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How to Explain Gaps in Employment on a Resume Cover Letter

by Lisa McQuerrey

Prospective employers will notice significant gaps in employment on your resume, so it's in your best interest to address these gaps and offer a viable explanation up front in your cover letter. Use a positive spin with your explanation, and emphasize that the gaps have no negative impact on your current employability.

Continuing Education

Taking a break from your career path to continue your education or pursue an advanced degree is a positive aspect of your resume. In your cover letter, write something like: “As you will notice, there is a gap since my last full-time position. I was completing my MBA during that time, and I am now well educated and fully prepared to take on an accounting supervisory position.”

Family Obligations

If you took time away from your profession to raise children or care for an ailing family member, don't be afraid to tell a potential employer the rationale for your decision. Attention to family obligations is an honorable endeavor that speaks to your character. Write in your cover letter, “As you will see, I have not been employed on a full-time basis for the past several years, as I opted to be a stay-at-home parent for my young children. I am very excited to now have the opportunity to re-enter the workforce and continue my professional career.”

Long-Term Unemployment

If you've been unemployed for more than a year, an employer may wonder why you were unable to secure a job over a substantial period of time. It can create an impression of poor qualifications or a lack of initiative. If you are in a highly specialized industry or left a high-paying senior executive position, explain your particular circumstances. For example, “After spending 20 years in a high-profile management role, I made the decision that I would only look at jobs of similar caliber in my field, and I have been carefully considering my options during the past several months.”

Relocation or Military Deployment

If you are a trailing spouse or you relocated from a different part of the country due to personal choice or military deployment, outline your circumstances in your cover letter. For example, “I left my previous employer several months ago to move my family across the country to accommodate a new work opportunity for my spouse. We are now settled, and I am eager to reconnect and get professionally established in my new hometown.”

Positively Spin Explanations

Regardless of the circumstances for your employment gap, you can soften the potential negative impact by describing how you used your downtime to stay abreast of industry trends. For example, “While I was a care-giver for my elderly mother, I remained an active participant in numerous volunteer educational groups.” This approach shows that while you were not officially employed, you remained involved, and can easily transition back into the workforce.

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