Skip to main content

How to Handle Employment Gaps on Resumes

A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.

You can revise your resume to make employment gaps less obvious.

You can revise your resume to make employment gaps less obvious.

Handling a Gap in Your Job History

As most everyone is aware, millions of people in all careers have had periods of unemployment in recent years.

If you're facing an employment gap, take heart; you are in good company. It's not the end of the world, and it's also not the end of your career. The strategies below will help you get through this time and to the other side.

Here's a step-by-step plan for surviving a gap in employment, using the time effectively, raising your stock with future employers, and (best of all) landing the job you want.

How to Soften Employment Gaps on Resumes

One of your first questions (aside from financial survival, which we will also discuss) is how to deal with a career gap on your resume.

List Yourself as a Consultant

Ask yourself this question: Are you willing to offer your professional services to someone on a consulting basis? If so, you can legitimately put 'Consultant' on your resume for the dates when you were not working at a traditional job.

All self-employed professionals are available for consulting or contract work when the opportunity comes along. The same goes for tradespeople, such as painters, auto mechanics, hairdressers and other viable careers.

The fact that you don't happen to have a client at a given point in time does not mean you aren't doing consulting. So, edit your resume to reflect that you're a consultant. And put out the word to your professional associates that you're available for contract work.

Pros of listing yourself as a consultant:

  • You'll feel strength from taking steps to address a problem
  • You'll be moving forward rather than feeling in limbo
  • Potential clients and employers will find out you're available
  • You may get some assignments from it
  • Your resume will not imply you're sitting home and doing nothing

Find Clients and Contact Associates

Now that you have adjusted your resume, do some legwork to find viable clients you can use to enhance the time you'll spend as a consultant (which can be the time you will be between jobs, or it may even be your new career if you find it works for you).

Contact your trusted network of professional associates and ask about doing some short-term projects for them so you can keep your skills current. If these are your trusted associates, they will already know you're on the market, and they'll understand completely what you need.

Even Unpaid Consulting Helps

It may be that none of them has the budget to actually pay for your time. This is okay (I know, it doesn't sound okay at this point). What you need right now is the ability to list these contacts as clients when you move forward.

Be candid with these contacts and offer to do "pro-bono" work in exchange for keeping your resume and skills current. This will give you current references for consulting work, and it could also lead to some contract work.

Most workplaces will understand employment gaps for education or family reasons. These tips here can help you navigate those questions.

Most workplaces will understand employment gaps for education or family reasons. These tips here can help you navigate those questions.

When an Employment Gap Is for School or Pregnancy

These are common events in anyone's life—don't be afraid to list them openly on your resume.

If you were continuing or finishing your education, simply mention this in your list of dates of employment. If possible, enhance it a bit by adding what you did for volunteer work, internships, or other activities that can round out your career image.

Parental Leave

For women who have had babies (or men who stayed home during a baby), mention that you were having your family (or caring for a new child) and, as suggested above, enhance this with a volunteer (pro-bono) or civic work you did at the same time.

Pro-Bono Work

In the case of church work (if it is awkward to list it as such, which is often the case), refer to it as 'pro-bono' work with a youth group, a service organization, etc. If they ask what the organization is, just tell them it's affiliated with your church. It is indeed a viable experience; it can't substitute entirely for actual employment or consulting, but it shows leadership, initiative, and an active role in the community.

If possible, follow the guidelines above regarding consulting work to help you transition back into a traditional work setting. Even if you are a student or you've been a homemaker for several years, you have a network you can tap into, and you can offer your professional services to your contacts to get some current experience and references.

How to Explain an Employment Gap During an Interview

If you've followed the above instructions, you have already taken the first steps in addressing this issue if it comes up in an interview. If you see consulting as a short-term solution, it's time to move forward to land the job you want.

If you're doing pro-bono work (as mentioned above), and if you have made the proper arrangements with your contacts, you can still refer to the arrangement as consulting and the firms you're working with as "clients."

If They Ask About Your Income

If the interviewer(s) ask about your fees or income, immediately ask them if they are offering you the position. This puts the ball back in their court.

You can also say you have different arrangements with different clients, and you can keep this information confidential. Set a basic fee you would charge for consulting (check for competitive figures in the market) and use that as a value for what you do. Consultants are generally paid much higher than full-time employees, so don't undersell yourself in that area.

More and more professionals are free-agents in the current economy, and many people find firms that need their skills once they adopt the mindset of using a 'gap' in traditional employment to go into consulting.

If They Ask About Your Last Position

If the interview team asks what happened at your last full-time position, be honest, but put everything in a positive light. If they had cutbacks, mention this, and then immediately state it was a great opportunity for you to expand your consulting.

Practice interviewing with the idea you might be in a panel interview setting and do some research on the ways the hiring firm might score their interviews.

Use Your Professional Network!

I can't stress enough that the most important element in getting hired is to identify and use your network of associates.

Resumes are no longer the main vehicle for getting hired. More and more, people rely on referrals from those they know, contacts within the profession, and what they find when they search for you online.

Tap into your professional network right away and begin using that tremendous resource to get back into the traditional workforce. If you are not on LinkedIn, create a profile and begin linking to everyone you know, regardless of their profession.

Perhaps your field is civil engineering, and you happen to have a neighbour who is a dentist. While that doesn't sound like a match on the surface, you have no idea who your neighbour might know at church or through other professional groups.

When you find a company you'd like to work for, search for it on LinkedIn and see who might be in your network, or connected to your network. Follow the tips in the article highlighted above to use your network in the most effective ways.

When you have a contact in a firm that's within your network, it automatically helps give you a leg up in the interview process. Among the many things interviewers discuss behind your back are ways you 'fit' with their corporate environment.

Financial survival during unemployment.

Financial survival during unemployment.

How to Survive While Unemployed

It's beyond stressful to be without a job or an income, no matter what the economic times. Many people are reluctant, however, to apply for various benefits that can help during this period in their lives.

If you haven't already looked into these things, consider doing it now, for your peace of mind and the welfare of those in your family:

  • Unemployment Benefits: Unemployment payments used to last for about 26 weeks, but they have been extended to 99 weeks in recent years due to the Great Recession we have had. These benefits are there for a reason, and if you are between jobs, you should be taking advantage of this program. While it's true that the weekly payments are not huge. If they offset your house payment or prevent you from draining your savings, it's worth looking into. Many executives have drawn unemployment during gaps in their careers; there's no reason you should not do so as well.
  • COBRA: This is a program that allows people to continue on their health plans after they have left their positions. The downside is that you pay for this coverage, and it isn't cheap. However, if you have serious health issues or if one of your dependents has a chronic condition, it might be a good investment each month. COBRA is generally available for about 18 months of coverage. It can also help you document that you're eligible to be insured when another plan is available to you in the future.
  • FQHC Health Clinics: If you do not have COBRA, or if other insurance options have been exhausted, check for a local Federally Qualified Healthcare Clinic to see if you and your family can get primary care services there. Yes, these clinics serve indigent clients, but they employ very good and dedicated physicians and can be a huge blessing when you need healthcare services. Check your local phone listings for "community clinics," "FQHC clinics," or other health services. If you can locate one local clinic, they can steer you toward whatever services are offered in your area.
  • Free Prescriptions: Does someone in your family require ongoing medication for a chronic condition? Check with the manufacturer of the medication and ask about their Patient Assistance Program. Most (if not all) major drug firms offer free medications to those who cannot afford them. Yes, really. You may have to fill out the paperwork every three months or so, but if it saves you hundreds of dollars in prescription fees and if it keeps you or your loved one healthy, it's time well spent. Ask your primary care provider for more information, or ask the FQHC clinic in your area how the process works.
  • Ongoing Bills: Are the bills piling up? There are many resources to help you through this time. If you have a mortgage, contact them and ask about payment arrangements or postponing a payment or two until the end of the mortgage. I promise you they have been getting this sort of inquiry, and if they have a program for it, someone will know how it works. Contact other places where you owe money and let them know the situation. Offer to make token payments until you get back on your feet. They may work with you—and if not, what have you lost by asking?
  • Utility Bills: Take a good look at how you can cut your electric bill and implement as many steps as possible. The same goes for your water bill. If your situation calls for it, contact your utility firm to see if they have assistance programs to help with a month's worth of your bill.
  • Food Stamps: Check your "Blue Pages" or call 311 in your area and ask for the nearest location for food stamps. As with unemployment, these benefits are there for a reason. Your taxes paid for this program, and now is the time to look into it. Most food stamp programs use a debit card system currently, which eliminates the self-conscious feeling someone might have at the cash register.
  • Savings and 401k Accounts: The reason we call these "savings" accounts is that the money is there to "save" you when you need it. You may have to tap into these accounts, if you have them, to get through this time. It may not be your first choice, but it can indeed 'save' you and your family from bigger hardships.

How to Keep Your Spirits up When You're Unemployed

If you're going through unemployment, you may hear a lot of advice about exercising and taking care of yourself. There's a good reason for this; your body will start being affected by the stress you're going through, even if you're not aware of those effects.

Find ways to do the following, and you'll stay healthier in your body and your head:

  • Exercise Regularly: If you're not into formal exercise programs, or if you're cutting back on expenses and you've discontinued your gym membership, you can still stay fit by walking one to two miles a day, swimming in your apartment pool or joining a team sport of your choice. Your brain and spirits will be energized from getting your blood flowing.
  • Eat Right: This is extremely important at this time. Stress of any sort depletes your body's reserves, and not eating regularly or resorting to junk food can add to the problems. Eat balanced meals and make certain to get the right amount of protein, fruits, vegetables, and other good foods each day.
  • Get Involved: Even with job-hunting being a full-time activity, you likely have some spare hours on your hands. Rather than sitting home and getting depressed, find some volunteer activities or other outlets for your interests and time. You'll feel you've contributed to your community, and you'll meet new people.
  • Consider Joining a Church or Synagogue: If you're not already involved in a religious community, and if there's a community consistent with your beliefs, consider attending services near your home. You will find a supportive community of new friends as well as some comfort during those days when the stress gets to you.
  • Practice Yoga or Meditation: Capturing some peaceful moments for yourself can help centre your emotions and give you internal balance during this time.
  • Take Heart: As trite as it sounds, this, too, will pass. Keep yourself active and in good spirits (as much as possible), and keep in touch with your network of friends and associates. You will indeed get through this time, and one day, you will be on the other side of the situation and will be acutely aware of the strength and lessons you learned while going through this time.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Marcy Goodfleisch


Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on July 17, 2015:

Glad you enjoyed the tips here, Antigravity! Employment gaps are scary to go through, but they can be addressed very readily if you view them as opportunities to diversify!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on July 05, 2015:

So glad you found this helpful, Perspycacious! And thank you for the kind words!

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on July 04, 2015:

Just made two fresh copies to pass to our local church's employment specialists, and what a great job they are doing. They will pass the link along. Thanks for the helpful Hubs you write and share.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on July 04, 2015:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Benjamin - you're correct that employers often make unfair assumptions when they see a gap. I have long felt that having a consulting career as a backup plan is wise for anyone. It helps us diversify, it maintains continuity, and it keeps our skills current.

Benjamin G from Australia on July 02, 2015:

Really good advice that a lot of people underestimate. No matter how you dress it up some employers will see you as lazy for having gaps in your resume. A number of people I know stretch dates between finishing and starting jobs by a month or so to cover it. Setting up some consulting work is an excellent way to honestly cover the employment gap while gaining other professional skills that employers can appreciate.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on June 03, 2015:

Thanks, Covington - I appreciate your feedback, and I hope the information here is helpful for your clients! It's so important for people to realize others have gone through this, and that there are ways to get through it and onto the next thing life has in store for you.

Covington Professional Resume Services LLC from Philadelphia, PA on June 03, 2015:

This is a wonderful article that i will refer many of our clients to. Aside from the excellent resume and interview advice, the advice in regards to how to handle unemployment both physically and mentally really make this article a "one stop shop" for those who need advice in a very arduous time in their lives.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on March 02, 2013:

Hi, Herbacoachtommy! Thanks so much for reading, and for your comments here - glad you enjoyed the hub!

Tommy Olsson from Sweden on March 02, 2013:

Great advice.Thumbs up!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 30, 2012:

Thanks, Millionaire Tips - and I so appreciate you adding that great advice. If we pay attention to our expenses, we can find many ways to save dollars, and they add up fast.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 30, 2012:

Yes, EyesStraight, it is frighteningly sad to see the struggles we are having today. I appreciation you stopping by and commenting.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 30, 2012:

What a great idea, talfonso - I will look into that organization. I'll also mention it to some other writers who focus on these topics. Thanks so much for commenting and sharing that information!

talfonso from Tampa Bay, FL on September 30, 2012:

Thank you so much for the tips on dealing with employment gaps! Autistic people are sooooooo notorious for these because of their social faux pas, communication, limited interests, and so on! I'm getting mine taken care of by a good agency called The Diversity Initiative. The people in it are helping me land a good job for me and close that employment gap. You should do a Hub on that subject, this time speaking in terms of people with disabilities!

Shell Vera from Connecticut, USA on September 30, 2012:

Very good and timely advice. It is a shame how hard it is to get hired in professional positions these days.

Shasta Matova from USA on September 30, 2012:

Wow! You've provided all sorts of good information about how to deal with being between jobs. Your ideas about being a consultant are just brilliant! One thing I would like to add which may seem like common sense to some is to reduce your spending. Buying fewer things and not indulging in the top of the line items for everything will help you with your tight budget. Voted up and shared.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on September 28, 2012:

Many thanks, Suzie HQ! It's far more doable to address these gaps than people realize. I appreciate your sharing the hub, and your comments here!

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on September 28, 2012:

Hi Marcy,

Fantastic job here on addressing a very common problem today - that dreaded gap on the cv! I have had this experience and you have covered it perfectly with your suggestions!!

Excellent, informative and practical . . . .voted up, ++++++ and sharing on as it is so relevant today!!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 31, 2012:

Thank you, Sadie - so glad you like the information here!

Sadie from U.S. on August 31, 2012:

Awesome hub Marcy! This covers just about everything when going through an employment gap and you offer great advice for getting through it!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 22, 2012:

Hi, Melivy - we also have people in the U.S. who don't realize there are resources to help at these times. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Yvonne Spence from UK on August 22, 2012:

Your consultancy idea is an amazing way to turn something that seems negative around. I've been a consultant several times in the past! Actually I've been freelance lots as well - first a designer and now a writer and tutor.

The advice on financial support will be useful to many. I have heard that in the UK many people miss out on support they could have.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 21, 2012:

Great idea, Nettkemere! Writing has been on my resume for many years, and it's a way to open doors to future employment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on August 21, 2012:

I really like the idea of using consultancy to fill the gap and billybuc's tutoring option is good too. You've written a great and timely hub, in the current climate any of us could be needing the help. And it just occurred to me that all of us hubbers can add in freelance writer to the mix too.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 21, 2012:

Thanks, Robie - a gap in employment can be depressing (quite understandably), so it's really important to keep your eye on the goals you set.

Robie Benve from Ohio on August 20, 2012:

Very nice motivational hub Marcy. I like how you focus on the positive and give great tips. Voted up and useful. :)

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 20, 2012:

Hi, Kitty - thanks for dropping by and commenting. Employment gaps can be particularly challenging for women who have been home for a while with their children. Best of luck when you start your search!

Ann Leung from San Jose, California on August 20, 2012:

I haven't been in the workforce for more than ten years. I am going to bookmark your hub so that I can read it again when I need to look for a job. Thank you for sharing such an informative. Voted up & useful!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 19, 2012:

Hi, Cocopreme - consulting is a great transition step, and you can actually enhance your skills in very substantive ways. I hope your friends find ideas here that will work for them.

Candace Bacon from Far, far away on August 18, 2012:

This is very helpful information! I'll have to remember this for the future and share it with friends who are looking for work. Love the idea of "consulting." It sounds serious and productive, but is basically something to band-aid rough times. Great hub!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 18, 2012:

Thanks so much, Homesteadbound - I'm glad you like the hub. I hope it benefits some of those who face these problems. I appreciate your comments!

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on August 18, 2012:

Marcy, this is a really great hub "for such a time as this" because so many people will have to answer this question. This is a very thorough hub that seems to cover every aspect of this problem. Great job!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 18, 2012:

Hi, Perspycacious - thanks for your kind words! Yes, I think many churches have members helping out in this area. That was my calling recently, for about a year, and I was a rewarding opportunity to serve others.

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on August 18, 2012:

Great article to pass along to my church's person who is acting as a volunteer employment resource for members who are struggling to find work. I'll bet every church, synagogue, and temple have such members, and having someone to give them this sort of truly professional advice on dealing with unemployment would be a big plus.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 18, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Watergeek - I actually know several people who used that strategy while between full-time positions, including some attorneys!

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on August 18, 2012:

Good hub, Marcy - I am or have done most of these in my long career, but there are still some tips I didn't think about. Probono work for colleagues? Great idea! Especially if they work for a company I'd love to have on my resume anyway. I have a person in mind as we speak. :-D

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 18, 2012:

Thanks, alocsin - some employers are indeed understanding of the current situation, but some have put up barriers to filter out those who aren't working. There are actually postings that say applicants must currently be employed. Talk about counter-productive approaches to things . . .

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on August 17, 2012:

I think given the current state of the economy, most interviewers are more understanding now of employment gaps than previously. You can always just tell them that you've found it really difficult to find a position, though you have been trying. Voting this Up and Useful.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 17, 2012:

Hi, Sis - thanks for your vote of support. I so wish that all those who are going through an employment crisis will find positions worthy of their talents and compatible with their goals and desires. I appreciate your thoughts here!

Angela Blair from Central Texas on August 17, 2012:

Congratulations on a Hub well thought out and well written -- and certainly applicable at this particular time in our history. Your suggestions and knowledge should bolster the spirits of those going through tough times -- which is all of us! Best/Sis

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 17, 2012:

Many thanks, Twitteringbird - you are very right about the time people can save if they tackle everything in effective ways.

twitteringbird from Kerala, India on August 17, 2012:


Thanks for this tips sharing, and is useful to many people who are unemployed and passing their time frustrated and wasting time.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 17, 2012:

Thanks for the very kind and supportive feedback, fpherj - i truly hope this information is helpful to those who might need it.

Suzie from Carson City on August 17, 2012: have very professionally and intelligently guided individuals through a "gap," that can otherwise be very painful and disappointing. This is wonderful and I thank you. UP+++

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 17, 2012:

Hi, Aviannovice - thanks for your comments here. Many people don't realize that when they are between 'regular jobs' but still available for brief contract jobs or temporary work in their professional field, they are indeed serving as consultants. As long as you are doing that sort of work and/ or available for it, you can think of that time as consulting and list it that way on your resume.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 17, 2012:

Hi, Teaches - thanks, as always, for dropping by and sharing your thoughts, and for voting! So glad you like the hub and the information about how to deal with employment gaps.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 17, 2012:

These are all good things when one is unemployed for whatever reason. I never knew about the consulting angle. Thanks.

Dianna Mendez on August 17, 2012:

Very well done and the information is going to put job hunters at ease in learning how to handle the gap. Voted up and useful.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 17, 2012:

Thanks, Margie - I have had the blessing of seeing many people transition through employment gaps through applying these strategies. I appreciate your comments!

Mmargie1966 from Gainesville, GA on August 16, 2012:

This is awesome, Marcy! With the economy today, this will be quite useful for many people, so I shared it! It is extremely encouraging to see the different ways you can "work" toward becoming employed again!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 16, 2012:

Hi, Carol - thanks for your comments; so glad you like the hub. There are so many details to think about when you face an employment gap.

carol stanley from Arizona on August 16, 2012:

What a well thought out hub and you certainly covered every concern there is.

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 16, 2012:

Hi, Billy - I agree with you, this is a serious problem in today's world. Many thanks for reading and commenting!

Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on August 16, 2012:

Thanks for checking out the hub, Loreva - glad you liked it!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 16, 2012:

This is a wonderful hub Marcy, and very timely information for hundreds of thousands. I laughed when I read your recommendation for employment gaps on the resume. I have literally done that...basically made things up, like consultant....or in my case tutor....and it worked every time.

Great job my friend!

Loreva13 on August 16, 2012:

Great information!