How to Use Your Resume and Cover Letter to Navigate Gaps in Your Resume
For special situations, such as gaps in your career or frequent moves from one job to another, your resume and cover letter have to work overtime.
You have to handle your resume in the right way, and you have to make especially good use of your cover letter. If you do that, you’ll keep your application in the running, and that’s your goal: Just get one step further down the road to an offer.
Employment History Gaps
There are gaps—and there are gaps. Not every period of unemployment needs to be explained. In fact, the best course for a short gap, one that lasts less than a year, is to let it be. You may feel that gap acutely, and, for that reason, it’s tempting to give it a lot of attention. But that’s counterproductive. Think of it as a minor disruption, treat it that way, and a hiring manager will be less inclined to make it a huge issue.
With too much emphasis, you risk calling undue attention to something that would not have much impact otherwise. Hiring managers are not living in blissful ignorance of the tough times that have troubled an entire national economy. Don’t encourage them to make it their focus by making it your focus.
Longer gaps are a different story. A chronological resume will make them stand out, so it may be better to use a functional or combination approach. The real key, however, is how you used your time. If you’re unemployed, it is absolutely in your best interest to stay active, whether by volunteering or by learning something new. Did you volunteer somewhere? Did you coach? Did you take a course or learn something on your own? Was it work-related?
Volunteer Work Can Pay
If you’ve been doing any of those things, they should be spelled out. Volunteer work often involves skills and responsibilities that translate nicely to the workplace, but people tend to neglect those activities because “it wasn’t a real job.”
In some cases, time away from work was not the result of layoffs or company closings. If that’s the case, a cover letter can
play a very valuable role. If, for example, you had to take time to care for a family member, explain that in your letter, and don’t be too sure that you can’t find room for it in your resume.
You may have been embroiled in an endless series of complicated financial and medical decisions. Managing that turmoil is its own kind of work. Don’t leave it at “Took time off because of family illness.” Instead, make it clear that you negotiated a complex and emotionally taxing situation that took a great deal of strength, commitment, and organizational ability.