Use your cover letter to explain the employment gaps in your work history and allay any concerns your potential employers may have about your readiness for the job.
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, chances are you’ve probably experienced at least one employment gap in your work history. Legitimate events may have kept you out of the workforce for some time. You may have been laid off, experienced an illness, taken care of a family member, traveled, or changed careers.
If you have gaps in your employment history, your potential employers might have some questions about these gaps. Their skepticism is reasonable. Most employers would rather avoid candidates who seem to be “job hoppers” or who have a history of job loss due to poor performance. If you’ve spent some time on the sidelines, they’ll want to know why.
Use your cover letter to address the employment gaps that may show up in your resume. Here’s how.
Express your employment dates in years.
In your “work experience” section of your resume, list the start and end years only, not the months or days. This will spark fewer concerns that you’ll need to explain away.
Mention non-family-related gaps directly.
In your cover letter, directly address that gaps that you’re comfortable discussing. For example, if you left your job to start a business, but it never got off the ground, share this proudly. A bold move like this showcases your willingness to take risks and try new things. The same applies to overseas volunteering, artistic endeavors, and other career side-trips that might showcase your strengths as an employee.
Keep family-related gaps to yourself.
While you may openly address your professional gaps in employment, it’s best to keep your personal gaps to yourself. For example, if you left the workforce to raise your children, you don’t have to share this with anyone. In fact, the law protects you from employers who ask during an interview. In cases such as these, keep the conversation focused on your qualifications and skill sets.
Highlight your mid-life career shifts.
If your employment gaps took place when you decided to switch career paths, build your cover letter around this narrative. Explain the reasons behind your decision. Outline the details of your journey from one field to the next. If your new career involved any kind of study or training that took the place of full-time work, state this clearly. Again, be proud of the risks you’ve taken and the accomplishments you achieved by leaving the workplace for a while.
If you really were fired, be careful.
If you did leave the workforce for a while due to performance or unreliability, tread carefully. In this case, it’s best to refrain from mentioning your employment gap in your letter (and in your interview) until you’re directly asked about it. When that happens, be ready to shed a positive, diplomatic light on the incident and explain what you learned during the process.
For more on how to explain your work history to potential employers, rely on the tools and guidelines from LiveCareer.