history. Yes, you still need to list your work history, but that list can be created in a way that minimizes any gaps. More on that in a moment.
With the functional resume, you get to highlight relevant skills. That gives you an opportunity to incorporate those important keywords from the employer’s job posting, while shaping your resume in a way that demonstrates just how qualified you are to do the job at hand. It also allows you to cite abilities that you’ve utilized in previous jobs that might not be as self-evident if the prospective employer was just reading a dry list of your previous job titles.
To use it effectively, focus on those skills that best match the ones needed for the job you’re seeking. That can help you to properly position yourself for the new position by making it easy for the employer to identify the specific value that you can bring to his or her company.
Here is an example of the functional resume format which is great for dealing with time off work.
You can see more examples and information on our post regarding resume formats.
Dealing with Gaps in Your Employment History List
As for that list of jobs that you’ve held, it goes near the end of your functional resume. But how do you handle it? After all, won’t those gaps still show up?
In some instances, yes. If you’ve had periods of unemployment lasting for more than a year, it can hard to minimize them – even in a functional resume.
There are some strategies that you can use to accomplish that, however:
- First, be honest. Don’t change dates in an attempt to stretch out periods of employment so that they cover up any gaps. It’s unethical, and there’s a good chance that the employer will find out. There are better ways to address the problem.
- Being honest doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be creative. For example, if you spent an eleven-month period of unemployment learning several new computer programs or volunteering at the local shelter, include that in your timeline. If you were taking care of your sick grandmother and managing her affairs, list that just as you would any job – and be sure to describe it in terms that fit with the rest of your employment narrative. “Served as caregiver and estate manager for elderly relative, handling medical and financial concerns” has a nicer ring to it than “time off to take care of grandma.”
- Many gaps can be minimized by providing only the years that you were employed, rather than the more detailed month-and-year option. That can help to cover short gaps. Consider this gap, for instance:
November, 2010 – June, 2015, Acme Coyote Supply
February, 2008 – January, 2010, ABC Widget Company
Presented in that format, there is an obvious gap of at least ten months between those two jobs. Employers could immediately focus on that gap. Now, consider the same work history listing, with the months removed:
2010-2015, Acme Coyote Supply
2008-2010, ABC Widget Company
When the months are excluded, that same work history has no apparent gap. Obviously, longer periods of time away from the workforce cannot be minimized in this manner, but for shorter gaps, this works perfectly.
When You Have One Major Gap
If you have an otherwise strong history of employment that is marred by one noticeable gap, you can often use the chronological resume format. You should still be honest when listing your work experience, and will need to explain that major gap so that the employer understands why you were unemployed. As you’ll see below, the cover letter can sometimes be the perfect place to address this issue.
Let Your Cover Letter Explain the Gaps
Many experts recommend that you commit to using part of your cover letter to deal with gaps. Your cover letter is your introduction to the prospective employer, and your first opportunity to make a positive impression – but that also means that it can be an ideal place to dispense with potential distractions so that the hiring manager can spend his time focusing on the value you offer. You can see our post here on writing an awesome cover letter for more information.
Don’t Dwell on Negatives!
Don’t lose sight of the positive benefits that you enjoyed in any previous situation. Did a personal tragedy disrupt your life and send you off in search of new meaning for your life? Skip the tragedy and focus on what you learned from that sabbatical. Did your company shelter its doors, resulting in a lengthy period of unemployment? Give less emphasis to the closing and more to how you used your time on the unemployment line to make yourself an even more valuable hire.
Remember, you want to be positive. Your potential employer doesn’t care that your former employer’s third wife embezzled the company’s accounts and moved to Panama with her 18-year-old paramour. All that hiring manager wants to know is what you’ve done since then to make yourself a worthy addition to his company.
Focus on Strengths
Your cover letter should serve as a primer for your functional resume. It should emphasize your strengths. The fact is that hiring managers really only care about how your abilities and character can benefit their companies. Your cover letter needs to draw a straight line between your skills and the company’s bottom line.
Before even attempting to use your cover letter to explain work gaps, be sure that you understand what your cover letter is designed to accomplish. It’s not just an introduction to the employer; it’s a sales letter – and the product you’re trying to sell is you!
With that in mind, try to de-emphasize small gaps, and quickly explain larger periods away from the workplace. How you do that will likely depend upon the reason for the gap, and what you accomplished in your time off. Here are two examples of the types of explanations that might be useful for your unique situation.
Explaining Gaps in Employment Examples
Maternal leave/caring for kids:
In this situation you should mention the that you took time off to care for a child but also mention something productive you did that would help your career. This could be taking additional courses or studying a relevant subject. You can even add relevant interests and activities from your time off.
Here are some more useful cover letter tips for maternity leave.
Laid off/Company closed
Illness or medical condition
We wrote a good post here on how to deal with employments gaps on your resume due to a disability.
Many ask how to deal with gaps on their resume regarding depression. The answer is that you don’t need to bring attention to it directly. Just mention that you were dealing with an illness. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of but some things are better left off your resume.
You should be cognizant of the need to deal with work gaps, but not to the point where it paralyzes you and prevents you from focusing on the skills and positive attributes you bring to the table.
It’s valuable to remember that today’s employers are far more accustomed to work gaps than in times past. While companies of the past once hired and retained employees for life, that is a far less common occurrence today. Most workers today have career paths that include a variety of different jobs.
Still, there is a need to explain frequent gaps, and gaps that last for more than a few months. What you shouldn’t do, however, is obsess over them in your resume and cover letter. Explain them in a confident manner, and then get on with the more important task of selling your skill set to that employer!
(Also, don’t forget our post on how to answer an interview question about employment gaps).
Good luck with your job search. Zipjob offers professional resume services that are guaranteed to land you more interviews. You can even get a Free resume review by a professional.
As for length, it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever even be asked about a gap of a few months or less. In general, gaps don’t become a question for employers until they’re five or six months or longer, and they don’t become potential red flags until they’re longer than that. (- Allison Green, Askamanager)