How an Employment Gap Can Enhance Your CV
Gaps in your employment history can happen for many reasons, from ill-health to family responsibilities. But there are various ways to present these gaps without making recruiters question your commitment to your career—you just have to know how to present the information in the right way.
When you leave an unexplained chunk of time on your CV, you force recruiters to guess what you were doing during that hiatus. Most will see straight through attempts to hide a gap by presenting your work history in years, rather than months and years. Outright deception on your CV could seriously backfire.
Fortunately, there is a more effective option.
Worried that a gap could hurt your job prospects?
You might have been recovering from an injury, illness or stress, or job hunting for an extended period. Maybe you were unable to work because you were caring for a family member or friend?
Gaps are most likely to hurt your chances if they are left unexplained. Recruiters dislike uncertainty, and if you leave a period unaccounted for, a recruiter will assume you are either hiding something or did nothing productive during the time off.
Whatever the cause, employment gaps can make your application stronger if you present your time off work in a confident and coherent way.
Your CV should be more than qualifications and job titles
You shouldn’t be worried about giving details about gaps in your CV or cover letter. Framing your time off work in terms of the skills and experience you gained gives you the opportunity to:
- Present the reason for a gap in the best possible light
- Appear open, honest and trustworthy
- Present yourself as a more rounded applicant
Employers will want to hire you based on what you can do and what they think you can achieve in the future. Even if the gaps in your CV relate to ongoing circumstances or health issues, it is still better to be open about your situation.
If you hide ongoing health needs, your employer is unable to do anything to modify the role or your work environment accordingly.
Legal protections for injured workers and job applicants
The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers and job seekers on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’, including injury or disability.
By law, employers must make reasonable adjustments to accommodate workers with health issues. Employers must also adapt the recruitment process to ensure applicants are not unfairly discriminated against.
Reasonable adjustments include obvious actions like ensuring the interview location is wheelchair accessible. Candidates with conditions like dyslexia should also be given more time to complete a written test.
Even the most diligent recruiter won’t be able to develop a process that is suitable for all candidates. So don’t be afraid to call or email ahead of an interview to discuss your needs.
Always maintain clear and honest communication
From the earliest stage of the application process, there are ways to use gaps in your employment history to your advantage.
Some organisations—especially those in the charity sector—expect you to complete an online form rather than submit a CV, and don’t give you the space to write about skills and experience you have gathered during time off work or education. If you feel that you are right for a position, but the application process doesn’t let you show your strengths, then say so.
You could send the recruiter an email and explain how you were unable to add key information about your profile to your application. Briefly mention what the missing information is and why it’s relevant. This approach demonstrates proactive, problem-solving skills and may make your application more memorable.
Don’t let employers assume the worst
You don’t need to worry about short gaps of a couple of months or less. If you took several months off work, you should give at least basic information about what you were doing during that time.
One line about how you were unemployed but actively job hunting, or recovering from a health issue, will often be enough.
Employers shouldn’t discriminate against a candidate on the basis of an unexplained gap (because it could relate to a disability or ill health). Legislative guidelines highlight the risks of employers unintentionally discriminating against workers on the basis of hidden disabilities or injury.
Nonetheless, even diligent employers can’t act on information they don’t have. If you leave a gap with no explanation, employers will often assume the worst. For example:
- Did you start and then leave an unlisted job shortly after?
- Are you flighty or unreliable?
- Are you likely to quit a few weeks or months into the job?
Training new staff is a significant investment for a business. Although employers don’t expect every new starter to work out, they won’t want to take unnecessary chances.
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Sell your skills and experience
Although you can fill gaps with just basic information, don’t miss the chance to really sell your unique experience.
On your CV, you could present time off work in the same format as an actual job. For example, if you left work to care for a relative, you could write:
Oct 2018–March 2019 – Skills development
I took time off work to care for my mother following a serious accident. During this time, I focused on improving my digital communication skills and took an online course in account management.
This approach has several benefits, including:
- Your application will instantly be more memorable
- It makes you seem more real and more likeable
- You can showcase your growth and developing skillset
- You’ve successfully filled a gap with a convincing reason
- You’ve given your prospective employer something unique to discuss in the interview
If you take the above approach to formatting non-work experience, the time off work doesn’t even look like a gap. The gap disappears.
As always, be honest. Interviewers will often want to talk about character-building experiences. They won’t pry into sensitive topics but be prepared to discuss any aspect of your CV in more detail.
It’s not about where you’ve been, but where you can go
Filling gaps in your employment history often requires you to approach your whole CV with a fresh perspective.
Most recruiters are looking to hire well-rounded individuals with life experience and good character. A simple list of jobs and qualifications won’t tell your future employer much about how conscientious, driven or creative you really are.
By reframing your CV to present you in a wider, richer context, you give employers a better chance to imagine you at their company, working together to achieve their business goals and fulfil your own career ambitions.