5 common reasons for an employment gap and how to explain them on your CV

By Alan Taylor

Being unemployed for a lengthy period of time can raise a red flag during the recruitment process. Without an explanation the employer is left to ponder what could have happened – were they unable to find work? Do they lack the skills required? Are they terrible at giving interviews? Are they lazy and didn’t look for work?

Rather than allow the employer to make up their own minds you should offer an explanation. Although you feel it could be better to take the risk and hope they don’t notice, employers would prefer honesty and clarification.

If you know what to say and how to turn your employment gap into a positive, then you don’t have anything to worry about. Here are 5 common reasons for an employment gap and how to explain them on your CV.

1. Personal health issues

Being unable to work due to injury or a personal health issue can feel like a setback for your career. The time you’ve taken away from work can stick out like a sore thumb on your CV – but it doesn’t have too.

You may be worried about how you’re going to explain this on your CV, but it’s important to remember that an employer isn’t looking for a long and detailed explanation. Something which is personal to you doesn’t have to be shared in great length, and you can simply state that you were unable to work.

The main thing to remember is that you must clarify that you are fully recovered and it won’t affect your career going forward (if this is the case). The employer will not have any problems with your absence at work and may have even suffered from health problems themselves, but they will be interested to know if you are back to normal health.

2. Family health issues

If you were unable to work because you chose to look after a sick family member, then this certainly needs to be on your CV. This is an admirable thing to have done and should be shared with an employer. Again, you don’t have to go into any specific details about the illness, but it’s important you clarify the situation.

Caring for a loved one is very difficult and a career has to sometimes be put on hold. But when you are looking to resume your career don’t be afraid to plug that employment gap on your CV. The employer is not likely to ask you for any details during an interview, and once they read your explanation for the gap they will instantly move onto more important matters – your skills and qualifications.

3. Starting a family

This is an easy one to explain and will come as no surprise to an employer that has likely taken time away themselves to help raise a family. However, one thing you need to consider is how you’re going to be able to keep up to date with your career. Time will of course be limited, but you should try and continue to read and share with like minded professionals.

LinkedIn is a fantastic way to do that, and if you haven’t already created an account you should do it right now. Not only is this a great way to keep on top of your career so you don’t get left behind when you rejoin, it will also look good on your CV. Showing how you kept an interest in your career and impressing the employers with your up to date knowledge will demonstrate that you haven’t been left behind.

4. Gap year

Some employers will see gap years as glorified holidays. Taking a year or two away from work to travel the world is just an excuse to have lots of fun – but you can help the employer see the benefits if you know how.

The best way to explain a gap year is to go into a little bit of detail about what you learned. For example, maybe you were a shy and reserved person before you travelled. But through constant interaction you are now more confident and able to speak in public with little nerves. Or maybe you took charge of a few expeditions and you picked up a few leadership skills along the way.

Immersing yourself in another culture and learning a new language and a new way of life is actually very beneficial to your future. So relate as many aspects of your travels to soft skills that can be used in the workplace and ensure the employer sees your gap year as a positive.

5. Back to education

Going back into education is perfectly acceptable and certainly shouldn’t be anything to worry about on your CV. The main thing to consider is ensuring you enter this on your work history timeline so there’s no confusion. List the subject, the institution, and the grade you achieved.

A clever way to show this on your CV is to present it like a job – especially if you are going to insert this into your work history timeline. Use bullet points to list off the most important parts of the course, what you achieved and even the skills you learned which can be used in the workplace.

Finally, if you haven’t yet taken time out of employment to study but are considering it, make sure it aligns with your career goals. Don’t just take a course because your friend will be there or you think it might be of interest to you. You need to be 100% certain that this course is the right one for you and that you will follow it through after. There shouldn’t be any uncertainty on your CV as to what you want to do; otherwise the employer may see your study period as a waste of time.