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How to explain employment gaps

Check out our article to learn how to explain employment gaps!

In January 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 10.1 million Americans were unemployed. Many of these people have likely been unemployed for some time, since the average job search takes roughly 5 months according to Monster. In addition, people have had to take longer employment breaks to care for children, elderly family members, and themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, more and more people are going to have employment gaps on their resume. Whether it is because of the Coronavirus or from time off earlier in your career, understanding how to explain employment gaps successfully can help you gain confidence for your interviews. At Pathrise, we have helped 1,000+ people land great jobs and so we wanted to share our advice to help you do the same.

How to explain employment gaps on your resume

There are a few ways that you can use resume formatting and content to your advantage if you have some gaps in your work history. If you have a short gap (roughly 1-5 months), you can make it less apparent by removing the months from your resume format while keeping the years. That way, readers won’t know when you ended at one company and started with the next in such great detail.

If you are further along in your career, you can also format your resume functionally rather than chronologically. This places the focus of your resume on your projects, skills, and achievements rather than the exact outline of your career trajectory. This is also a good option for people who are transitioning careers because they can place a bigger emphasis on the work that they have done that matches their new career.

Long employment gaps

However, if you have an employment gap that is longer than 9 months, you should feel comfortable explaining it on your resume as a piece of experience. For example, if you took time off of work to care for your children or an older family member, you can put “Full time caregiver” and the dates. When you do this, make sure you include one or two bullet points that explain what you did and what you learned during this time. Employers want to see that you are always learning, so take this moment to show just that. You can also highlight multitasking, working under pressure, and compassion as important aspects of that time.

Finally, if you were able to freelance, work on personal projects, or do part-time work during your full-time employment gap, you should definitely include that information. That experience is important and it shows that you are passionate about your work and you love what you do. If you are looking for more guidance on how to format your resume, check out our article.

How to explain employment gaps in your interviews

If you have a large employment gap, you should expect to talk about it in your interviews. So, just like you would with other common behavioral interview questions, you should prepare your response in advance to make sure you are confident.

The best advice we can give as you prepare to answer this question is to be honest. For the most part, interviewers can tell when you are not being sincere, so trying to lie your way through a “really long freelance project” or fudging your time spent at a company can easily backfire. Instead, just tell the truth. If you took time off to care for your family, the interviewer will know that you are compassionate, selfless, and family-driven. Or maybe you took time off because you wanted to travel, grow personally, or you were experiencing burnout. In that case, the interviewer will know that you work hard and, as your hiring manager, they can help you work smarter. 

Some people feel uncomfortable being honest when they have an employment gap because their job search took a long time. That is no reason to be embarrassed. You can explain to the interviewer that you were looking for a job that would support you at a company that matched your goals and values. Spending time on your job search when unemployed shows that you are thoughtful. You can also turn this into a preview of your “Why this company?” response because you can explain why you are so excited about this opportunity, role, and organization.


If you are worried that your job search is taking too long and it will read like an employment gap on your resume, take the initiative to upskill during this time. Take a low-cost online course on edX or Codecademy, find some freelance or contract work, or start your own project so that you can continue to hone your skills and keep your experience sharp. Then, you can add these tasks to your resume and portfolio and into your response when asked about time off.

Explaining employment gaps should not be a cause of too much stress. With these tips and guidance, you should feel ready to talk through your time off with confidence. 

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. If you want to work with our mentors to get help with your resume, LinkedIn, and portfolio optimization, cold emailing, technical and behavioral interviewing, negotiation or any other part of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow. 

Apply today.

Alex MacPherson

Hi I'm Alex! Since graduating from UC Berkeley in 2019, I have worked on the growth team for Pathrise helping job seekers hone their skills to land their dream role through curated content on interview prep, resume building and more.

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