Explaining gaps in work history

Explaining gaps in work history

If the career gap you are concerned about was a very long time ago, say 10-15 years, there is no need to for you to worry. The chances are the employer won’t even think about it. Similarly, if the gap is a matter of a few months rather than years, don’t lose sleep over it. The easiest way to avoid these sorts of gaps gaping out at the employer is to only give the years for your employment rather than the months. For example, you could say 2004 – 2012 (rather than May 2004 – February 2012) which would give you some room to cover the gaps. As you can see from the example below, it doesn’t show when the candidate actually started and ended employment. However, it does cover an employment gap even though it’s only a few months.

Team Leader, Matalan 
2004 – 2012

Sales Assistant, Toys R Us
2002 – 2004

Front End Staff, Asda

No matter how negative you think the reasons are for any gaps in employment, it really is essential that you do not try to hide them by extending the length of time spent in other positions. A lot of jobseekers have a tendency to do this “It’s just a couple of years, no one will know”. I think this is an area where a number of people go wrong, they underestimate the sharpness of employers today. One thing I’ve learnt from working with various employers is that they are not as gullible as people think they are; they can smell a rat from a mile so if your’ planning on hiding gaps in your career by extending the length of time spent in other positions, my advice is “don’t”. Employers are more than likely going to take up references from your previous employers and will be able to find out straight away whether or not you have been dishonest. In the long term, this could lead to a very unpleasant interview experience.


Some gaps in your work history are easier to explain than others and the key is really to try and make it sound as positive as possible. Always try to focus on positive points from your career gap, experiences you have gained or the new skills you have learnt. Try to use the gap to your advantage. For instance, if you went travelling to India during your gap year at University, you could say that the experience developed your budgeting skills, independence and awareness of different cultures. Now if you were applying for a job that involves working with people from different ethnic backgrounds, this would be a very useful attribute to highlight on your CV. For example;

July 2010- Sept 2010 (Summer Holiday)
I spent the summer travelling in India with 6 friends on a 4×4. During this time I learnt to speak basic Hindi and Bengali. Furthermore, my time with my friends helped me to develop my social and budgeting skills as well as my awareness of different cultures.


If the gap in your career was due to you doing some voluntary work, make sure you mention this. Working voluntarily at your local youth club or community centre is a great way to showcase what you have been doing whilst you have been out of work. The experience and skills you acquire will definitely be seen as transferable to employed situations, and it will also demonstrate to employers that you are enthusiastic and willing to invest your own time in making a positive contribution to help others and to help yourself.


Another good example to use is self-employment. If you tried starting up your own business, you can then say that you now have experience of being your own boss. You could point out all the new skills you have gained from sales to budgeting and from marketing to hiring and firing assuming that you had people working for you. Even if the business venture wasn’t successful (don’t mention this negative aspect on your CV) at least you can take a lot of positives from your career gap.

Caring for a family member

The good thing about disclosing the reasons behind a career gap are that you are under no obligation to reveal everything. It is always easier to explain gaps in detail later in interview situations rather than on your CV. Sometimes the bare minimum is sufficient but that’s only true if the reasons you have given are satisfactory and positive. For example:

“A family member was ill and I was responsible for caring for them. Once they recovered I was able to start looking for work.”

This gets straight to the point and thus prevents employers from making both negative and instinctive conclusions about the gap. Not only have you explained what you were doing but you’ve provided reassurance to potential employers that the issue is now completely resolved and that you are fit for work.

In summary then, there are many reasons behind why people have gaps in their CV: family commitments, illness and travel but the good thing is there is always a way around it. How you fill these gaps is entirely up to you but the one thing I strongly recommend is that you be honest and truthful. The key objective is to prevent potential employers from making negative assumptions about your career gaps and also prevent your employment background from looking unstable.