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7 Tips for Explaining a Resume Gap at the Senior Level

resume gap

Extended career breaks can carry stigma and cast a shadow on your career—but work culture is changing, and nontraditional career paths are becoming increasingly common. According to The Wall Street Journal, about 76% of workers in the U.S. between the ages of 24 and 38 expect to take at least a month of voluntary leave throughout the course of their career. Even if you’ve spent years away from work, you can still qualify for senior- and executive-level positions.

If you’re returning to the workforce after a sabbatical, here’s what you need to know about addressing a resume gap.

How to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume

1. Explain how your experience makes you a better leader.

If you frame your experience as an asset, employers are more likely to want to work with you. Maybe you took a break from your career for personal development or education, for example—these pursuits demonstrate your willingness to explore new territory, adapt, and grow. Think about what you learned during your time away and how your new perspective informs your work. Then, make these connections explicit in your application and during the interview.

A consultant discusses his findings with a business owner2. List relevant consulting work and volunteer experience.

If you consulted or volunteered, include those experiences on your resume. Employers will look at these projects favorably, especially if you can point to a well-known organization or nonprofit.

3. Be candid about taking a break.

Sometimes applicants try to hide a negative employment record by leaving the role off their resume. Employment gaps raise a red flag to employers because it could mean the candidate is trying to hide a piece of their history. To avoid this misconception, be transparent with employers about the circumstances of your sabbatical. A brief note can explain personal time you took to care for an ailing loved one, raise a family, mourn a loss, or recover after a layoff. Lying about your employment dates is never a good idea—if an employer discovers the truth later, they can terminate your contract without severance.

4. Don’t apologize—you’re the author of your story.

Take control of the situation by owning your decisions unapologetically. If you project confidence and address the gap head on, interviewers will follow your lead. If you’re returning to work after spending more than a year away, explain in your cover letter and resume what you did during that time. Employers typically don’t question gaps that are shorter than 12 months, as long as the candidate has strong referrals.


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5. Prove that you’re ready to return to the workforce.

Markets change quickly, and you need to show employers you can hit the ground running. Describe what you’ve done to stay abreast of developments within your field, and show enthusiasm about getting back to work. If you don’t have room on your resume to discuss these points, include them in your cover letter and practice elaborating on these ideas during the interview. It’s also important to consistently network and build an online presence to establish a credible reputation in the industry.

A woman talks enthusiastically about returning to work in the energy sector after a year-long sabbatical6. Focus on the future.

Employers care more about their organization’s future than about your past. When you’re deciding what to include on your resume, identify the skills that are highest in demand for the position to which you’re applying. For example, if your target employer is poised to launch a new product, highlight your contributions to a former employer’s market research program—experience that could prove critical to the launch. If the role is publicly posted, circle the top five qualifications for the role and explain your connection to them in your cover letter and resume. To reach the offer stage, you must frame your candidacy around the employer’s needs.

7. Look at the broader context.

In view of the pandemic, we can surmise that a significant portion of the workforce has taken voluntary leave to avoid returning to work while virus cases continue to rise in the U.S. If you’re not working and live in an area that’s affected by COVID-19, employers will probably understand the broader context of the national crisis in relation to your career. Organizations won’t hold an employment gap against you now—especially if you’re applying to senior-level positions and presumably have the resources to afford a sabbatical.

Perhaps counterintuitively, now is a pivotal moment to lay the groundwork for your future employment. An estimated 4.8 million jobs have just been added to the market, and by convention, summer is hiring season for many industries. Studies from 2019 also show applicants with a 2-year employment gap were only marginally affected compared to applicants with a gap that lasted less than a year, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Individuals with 12 months or fewer of unemployment received callbacks about 11.3% of the time, whereas workers with a 2-year gap received callbacks 9.8% of the time.

How Can Executive Coaching Help You Secure New Opportunities?

No matter the economic climate, exceptional candidates will overcome setbacks. Taking proactive measures now will increase your success rate. To prepare your resume for the new job market, work with Ivy Exec’s team of executive coaches. In addition to resume writing, they also provide interview prep, networking guidance, and consultations on public image and status. To learn more about Ivy Exec’s all-access membership and get a free resume review, register now.


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