Explain Gaps in Employment on Your Job Application

Boy holding onto businessman's leg
Paul Arthur / Getty Images

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a work history where jobs fall sequentially with greater and greater responsibility and without gaps between gigs. Those whose work history is a little rocky or spotty need to explain why as best they can on their job applications.

A gap in employment history is not the albatross it was a few decades ago. Those in younger generations bounce from job to job more frequently, and some are comfortable with leaving one job without their next job lined up.

While it is true, gaps in employment are not as bad as they once were, leaving them unexplained is an easy way to get your job application cast off.

Reasons for Gaps in Employment

People can leave the workforce and come back later. Some parents choose to stay home with preschool children and then re-enter the workforce once the children spend their weekdays at school. Others leave to care for an aging parent. Once caregiving becomes too difficult, the caregiver may need professionals to take over which then allows the caregiver to return to employment. Furthermore, some leave the paid workforce to volunteer full-time. These are just some of the common situations when people justifiably leave employment without having another job to occupy next.

While there may be a perfectly legitimate reason for a given person’s gap in employment, a hiring manager does not know the gap is legitimate unless an applicant explains so.

A manager is left to assume the worst. Why else would an applicant omit an explanation of why he or she was out of work for six months? A year? Two years? The manager thinks that if there was a good reason for the gap, the applicant would explain.

How an Unexplained Gap in Employment Can Hurt You

Unless the applicant pool is very weak, a hiring manager will not bother digging deeper on an application that leaves out such critical information.

The manager likely has dozens of other applications to sift through and cannot waste time trying to piece together an applicant’s work history when it should be documented clearly and concisely. Applicants should make their application materials as easy to read as possible because hiring managers do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time on any one application, particularly when they are screening to see which applicants meet the minimum qualifications outlined in the job posting.

Obviously, not all gaps in employment are easy to explain away. Some gaps happen for bad reasons, including an applicant’s termination from a previous job for cause. If you were fired, you should say so as delicately as possible. It is better for the hiring manager to find out from you than from your previous employer.

If the job application form allows for a detailed explanation, explain what happened and what you learned from the situation. This will show how you have grown from the unpleasant past experience and are unlikely to make the same mistakes again. As an example, an applicant who was fired in the past for repeatedly missing work without calling in sick could say he or she now takes showing up seriously and always schedules planned leave two weeks ahead.

This does not absolve the applicant from past behavior, and the termination may still compel the hiring manager to pass on the application, but the applicant takes the issue head-on which a hiring manager must respect.

In some circumstances, an employment gap is not caused by an employee’s choice or poor performance. Employers sometimes go through reductions in force, and employees are the casualties. In some reductions in force, employees’ performance is not considered when decisions are made about who stays and who goes. Employees get caught up in processes that are designed to be as fair as possible; however, good employees lose their jobs along with the organization’s “dead wood.”

No matter whether your employment gaps are for good, bad or neutral reasons, always explain them. Leaving the gaps up to a hiring manager’s interpretation is always a mistake.

Find Your Next Job

Job Search by