The Ultimate Guide to Building a CV
By Richard McMunn

Chapter 5: How to explain a gap on your CV

Attending a job interview can be a daunting task; articularly if you have a period of unemployment on your CV. Unfortunately, many employers will overlook viable and qualified candidates if their CV demonstrates that they have periods of time wherein they have not been employed, even if they have proficient abilities and would thrive well within their company's environment.Therefore, you need to convince your prospective employers that you are still an exemplary choice for their company. In order to do this, you need to be prepared to confidently answer any interview questions in relation to employment gaps in your CV.

1. Formatting your CV effectively

Although you cannot hide an employment gap from your potential employers, you can format your CV in such a way that appears more promising. For example, you can omit the month and only display the years in which you have been employed. Moreover, if you address your employment gap early in your CV, such as during your cover letter, you can quickly resolve any concerns which your employer may have. It is advisable that you clearly and concisely state your reasons for your employment gap without going into extensive detail. If you can briefly acknowledge and explain your CV gap at this early stage, you will be able to spend more time focusing upon your stronger employability skills and expertise. If you can provide a diplomatic answer for your CV gap, you will present yourself as professional as well as assuaging any worries your employer may previously have had about your CV gap.

2. Illness

If your employment gap is the result of a period of illness, it is advisable to respond in a manner which implies you are now in a healthy condition and are enthusiastic about returning to work. For example:

"Due to a medical condition I was unable to continue work in my previous position. However, I have now recovered to full health and am enthusiastic to recommence full time employment".

When it comes to unemployment gaps due to illness, prospective employers simply want to be reassured that you are able to fulfil all of the duties of your job with the same ability and determination of an able-bodied person. Subsequently, during your CV and throughout the interview process, you should focus upon solidifying to your employers that your health has now recovered, that you are capable of returning to full time employment, and that you are excited to do so.

3. Redundancy

Alternatively, if your unemployment gap is the result of redundancy, it is advisable that you focus on the work skills and benefits which your previous position granted you: "Unfortunately, as the result of budget cuts my previous employer was forced to issue a series of redundancies. With regards to redundancies, my previous employer advocated a ‘first-in, last-out’ policy. Due to the fact that I had not been working for the company as long as my fellow colleagues, I was made redundant. Despite these circumstances, I believe that the position equipped me with a variety of teamwork and time management skills, as well as introducing me to the operations of the industry as a whole". Today's tough economic climate means that employers understand the perils of budget cuts. Therefore, if you can present a professional and rational answer which does not insult your previous employer, you can reassure your future employers that you were made redundant as the result of universal budget cuts, rather than your personal abilities or work ethic. As a result, you will still present yourself as a promising candidate for the job.

4. Caring for a family member

If your unemployment gap is the result of caring for a sick family member or children, your response should be focused upon your ability to competently resume full time employment;

"For the past (insert period of time absent from work), I have been caring for a sick family member. Fortunately their health has now fully recovered and I am enthusiastic about resuming full-time employment".

"For the past (insert period of time absent from work), I have been caring for my children. However, now that my children are in full-time education / I have arranged full-time childcare, I am now able to commit myself to full-time employment".

It is fairly common for people to take time out of work to care for a sick family member or to care for their children. As long as you can reassure your potential employers that these responsibilities will not hinder your work duties, then these types of CV gaps should not hinder your chances of gaining employment.

5. Voluntary work/travelling

If you can provide a cogent and professional reason for your CV gap which outlines your strengths and relevant credentials, employers will be motivated to hire you and will remember you in the future as a prospective candidate. Therefore, when explaining your CV gap, present it as a period of skills acquirement and personal improvement. For instance; if your CV gap is the result of participating in voluntary work or travelling abroad, then you can emphasise how these experiences enabled you to acquire valuable skills. Many employers look favourably on candidates who can speak another language, have participated in voluntary work or who have studied additional educational courses. For example;"Before embarking upon a new job opportunity, I felt the need to broaden my cultural experiences and global perspective. During this time I was fortunate to travel across the globe and experience new cultures. By doing so, I have gained a broader perspective on life as well as consolidating my linguistic skills. These are attributes which I am enthusiastic to apply to this position and I relish the opportunity to focus on the challenges ahead".

"Volunteering at (insert location) for (insert period of time) has enabled me to gain a greater understanding of different cultures and alternative perspectives. I have developed a deeper respect for the needs and ideals of others, as well as improving my ability to work in a team and create a product which will benefit multiple lives. These are qualities which I feel confident to apply to my next avenue of employment".

Although there are many other reasons why you may have a gap on your CV, all of the examples which are listed above adhere to broader qualities which you can follow: honesty and optimism. If you are honest to your employers about your CV gap, and if you can convey that you are ready and willing to resume employment, you will encourage them to consider you for a job.

6. Omitting irrelevant information

You do not need to include your entire work history on your CV. In fact, by omitting irrelevant items of information, you can detract attention from any employment gaps. It is better to provide a brief yet relevant CV which does not imply that you have had any periods of unemployment rather than include an extensive amount of information which will emphasise any periods during which your were not working. For example; if you are applying for a more senior position such as a managerial role, it is perfectly acceptable to omit less relevant jobs or attributes and instead focus upon the skills and qualifications you possess which make you a viable candidate for the position. Subsequently, by omitting certain information, you can mask any gaps on your CV yet still present yourself as a suitable prospect for the role.

7. How to positively present your unemployment gap on your CV

Any activities which demonstrate social skills are helpful. For example; skills such as teamwork, organisation, discipline, customer relations, time management and multi-tasking are all appealing to employers and will encourage them to consider you as a viable candidate for their company. Irrespective of whether you amassed these skills whilst volunteering, travelling or studying during your CV gap, you can still list these experiences just as you would any other job. By assigning these experiences or courses with a job title, company name, job description, and dates of employment, they will not appear as a gap on your CV. Subsequently, when the interviewer asks you about your CV gap, direct your answers in a manner which will demonstrate you have acquired new skills and expanded your personal networks; thereby boosting your employability prospects. By presenting your CV gap as deliberate and productive, you will present yourself much more favourably to potential employers as opposed to them thinking that your CV gap is a negative factor.

8. Emphasise your transferrable skills

Many candidates have an employment gap on their CV because they have chosen to change careers. In these circumstances, you can focus upon the transferrable skills you possess in order to explain your CV gap. Employers value candidates who can adapt to suit any situation, and if you can demonstrate within your CV that you are able to transition between different careers, then you will be able to detract attention from your period of unemployment and substantially bolster your chances of being considered for a job.In order to achieve this, scrutinise the job specification of each position for which you apply. From this specification, locate the primary qualities and attributes which are valued for this position. Consequently, you can evaluate your previous job history and capitalise upon any skills and qualifications which are transferrable to this new position. As a result, when writing your CV you can highlight specific credentials and convey how you have changed careers because these skills and qualifications are more suitable to a new avenue of employment.