How Do I Show a Gap on My Resume?



I left my job in March 2013 (my boss was the king of all a-holes and I just couldn’t take it anymore).  Since then I’ve been looking for a job (except for a three-month period where I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, had the surgery; which was completely successful and recuperated).

Now that I’ve recovered and will be restarting the job search, how do I phrase this two-year gap on my resume?  Originally, my resume said I was still working at my last job.  I don’t want potential companies to think why I couldn’t get a job after a couple of years.

Thanks very much!


Dear G.R.,

It’s a sad fact that narrow-minded managers do not want to hire the currently unemployed. Weird and wrong, but it’s a fact.

Remaining truthful on your resume is important – and in the information age, it’s critical. You do not want to risk losing your next job because you chose to lie about your current state of unemployment. If this happens, you’ll have both the employment gap and a termination to explain to the next potential employer.

Regardless of what you show on your resume or cover letter – or what you say during the interview – more than anything else you do not want to seem unemployable.

First, realize that getting a job – virtually any job – will help your resume look better to future potential employers, and here’s how:

Today, you are at the end of an employment gap; though because you are still unemployed, the gap is clear to anyone who might interview you. Once employed, that gap becomes less and less important. In other words, past employment gaps are almost a non-issue when compared to current gaps. (As a potential employer, I can see that someone else has already taken the “risk” of hiring you when you were unemployed.)

So, the focus during this job search (at least in your mind) is to find a good fit that could potentially become a great fit. You may have to settle on just a good fit today, you see, because you don’t have the “leverage” someone “in demand” might have to hold out for a great fit.

The Resume

For your resume you have two choices: (1) proudly show the gap or (2) hide the gap.

If you took two years off to finish your degree, volunteer in the community or anything else that you can point to as an accomplishment that would impress your future employer, then by all means: proudly show the gap. Though be sure to show the gap with these details included as if this time was filled with work:

Toledo Women’s Shelter
Volunteer                                                                                                        March 2013 – June 2015

Part-time Volunteer at the Toledo Women’s Shelter; a residential recovery center for women with children in the Toledo, Ohio area. My duties varied from day-to-day, though all jobs I completed were focused on serving the needs of shelter residents in a safe, friendly manner.

Even if this was not the main reason you were unemployed for the last two years, you’ll want to fill your gap (truthfully) to appease those narrow-minded hiring managers who are afraid to even talk to the unemployed – especially anyone who previously had cancer. (I wish this wasn’t the case, but discrimination based on a prior illness is fairly prevalent among hiring managers.)

If you cannot point to anything “meaningful” (in the eyes of the hiring manager) to fill this gap, then you need to hide the gap in employment using a different resume format.

The Functional Resume

The functional resume is basically a way to highlight your skills instead of just showing your employment history in reverse chronological order – plus, it’s a great way to temporarily hide gaps in employment.

The functional resume allows you to group key skills and job duties into various categories so that you can demonstrate your qualifications and expertise for a specific job. This allows you to emphasize your strengths while you deemphasize your employment gaps. A savvy hiring manager will often see through this tactic, so you should always be prepared to discuss your employment gaps in the interview.

The Cover Letter

If you can point to reasons for the employment gap other than “an a-hole boss followed by cancer,” but that don’t quite make the volunteer/education cut, you can explain this in the cover letter. For example, if you used some of the time off to care for a sick relative, you could indicate this in the cover letter with a small (truthful) note like this:

During my time away from ABC Employer, I gladly took on the task of personally attending to and caring for my ill grandmother. Today, she is now receiving wonderful care from a facility better equipped to attend to her needs.

Notice in this paragraph how I never indicated whether I cared for her the entire time I was unemployed or if I just spent a weekend with her in 2014. I know this is a bit of deception by omission, but let’s face it: if hiring managers weren’t so closed-minded, we wouldn’t have to deceive our way out of unemployment, would we?

The Interview

If you get the interview, this means you’ve already crossed a great chasm for the unemployed. However, this is where you should be prepared to discuss the relevant information around your employment gap. So, practice your answer to this question until you can confidently answer it 100% of the time:

“So, I see you haven’t been working these last couple of years; can you explain this gap in your employment?”

Again, if you’ve done any volunteering, gone back to school or cared for a sick relative, you’re in the clear with a great answer here. Although, if your only answer is “the job market is tough” and/or “I was recovering from cancer,” then you are left with just one response (in my opinion):

“Thankfully, I’ve been in a position where I didn’t have to settle for just any job over this time, so I’ve been very careful about looking for a truly great fit. More than anything, I want the next company I work for to be the last company I work for; that’s why I’ve been very selective about where I apply and with whom I might be working.”

Being able to confidently repeat an answer like this will move the conversation away from your employment gap and onto why you and this company are great fit.

Best of luck in your job search! Please keep us posted on your results.