How to handle a long gap on your CV

A long CV gap is not that unusual. Many of us have time away from paid work, perhaps to raise a family or care for a relative, or due to a period of unemployment. Although a short break away from paid work is relatively easy to explain to potential employers, longer gaps can be more of a challenge.
We've put together our favourite tips to help you create a great CV, so you can handle career gaps with confidence.

Tip One – Acknowledge the gap and give a brief explanation

It’s likely that the person reading your CV will notice a long gap, so honesty is usually the best policy. You don’t need to include your life story – just a brief statement mentioning your time away from paid work. There are two places on a CV where this fits in well – in the ‘profile’ section at the top, and the ‘work experience’ section.

The profile section is a paragraph of around four to five lines at the start of your CV. It briefly outlines who you are, your most important skills and attributes, and makes clear you are now looking to return to work. You could briefly mention a career gap here, for example: “I am an experienced administrator, with 10 year’s experience in a range of sectors. After a three-year break to care for an older relative, I am now keen to return to work to resume my career in a part-time role“.

Another option is to include your career gap in the Work Experience section of your CV. Instead of skipping over any long gaps and hoping they aren’t noticed, you can briefly list the reason for your time away from paid work, with the dates. For example, someone who took parental leave while their children were young could include a line saying: 

Parental leave, 2015-2018 – Took an extended period of parental leave to raise a family.

Tip two – Tweak how you format dates

A simple change that can help smooth over shorter gaps is to just give years (instead of days and months) when laying out your Work Experience section. It can make your CV look less cluttered. It also draws less attention to any short gaps (for example, if you were out of work for a couple of months between roles).

 

Tip three – Consider using a different style of CV, known as a skills-based or ‘functional’ CV

Most of us are familiar with the type of resume that lists work experience in date order, starting with the most recent job first. But this isn’t the only way to lay out a CV. A ‘skills-based’ CV  – also known as functional CV – is another option. With this style, you first select some key skills as headings. For each heading, you then highlight your relevant experience in a short paragraph. You can still mention particular employers and dates, but it’s not the key focus.

This type of CV is most often used by people who are changing career and don’t have much experience relevant to their new role. However, it could also work if you are returning to the same sector after a long gap, because it allows you to highlight your core skills and experience and fit these to the job description of the role you are applying for, making it easy to bring in any skills you developed during your time away.  

To create a functional CV, take a careful look at the skills listed in the job description. There might be some technical skills or tasks specific to that role. But it’s also likely to mention a number of transferable skills – that is, skills that are useful in lots of different contexts and roles. Look out for words like leading, managing, listening, negotiating, organising, time management, delegating, designing or prioritising. Pick out a handful of these relevant ‘key skills’ to use as your CV headings. For each one, write briefly about how and when you demonstrated this skill – remembering to include unpaid experience, if it’s relevant. (If you’re not sure what transferable skills are, this article gives a great run-though).  

Tip four – Mention any unpaid experience

If you took a course or did some volunteering since you were last in paid work, do include this on your CV. Volunteering does not have to be related to the role you are applying for – the trick is to highlight transferable skills, like those mentioned in Tip four. For example, maybe your volunteering role required skills like organising or team-work. If so, note it down – but do make sure you give supporting examples, such as ‘organised a fundraising event’ or ‘worked effectively in a team with other local volunteers.’ (see Tip Five.)

Volunteering or study are not the only way to build transferable skills during a career gap. If you were caring, parenting, managing your own health or job hunting, all these situations require a range of skills and competencies. When we do something every day, we often don’t notice the variety of skills involved – especially when that role is unpaid. It’s worth taking some time to think through the day-to-day tasks and activities you’ve been involved with, and jotting down the skills you used. If you find it difficult, try asking a partner or a friend – they might find it easier to see the range of tasks you’ve accomplished and the skills involved, while you’ve been away from paid work.  Consider words such as resilience, team work, communication skills, organising, time management, and budget management. For example: as a carer, you might have had to communicate with a wide range of professionals and negotiate appropriate support, whilst managing a budget and your own time. The role might also have required patience, resilience and empathy. All of these are useful skills and important qualities that teams value.  

Another trick is to try writing a ‘job description’ for your career gap. Imagine you were going to hire someone to fill the unpaid role you’ve been doing, and think back over the tasks you’ve had to accomplish – what skills and abilities would that person need? You might be surprised at how long the list is…

Tip five – Back up CV claims with concrete examples

This tip isn’t just for those with a CV gap – it applies to everyone. But it’s especially useful if you have a long gap on your CV, because you want the rest of your CV to shine.

When writing a CV, many of us reach for phrases such as ‘strong communicator’ or ‘team player’. These phrases are fine – but they are overused, and, crucially, don’t give any evidence to support them.

A good rule of thumb with CVs is ‘show don’t tell’. In other words, avoid sweeping claims, such as ‘good listening skills.’ Instead, back up what you are saying with concrete examples of a time where you demonstrated that skill. Even better, mention what happened as a result.  Backing up your statements with solid evidence can make them much more convincing. For example:

Too general – ‘I am good at sales’

More specific –   ‘In my roles with Company A and Company B, I provided in-person customer service as part of a busy sales team. Both roles required the ability to communicate effectively with customers, handling queries and resolving issues promptly. I was awarded ‘employee of the month’ three times for achieving above-average sales results’.

Too general – ‘Strong communication skills’

More specific  ‘In my role at Company X, I created monthly performance reports using Excel and PowerPoint, and then presented the data at team meetings. This required effective written and verbal communication skills. I introduced more graphs and images into the reports, making them quicker to produce and easier to understand for other team members.’

Both the examples above don’t just make a claim, they also show when you used that skill in a previous role, and explain what the results were.  

We know that returning to work can be really challenging. We hope this article has given you the confidence to play around with your CV and perhaps look at it with fresh eyes. For more ideas on crafting a great CV when you are returning to work or changing careers, try the following links from hiring experts, Reed:

If you have other suggestions or experience to share, please do get in touch – we would love to hear from you. 

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