How to Deal with a Gap in Your Work History

Resume Writing

depressed man
It is rare to complete a career and retire without one or two work history gaps along the way. Illness, family obligations and unemployment can all take their toll on a career. While some employers may see these gaps as a natural part of a career progression, others may look at your resume and question why you weren’t working.  No worries-there are many ways you can easily handle addressing gaps in employment in your career and on your resume.
One way to ensure continuity in your career while dealing with a work history gap is to freelance. You may be able to work on projects at home while caring for a sick loved one. One example of how to list this on your resume:

Freelance Pharmaceutical Project Manager — XYZ City, Maine 1992-1994
Provided project management for the following companies: ABC, DEF, and GHI.

Another way to fill the gap between jobs is to volunteer. When you volunteer, you are still continuing to use skill sets you already have while also learning some new ones. List your work history first on your resume, then prominently list volunteer experience below that. You can make this volunteer experience stand out even more by placing it in a section called Related Volunteer Experience, which can be separate from previous volunteer experiences.
A functional resume will also help you to minimize work history gaps. Creating a functional resume reorganizes your career information into a skills summary, or list of keywords that describe your skills sets. A Professional Experience section divided into a few main areas of expertise will emphasize your experience while a reverse chronological Work History section merely lists your employers, the cities in which they are located and dates of employment. Emphasis is placed on your skill sets and experience instead of dates of employment.
You could still choose to use the common chronological resume format for your resume, and just list why you were out of work for a certain period. Many people do this when taking care of a very sick loved one. However, many people are not comfortable giving out such personal information on their resume. If this is your situation, simply build your resume with the work information you have, and be prepared to discuss gaps in employment during your interview.

Very few people stay in one career or even one job for decades anymore. Moving from one job to the next is one way to acquire skill sets relatively quickly. Once you acquire those skill sets, you may feel as if it is time for a career change. Your resume can help you reach that next career target in a couple of ways.
The career objective on a resume is sometimes a long, run-on sentence that doesn’t really say a lot about who you are or what you are looking for in a career. However, using a career objective effectively can help you when you are looking to change careers, but do not have experience in the career you are targeting. Succinctly state which skills you do have and how you want to use them. For example: I want to use my design skills to present museum exhibits.
Look carefully at job descriptions for your next targeted career and pick out the skills you have now that will transfer to this career. For example, while you may never have designed a museum exhibit, your art gallery event planning and exhibit design are both assets in your targeted career because they are also skills used in planning and designing museum exhibits. Environmental design skills are also a plus in staging a 3D exhibit where foot traffic patterns and how people interact with the exhibits are important. Highlight your transferable skills in a skills summary and show how you used these skills in an Accomplishments and Experience summary on your resume.
When you have a strong resume that clearly states the position you want, you have a greater chance of capturing the attention of the reader and moving on to your next big adventure.

Focusing on your experience, your background and your accomplishments is what’s known as a functional resume. Chronological resumes list all of your employers in the order of the date that you worked for them, typically with the oldest employer at the bottom of the resume. Functional resumes are great for people who are looking to make a career change, people with multiple positions with different industries, people with gaps in their employment and those just starting out on their career. However, as always, I have to warn you that recruiter and hiring people really don’t like functional style resumes. They feel you may be “hiding” something.
You can combine both resume types to give yourself a well-rounded appearance to potential employers, plus hiring managers love to see a list of previous experience, especially when it’s for a  position of authority.  Providing work history is an excellent way to showcase how your accomplishments have translated to actual success in the work place.
Start by writing a list of the skills that you used at your previous jobs. List them one by one so that you cover a wide range of tasks on your resume. Depending on the position you’re applying for, modify your skills to directly reflect those of the position that you’re applying for. Don’t embellish, instead focus on what you’ve accomplished and how it will allow you to succeed at your new position.
Use bullet points to provide a concise and accurate depiction of your responsibilities and where you used your skills. List our your accomplishments and try to use numbers to demonstrate an actual value. You can say something like, you promoted better paper management and turned your office into a green office, reducing the waste and lowering cost for trash maintenance by a third. Or that you increased sales in your office by 15% over a 5 year period.
Show your employer in the bullet section of your accomplishments. You want to be able to match your accomplishments with a tangible company, so make sure to list the companies where you worked. Your  accomplishments only mean so much if they can be backed up. Listing your companies, or contacts you may have done a project for, will help highlight your accomplishments.
Use action verbs at the beginning of your accomplishments. Saying things like, “demonstrated” a strong desire to train new employees, is better than saying “trained staff.” Elaborate on your accomplishments, it’s all right to use descriptive words here. In fact, the HR manager may appreciate your ability to be descriptive.
Complete a short job history below the accomplishment section of your resume. This will help employers get a good idea of your work history. Make sure to include the name of the employer, your job title, the dates you worked for the employer and the location of the job. Write this list in reverse chronological order.
It’s time to get those accomplishments out there and find the job that you’ve always wanted!