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Gaps in your work history don’t have to spell disaster for landing an ethical job. Here’s what to do with them

You’ve got years of experience in your field, excellent references and an engaging cover letter.

But an unexplained or lengthy gap in your CV could spell disaster for landing your dream ethical job.

In fact, unexplained work history in a job application might lead a prospective employer to immediately write you off as an undesirable candidate, regardless of whether you had time off due to illness, an extended overseas trip or another legitimate reason.

So how should you explain lengthy, potentially tricky gaps in your work history, both on your CV and in job interviews, while maintaining your integrity?

Here are four common reasons for work history gaps and how to deal with them at various stages of the job-seeking process:


1. You were out of work


In your CV/cover letter: Work history gaps older than ten years can generally be left off your CV. But you must account for more recent gaps.

If you have short periods of unemployment that are flanked by longer periods of employment, you can deflect attention away from them by listing only the years of service on your CV. For example, instead of saying you were at a job from August 2011 until June 2015, simply remove the months to show 2011 – 2015.

Out of work for more than just a few months? Instead of trying to hide the gap, demonstrate your value by highlighting what you did do during your period of unemployment. Did you work on a personal project, volunteer for an organisation or complete a course? Providing these activities are relevant to the job, arrange them prominently in the appropriate section on your CV, like professional experience or education.

In the interview: If you’re asked about a period of unemployment, don’t try to hide it. Instead, emphasise what you did accomplish in that period.

If you’re currently out of work and asked about it in your interview, you can emphasise your ongoing engagement in the relevant industry: mention events and conferences you’ve attended and discuss industry trends.


2. You’re lacking experience


Prior to your job-search: Before you even start looking for work in a new field, you’ll need to lay some groundwork. Take every opportunity to build your experience – internships, volunteering positions and short vocational courses are all excellent starting points.

Work out where your strengths and talents lie and use your networks to get in front of the organisations that best match them – that might be online, at a networking event or through a professional association. Another benefit of being active in your networks? Finding out about a job before it’s advertised could give you an edge over more experienced candidates.

In your CV/cover letter: Though it might be tempting to embellish the truth, work instead with what you’ve got. Jobs aren’t always won by those with the most experience, so pinpoint the skills, accomplishments and personal qualities you have that are relevant to the position – and place them prominently in your CV. Also, use your cover letter wisely: it’s an invaluable tool for highlighting your passion, strengths and suitability for the job in the absence of experience.

3. You were dismissed from a job


In your CV/cover letter: If the job from which you were dismissed was over ten years ago, lasted just a few months or is unrelated to your industry, leave it off your CV. The only exception is if it was your most recent job, in which case don’t state your reason for leaving – you’re under no obligation to do so.

In the interview: Prepare to answer any questions that may arise about reasons for leaving past jobs. If you were dismissed, be honest – but don’t trash-talk the company or your ex-boss. Instead, frame it as a learning experience, discussing the positive things about the job and what you took away from it. Did you lead a successful project, or implement an innovative new process?

Next, talk about how you’re the perfect fit for the job, show your enthusiasm and highlight what you can bring to the role. The important thing is to put the dismissal into a wider perspective of your overall career history so your prospective employer sees it simply as a minor blip.


4. You had long-term health problems


In your CV/cover letter: Health issues don’t need to be included in a CV or cover letter – your potential employer might wrongly assume you’re not quite up to the demands of the job, and you could miss out on an interview.


In the interview: Any health problems that are behind you or won’t affect your ability to do the job don’t need to be raised.

If you have current health issues, only raise them at the end of the interview – this will have given you ample time to make a great first impression. Focus on possible workarounds to any residual issues, or, if it’s mostly behind you, how your performance in the role won’t be affected.

It can be understandably tempting to pull the wool over a potential employer’s eyes over gaps in your work history – or just blindly hope they don’t notice them. But since many employers view work history gaps as a potential liability, generally addressing them head-on is your best weapon in boosting your chances of landing that dream ethical job.

This post is based on an article that originally appeared in the Guardian.


How have you explained gaps in your work history to prospective employers? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


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