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Common reasons for gaps in your cv, and how to explain them

By Maureen Lynch Director of Hays Ireland

It’s become increasingly common to have gaps in your employment history. You may have been taking care of your children or a family member. Maybe you’ve been travelling or decided to go back to university. Career gaps can also be caused, of course, by redundancy.

Most people have some sort of gap in their career history, and, as our CEO Alistair Cox explained in a recent LinkedIn Influencer blog, these gaps are actually likely to become more and more common. Why? Because life expectancies are increasing, thus many find themselves with little option but to also continue working for longer – perhaps well into our 70s and 80s. Such a trend is likely to bring about a greater number of non-linear career journeys, and thus more gaps on our CVs.

It can be daunting to explain this to a potential employer in a way that actually sells you as a potential employee, instead of sending employers running.

Explaining the gaps

Before we look at the common reasons for CV gaps, it can be useful to share some general principles worth remembering:

  • Structure your answer well. Briefly start by explaining why you were not working during that time, then go on to explain what you did, and lastly emphasise why you think this is the right opportunity for you.
  • When explaining how you’ve spent your time out of the workplace, it’s important that you demonstrate that you’ve done something productive and proactive. For instance, if you’ve been doing consulting on the side, studying or volunteering, or even keeping up with industry news, you should mention this, as well as the skills you’ve learnt.
  • Focus your answer on how you used your time, and why you think this is the right role for you, rather than going into specifics about the reason for the gap.
  • Whatever the reason is, be open and honest with your answer, without going into unnecessary detail.
  • Use positive language and don’t apologise for taking a break or having a gap.

Common culprits and how to explain them

While the reasons for gaps on a CV are wide-ranging, I’ve plotted out a few of the most common reasons below, as well as some example answers you could give:

1. Illness

  • There’s no need to provide specific details of the illness
  • Explain how you’ve used your time – have you learnt new skills, for example, or kept up with industry news and trends, or volunteered in the community?
  • Demonstrate that you are ready to return to work, putting emphasis on why you think the position you’ve applied for is a good fit
  • Example answer: “I felt unable to continue in my previous position due to a recurring medical condition. However, I have now returned to full health and feel ready to take on this role. It’s a position that draws upon my existing skills, fits my values and gives me the opportunity to add real value every day.”

2. Caring for a relative

  • Again, there’s no need to go into details of the illness or your caring responsibilities
  • Make it clear that the relative has now recovered or you have more care support in place
  • Explain that you are ready to re-enter the workplace and why this role excites you
  • Example answer: “I had to leave my previous post to care for a family member. I’ve done this for the past year. My siblings and I have since hired a full-time caregiver, so I’ve returned to job searching. I am seeking a role with an innovative company that will allow me to build on my existing skills as a team leader, and I thought this opportunity was a great match.”

3. Redundancy

  • Briefly explain that your previous role was made redundant and why – for example, due to budget cuts or restructuring
  • Try to provide some examples of strong performance or achievements while you were in your previous job
  • Spend more time explaining how you have used your time away from the workplace, and why you think the position you’ve applied for is a good fit
  • Example answer: “My previous employer had to make a series of budget cuts, as a result of which, my role was made redundant. However, I’m proud of what I achieved in my previous role as a credit controller. I’ve used my time out of the workplace to really think about what I want from my next role and have also been proactively keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry. This role particularly caught my attention as I’m keen to find an opportunity where I can build on my existing skill set, manage a team, and really help drive the business forward.”

4. Travel

  • Focus on the reason/s why you decided to go travelling, emphasising your quest for personal development, increased cultural awareness and gaining new perspectives
  • Make it clear that you’re now ready to return to work
  • Explain why this opportunity particularly excites you
  • Example answer: “I took six months out to expose myself to different cultures and gain new perspectives by travelling to Thailand and Vietnam. Not only did I achieve both of these things during my time travelling, but I also learned many invaluable life lessons. I’m now ready to focus squarely on the next stage of my career as a digital marketing executive. I’m impressed by your agency’s commitment to personal and professional development, a healthy work-life balance for your employees and continually embracing the latest developments in your field.”

5. Job hunting

  • Explain how you have been proactively looking for a new job
  • Make it clear that you have used the time to really think about what you want from a new role and a new employer
  • Show how you have used the time to upskill and keep up-to-date with industry trends
  • Outline why you think this position is a good fit for you – you’re looking for the right role, not just any role
  • Example answer: “As soon as my temporary role came to an end six months ago, I immediately began searching for a new job and am seeking a position that would enable me to continue advancing my career, build on my skills and make a difference. While I have had several interviews, I haven’t found the right fit yet. I’m particularly interested in the opportunities that this role would provide me, such as X, Y, Z.”

6. Looking after children

  • Explain that you took time out to prioritise your family and look after your children
  • Focus on why you now feel ready to go back to work and what you’re excited about
  • Provide details on why you think this position is a good fit for you
  • Example answer: “I recently became a father and needed to prioritise my family and raising my young son after leaving my last role. I am now ready to re-enter the workplace and take on my next big challenge, making the most of my personal and professional growth.”

7. Education

  • Explain why you decided to go back to education – such as the specific skills you wanted to build or the qualification you wished to gain
  • Emphasise that you are dedicated to personal development and think your skills would be helpful in this role
  • Example answer: “I identified that I had a skills gap, so took the decision to return to education in a bid to future-proof my career and upskill. Now that I’ve finished the course, I’ve been looking for a new position in which I can use these new skills. When I came across this position, I thought it could be a good fit and one I can bring real value and expertise to.”

It’s normal to have gaps in your CV, so you shouldn’t feel like you have to skirt around this in an interview. So, you should answer honestly if asked about it in your interview, and show how you’ve used this time well. Most importantly, you should demonstrate why you’re so excited about the position you’re applying for.

It’s become increasingly common to have gaps in your employment history. You may have been taking care of your children or a family member. Maybe you’ve been travelling or decided to go back to university. Career gaps can also be caused, of course, by redundancy.

Most people have some sort of gap in their career history, and, as our CEO Alistair Cox explained in a recent LinkedIn Influencer blog, these gaps are actually likely to become more and more common. Why? Because life expectancies are increasing, thus many find themselves with little option but to also continue working for longer – perhaps well into our 70s and 80s. Such a trend is likely to bring about a greater number of non-linear career journeys, and thus more gaps on our CVs.

It can be daunting to explain this to a potential employer in a way that actually sells you as a potential employee, instead of sending employers running.

Explaining the gaps

Before we look at the common reasons for CV gaps, it can be useful to share some general principles worth remembering:

  • Structure your answer well. Briefly start by explaining why you were not working during that time, then go on to explain what you did, and lastly emphasise why you think this is the right opportunity for you.
  • When explaining how you’ve spent your time out of the workplace, it’s important that you demonstrate that you’ve done something productive and proactive. For instance, if you’ve been doing consulting on the side, studying or volunteering, or even keeping up with industry news, you should mention this, as well as the skills you’ve learnt.
  • Focus your answer on how you used your time, and why you think this is the right role for you, rather than going into specifics about the reason for the gap.
  • Whatever the reason is, be open and honest with your answer, without going into unnecessary detail.
  • Use positive language and don’t apologise for taking a break or having a gap.

Common culprits and how to explain them

While the reasons for gaps on a CV are wide-ranging, I’ve plotted out a few of the most common reasons below, as well as some example answers you could give:

1. Illness

  • There’s no need to provide specific details of the illness
  • Explain how you’ve used your time – have you learnt new skills, for example, or kept up with industry news and trends, or volunteered in the community?
  • Demonstrate that you are ready to return to work, putting emphasis on why you think the position you’ve applied for is a good fit
  • Example answer: “I felt unable to continue in my previous position due to a recurring medical condition. However, I have now returned to full health and feel ready to take on this role. It’s a position that draws upon my existing skills, fits my values and gives me the opportunity to add real value every day.”

2. Caring for a relative

  • Again, there’s no need to go into details of the illness or your caring responsibilities
  • Make it clear that the relative has now recovered or you have more care support in place
  • Explain that you are ready to re-enter the workplace and why this role excites you
  • Example answer: “I had to leave my previous post to care for a family member. I’ve done this for the past year. My siblings and I have since hired a full-time caregiver, so I’ve returned to job searching. I am seeking a role with an innovative company that will allow me to build on my existing skills as a team leader, and I thought this opportunity was a great match.”

3. Redundancy

  • Briefly explain that your previous role was made redundant and why – for example, due to budget cuts or restructuring
  • Try to provide some examples of strong performance or achievements while you were in your previous job
  • Spend more time explaining how you have used your time away from the workplace, and why you think the position you’ve applied for is a good fit
  • Example answer: “My previous employer had to make a series of budget cuts, as a result of which, my role was made redundant. However, I’m proud of what I achieved in my previous role as a credit controller. I’ve used my time out of the workplace to really think about what I want from my next role and have also been proactively keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry. This role particularly caught my attention as I’m keen to find an opportunity where I can build on my existing skill set, manage a team, and really help drive the business forward.”

4. Travel

  • Focus on the reason/s why you decided to go travelling, emphasising your quest for personal development, increased cultural awareness and gaining new perspectives
  • Make it clear that you’re now ready to return to work
  • Explain why this opportunity particularly excites you
  • Example answer: “I took six months out to expose myself to different cultures and gain new perspectives by travelling to Thailand and Vietnam. Not only did I achieve both of these things during my time travelling, but I also learned many invaluable life lessons. I’m now ready to focus squarely on the next stage of my career as a digital marketing executive. I’m impressed by your agency’s commitment to personal and professional development, a healthy work-life balance for your employees and continually embracing the latest developments in your field.”

5. Job hunting

  • Explain how you have been proactively looking for a new job
  • Make it clear that you have used the time to really think about what you want from a new role and a new employer
  • Show how you have used the time to upskill and keep up-to-date with industry trends
  • Outline why you think this position is a good fit for you – you’re looking for the right role, not just any role
  • Example answer: “As soon as my temporary role came to an end six months ago, I immediately began searching for a new job and am seeking a position that would enable me to continue advancing my career, build on my skills and make a difference. While I have had several interviews, I haven’t found the right fit yet. I’m particularly interested in the opportunities that this role would provide me, such as X, Y, Z.”

6. Looking after children

  • Explain that you took time out to prioritise your family and look after your children
  • Focus on why you now feel ready to go back to work and what you’re excited about
  • Provide details on why you think this position is a good fit for you
  • Example answer: “I recently became a father and needed to prioritise my family and raising my young son after leaving my last role. I am now ready to re-enter the workplace and take on my next big challenge, making the most of my personal and professional growth.”

7. Education

  • Explain why you decided to go back to education – such as the specific skills you wanted to build or the qualification you wished to gain
  • Emphasise that you are dedicated to personal development and think your skills would be helpful in this role
  • Example answer: “I identified that I had a skills gap, so took the decision to return to education in a bid to future-proof my career and upskill. Now that I’ve finished the course, I’ve been looking for a new position in which I can use these new skills. When I came across this position, I thought it could be a good fit and one I can bring real value and expertise to.”

It’s normal to have gaps in your CV, so you shouldn’t feel like you have to skirt around this in an interview. So, you should answer honestly if asked about it in your interview, and show how you’ve used this time well. Most importantly, you should demonstrate why you’re so excited about the position you’re applying for.

To discover further insights into how automation is impacting jobs and the steps you can take to prepare, get your copy of the Hays What Workers Want Report 2019.

About this author

Maureen joined Hays in 2000 where she specialised in Senior Accounting and Finance recruitment. With over 17 years’ experience, Maureen is the Director for Cork, Limerick and Galway along with over overseeing the Banking and Construction & Property operations in Cork. She also provides training expertise in the area of candidate screening and interviewing.

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