How to explain an employment gap on your CV

17 Apr 2023
If you’ve been out of work for a while, you may be finding it difficult to explain your employment gap on your CV. 

Knowing what to put and how much detail to include can be a source of anxiety as you might be worried that a potential employer may misinterpret your break. However, the best course of action is to approach your employment gap honestly and positively when asked. 

Common reasons for employment gaps 

Be honest and straightforward 

You may feel like it is easier to tell a white lie in order to hide any employment gaps on your CV, however, if your prospective employer speaks to your references, you may be caught out. 

Honesty is always the best policy - whenever you’re dealing with employment breaks. It is vital that you acknowledge it and tell the truth as it removes any room for speculation or assumption. 

Make the most of formatting 

Your CV should offer a glimpse into your employment history - you don’t need to include every single job you’ve ever had. More often than not, a decades’ worth of experience will suffice. 

If your career gap is more than 10 years ago, then you may not need to address it. The same goes for a career gap that may only be a few weeks. 

For example, instead of stating that you finished your job on 3rd March and got a new job on the 2nd April, you could simply put the months ‘March 2019 and’ ‘April 2019’.

However if you have a lengthy break in your career, you should offer a brief note on your CV and then explain in more detail in your cover letter. 

You could also consider writing a functional CV that focuses on skills rather than employment history. You may still need to address gaps, but they won’t be as obvious and you could always draw on any personal experience or skills you gained during this period.

Prepare for questions about employment breaks in the interview 

The saying goes, ‘failure to prepare is preparing to fail’ - if your job application is successful, you may have to answer questions about any gaps in your CV, so it’s important to have some answers ready. 

Try and phrase your answers positively, and where possible try and talk about how it's prepared you for the future. You could even include this in your cover letter. 

Explaining a gap due to mental or physical illness 

You’re not legally required to disclose the nature of your mental or physical illness in your CV - it is entirely up to you how much information you wish to reveal. 

You are protected by The Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013, which stops employers from discriminating against you because of your mental health.

The Equality Act 2010 also protects people with disabilities or long term illness from discrimination when employing for a job. 

If possible, say:
“Due to a long-term / recurring health condition, I wasn’t able to continue in my previous role. However, I am now back to full health, and am ready to take the next step in my career.” 

Avoid phrases like: 
“I have a long term illness / disability that makes it really hard to hold down a job.” 

Explaining a gap due to caring for a loved one

According to the Carers Week 2022 report, 10.6 million adults in the UK are providing unpaid care, equating to 1 in 5 adults. 

An employment break due to caring for an ill relative is common, and nothing to be worried about. Remember, you are not obligated to disclose the illness or any of your responsibilities during your time careering. But if these duties are relatable to the role you are going for, then you could use this experience to your advantage. You just need to tell the truth and show your enthusiasm towards going back to work.

If possible, say:
“I left my previous role in order to care for a sick family member. They are now fully recovered / have full time care, so I’m ready to get back into employment.”

Avoid phrases like:
“I had to deal with personal problems that I don’t want to discuss.”

Explaining a gap due to starting a family

Taking time off work because of family commitments is incredibly common - according to ONS 22.76% of women and 7.4% of men were not working between June to August 2022 due to childcare. 

When discussing this, you should state that your time away from work was due to prioritising your family, and now you’re ready to get back to work.

If possible, say: 
“I became a parent and needed to take time to raise my child/children and be fully present. I am now ready for new responsibilities and want to push my professional development.”

Avoid phrases like: 
“I couldn’t afford childcare and had no choice but to take time off to look after my kids.”

Explaining a gap due to travelling 

If your employment break is down to going travelling, you should talk about how travelling helped you develop an open mind and broaden  your horizons. 

If possible, say: 
“I took xx months off to go travelling and expose myself to new and exciting environments. I went travelling to [location] and [location] to experience new perspectives and I learned some really important life lessons. I am now ready for the next chapter in my life.”

Avoid phrases like: 
“I went travelling as I had no idea what to do with my life.”

Explaining a gap due to redundancy

Being made redundant isn’t easy, but there’s scope to rephrase this as offering a new and exciting opportunity.

If possible, say: 
”After a series of budget cuts, unfortunately my previous employer made me redundant. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at [previous employer] and achieved a lot - which can be confirmed by my reference.” 

Avoid phrases like: 
“From the moment I started, my manager had it in for me.”

Explaining a gap due to a long period of unemployment

Having a long period of unemployment on your CV can be really challenging to explain, but if you frame it properly, you can avoid raising questions about why you weren’t able to find a job. 

Talk about your skill set and other experiences you had whilst looking for a job. You could also state that you spent time finding the right job, rather than going for the very first job that you could find. 

If possible, say: 
“I had a period of unemployment for xx months. I spent this time looking for a role which would help me develop my skill set and push my career in the right direction. This role appealed to me because of x, y.”

Avoid phrases like:
“I couldn’t find a single role I liked.”

Address your employment gap with Ingeus 

If you’re struggling to explain a career gap in your CV, then get in touch with Ingeus. Our services are designed to support individuals who have been unemployed for a while, and for people with disabilities or long term health problems. Speak to Ingeus today. 


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