Job seekers put a lot of time and effort into what is included on their CVs, but often what causes them the most stress is what they leave off. If you’ve been unemployed or left the workforce for personal reasons, you may be a little anxious about how to explain that gap to potential employers.
The gap itself, however, isn’t necessarily as important as how you explain it. Here are some tips on how to address the holes on your CV.
Be honest: It may be tempting to try to cover up any gaps in your work history, but doing so is risky. Employers value honesty, and if they catch you deliberately trying to avoid talking about a CV gap, they’re likely to get suspicious. Many employers verify candidates’ work histories, so don’t assume you can make up the numbers without getting caught. Start your professional relationship from a point of honesty rather than deception.
Use a cover letter: One of the easiest ways to get it all out in the open is to bring up any gaps in your cover letter. This allows you to get ahead of the story and gives you some ability to shape how the gap is perceived.
It’s important, however, not to get too detailed or in-depth in your cover letter. Dwelling on the topic can inflate its perceived importance, which would be counterproductive. Touch on it briefly and move on. The goal is to let the employer know that you’re aware of the gaps on your CV and you’re prepared to discuss them.
Have an explanation ready: It’s very likely that you’ll be asked about any gaps in your employment history during the interview, even if you address it in your cover letter. This is where you can (and should) go a little more in-depth, explaining why you took time off from the workforce and what you did during the period of unemployment.
Assume your interviewer will ask for an explanation and prepare one ahead of time. Better to have one and not need it than need one and not have it.
Keep it positive: People temporarily leave the workforce for many reasons, and regardless of yours, it’s important that you put a positive spin on it in interviews. Keep the focus on how you grew and improved yourself during your time off, and talk about skills or experiences you gained that will make you a better candidate for the position. And be sure to include specific examples. For instance, if you volunteered, describe the skills that experience helped you develop.
Focus on the future: While it’s important to give any gaps in your work history a positive spin, you also don’t want to linger on the topic during your interview. Part of your explanation should be discussing why the cause of your absence is in the past and how you plan to move forward – ideally with this company. Your time off was a learning experience, and you’re excited to open a new chapter in your life.
Debra Auerbach researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.