how much do resume gaps matter?

A reader writes:

My husband and I are moving in December to Wisconsin (from Texas) so he can start a new job on January 4th. I love my current job and am sad to leave it. However, from a financial standpoint, it seems to make the most sense for me to move with him in December, even though I don’t have a job currently lined up in Wisconsin.

My question is, how important is it nowadays to not have a gap in your employment history? Will employers be understanding that I may have a month gap in employment due to the fact that I moved across the country for my husband’s job? Or is it better if I stay at my current job until I have a new job locked up in Wisconsin? Do most employers accept the fact that circumstances like this can happen and won’t be turned off if I have a month or two where I’m unemployed? Would it be better if I went and got a temporary job at a retail shop until I can find something in my actual field just to avoid an employment gap?

I’ve never been fired from a job or asked to resign, and I currently have no gaps in my employment history. All my supervisors said they were sad to see me go, and I have good references lined up for when I do start interviewing.

I think at some point the standard advice about resume gaps started making people think that even very short gaps will be a problem, or that gaps for any reason are bad. But neither of those is the case.

The deal with employment gaps is this: When employers see large gaps between jobs, they wonder what happened: Did you leave the previous job with nothing lined up, and if so, why? Were you fired? Did you blow up one day and walk off the job in a fit of rage? Were you working somewhere that you’ve deliberately left off your resume, and if so, are you trying to hide something that would be concerning if I knew about it? Or was there a perfectly understandable reason?

If the answer is “we moved to a new state,” “I had a baby and took a year off,” “I had a family health situation that has since been resolved,” or other perfectly understandable reasons, the gap isn’t likely to be an issue. An employer will just want to hear what was behind it, and an answer like that should put it to rest.

In other words, it’s not the gap itself that’s an issue. It’s just that it raises a question of whether there could be something concerning behind it. When you can demonstrate that there isn’t, it’s a non-issue.

As for length, it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever even be asked about a gap of a few months or less. In general, gaps don’t become a question for employers until they’re five or six months or longer, and they don’t become potential red flags until they’re longer than that.

And patterns matter too; if you have a solid work history and one gap of, say, eight months, it’s unlikely that anyone will care. But if you have multiple gaps, they’re probably going to take a closer look and wonder what’s up with the pattern.

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. Amy*

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question!

    The decision over what to do has been gnawing on at me for the past few weeks with no clear answer in sight. Once we crunched the numbers and saw that financially it didn’t really matter what we did, it made more sense emotionally for me to move at the same time.

    I’m still applying to jobs and hope to have something within a few weeks of being in Wisconsin, so my gap will be minimal if existing at all. The part that scares me is that this will be the first time since the day I turned 16 that I will have technically been unemployed. It’s a scary prospect to face but I’m hopeful that something will come my way shortly!

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      Good luck with the move and with the job hunt! I hope you can enjoy having some time off to learn your new community and make your new home wonderful.

    2. Carmen*

      There are very, very few chances in adult life to take any extended time off of work. Don’t be in such a rush to fill that space with your next job! Yes, it’s important to get a new job within a few months, for both financial and work history reasons. But have you ever wanted to take an extended vacation? Visit family for more than a few days? Work on a personal project that you’ve been neglecting? Take some time off for yourself!

      Obviously, if this advice doesn’t fit with your personality, your field, or your financial situation, you can toss it out the window. I just want to make sure you are aware that an employment gap of a month or two is not going to hurt your career, and can be very beneficial for your soul! :)

      1. Jberry*

        Excellent advice, Carmen! I took a few months off after leaving my previous job to travel and live overseas. When I was planning it, I constantly had to remind myself to not fall into the trap of needing to be on a work treadmill. I felt like I was bucking the system and coloring outside the lines. I felt that I would be permanently branded as an undesirable. Not working and planning some other non-work related life actually made me anxious.

        I hate, hate, hate that we are socialized to expect to work non-stop until we retire and doing anything outside of that is considered socially unacceptable. When did we give up our ability to be captains of our own destinies? When did we let our lives be taken over by this system – a system that doesn’t work for many of us.

        If you can afford it, LW, I’d suggest you take off the first few months of the year.

        1. F.*

          “I hate, hate, hate that we are socialized to expect to work non-stop until we retire and doing anything outside of that is considered socially unacceptable. When did we give up our ability to be captains of our own destinies? When did we let our lives be taken over by this system – a system that doesn’t work for many of us. ”
          I absolutely dream of being able to leave the workforce and live in a small house out in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, life had other plans, and I will probably never be able to retire at all because I will not have enough money to live on.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          “I hate, hate, hate that we are socialized to expect to work non-stop until we retire and doing anything outside of that is considered socially unacceptable.”

          I think this stems from being hardwired to work for survival. It doesn’t make sense now. Someone being willing to stand on an assembly line or sit in a cube for 40 years doesn’t make anyone a better person, but it wasn’t common to travel beyond our hometowns and do leisure activities until, what, the early 1900s? My family was farming until my grandmother’s generation, anyway. Personally, I like working, but a couple months off to tour Europe would be nice once every 15 years or so. ; )

      2. The IT Manager*

        Agree. Between the holidays and just unpacking and settling in (which can take months), I recommend not rushing or stressing about being hired immediately. This is especially true since hiring will be very slow in December with holidays and hiring managers off.

        Not that you shouldn’t job hunt, but you shouldn’t feel stressed about the job hunt because there will be a lot to keep you busy and to explain to potential employer why you left your last job without anything lines it. It wasn’t a firing or quitting in a huff (which is what they worry about), you moved for your husband’s job and you spent a few months getting settled in your new home.

      3. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I agree that LW should take some time to move and get settled in. Depending on the move conditions (are you moving to a rental property or did you buy a house), this would also be a good time for OP to explore different communities/neighborhoods to see where she and her husband will want to live long term, and if you are considering buying a house in the future to go to some showings and open houses to get a feel for the market there.

        OP can also take some time to find a gym and start a new fitness routine, join a book club to meet people, cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook and otherwise just do things she never had time to do before. Join Rotary, Kiwanis, Lion’s Club, etc and network to meet new people.

        This would also be a good time to get involve in a cause you care about. For instance, if OP is into animals, she could volunteer at a local shelter 1-2 days a week while job searching. If children, maybe she could volunteer at a school, library or after school program. If poverty or the elderly, perhaps a food pantry, Meals on Wheels or a senior center. That would give OP some structure to her week, and a good answer for “what have you been doing since you moved to Wisconsin?” Although honestly, moving and getting settled is also a perfect valid way to occupy a few months, as anyone who has ever moved can attest to.

        Last, I feel like for “rules” like gaps on your resume or a short stay, everyone gets 1 free pass with a reasonable explanation. If OP had tons of gaps, or her resume indicated she moved states every 2 years and it was because that was how often her husband got new jobs that she followed behind, that could be a concern. But one short gap, explained in a cover letter as “Moved to Wisconsin in December 2015, now looking for employment in X field” (in a far more eloquent way than that, but you get the point) would not be held against the average candidate at all. In fact, the fact that OP could probably start a job within a few days of accepting an offer and the hiring manager can talk to her most recent supervisor as a reference would probably serve as a net positive in OP’s job search.

        1. Meg Murry*

          However, I notice OP mentioned “a month gap”. I do think it’s important that OP and her husband are honest with themselves as to what the budget is for how long they can afford for her to be not working at all, and at what point OP should take a part time job or start looking for jobs outside her regular field to pay the bills. Not to be Debbie Downer, just a realist – if OP and her husband can afford for OP to bringing in zero income for 12 months, that’s very different than them banking on her being fully employed in 1-2 months. So if OP wants to take a part time job not so much to avoid resume gaps but to keep herself busy and to contribute to the household income, that isn’t a bad idea – but she doesn’t need to do it just to avoid a gap in her resume.

          1. Amy*

            Not working is definitely not an option at this point. A little more background; we’re both originally from the are we are moving back to. We are fortunate enough to be able to stay with family for a few months while I look for a job. We are not looking for a home until I have a steady source of income so we know what we can safely afford and where to look. When I first moved to Texas and didn’t have a job immediately, I did what one of the other commenters suggested; I volunteered at a local humane society and served as a substitute teacher in the local school districts for 2 months before being hired into my current position.

            I’m willing to give myself a couple of weeks to readjust and get a little settled, but I also get bored if I don’t have something to mentally stimulate me. I’ve volunteered for various organizations since age six and look forward to doing that again as well. I truly hope to have a job by the end of January to avoid a gap whatsoever. (Old job ends December 2015 on resume, new job starts January 2016 on resume.)

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Op you are definitely someone who needs not worry about this small gap. You clearly have a solid work history as well as all that volunteer work so who wouldn’t want to hire you? (Answer: an unreasonable employer you wouldn’t want to work for anyway.)

    3. JoAnna*

      I think prospective employers who look at your resume and see that your last job was in TX will probably assume (correctly) that the reason you left your last job was due to moving cross-country and won’t think there is some other nefarious reason.

      FWIW, in 2008 my husband and I moved from ND to AZ (with no jobs lined up!) and we both found full-time, decent paying jobs within 3 weeks of moving here.

      1. Boop*

        That is my thought too. The move will be clear with the last job out of state and your add being in Wisconsin.

    4. kac*

      A few friends of mine have tried to get jobs in other states because they were looking to/planning on relocating. And almost always it was much easier to get call backs and interviews once they were in the new state. So in addition to making your personal life easier, moving now might also make the job hunt smoother too!

      1. Amy*

        That’s very true. I’ve been concerned that my resume may not be getting looked at as much due to my current address being in Texas. In a few weeks it will say Wisconsin and hopefully I will have better results!

        1. mskyle*

          If you’re going to be staying with family, just start putting their address on your resume now! Seriously!

          1. Amy*

            I am now. When I started applying for jobs a few weeks ago I didn’t want my address to say Wisconsin but have that I was still at my current job through December in Texas. Thought that may be more confusing than it was worth.

            I addressed my situation in the cover letters for various jobs, so they still got the back story of why someone from Wisconsin was applying for that specific job.

    5. F.*

      I don’t know what field you are in, but try reaching out to the local chapter of a relevant professional organization in your new city. Larger universities also sometimes have alumni clubs in larger cities. You might be able to do a little networking in advance of the move.

    6. badger_doc*

      If you’d like some tips/pointers about where to live/shop/eat/whatever, feel free to let me know! I am from WI and depending on where you are moving I might be of some help. Good luck with the job transfer! Texas to WI in winter is pretty extreme weather-wise if you’re not familiar with our winters so stock up on some warm clothes :-)

      1. Amy*

        Thankfully I spent the first 28 years of my life just outside Milwaukee so I’m (fortunately? unfortunately?) well versed in what we’re in store for. I’m definitely going to miss my last few “winters” where it’s in the 60s most days! :)

        1. badger_doc*

          Well welcome back! I grew up south of MKE and my Sig O lives in a suburb of MKE now, so I get there often. Glad you have a support system! Good luck on the job hunt :-)

        2. Winter is Coming*

          My sister and her family moved to Hartford a few years ago, and they love it!
          Best of luck with everything.
          As an HR person who reviews resumes on a regular basis, I will tell you that neither the length of time you are anticipating, nor your reason for leaving your last job would make me think twice. I’ve found since the recession hit a few years ago, that gaps are much more common. A few months is nothing, especially in light of your excellent work history in general.

    7. That Marketing Chick*

      I don’t know what you do…but look into American Family Insurance if you are near Madison. It’s a great company!

    8. Artemesia*

      Know too that there is a lot of grace for women who move to follow their husbands; the gap is easily explained. My husband followed me nearly 40 years ago and had a gap in employment as a result. It was tougher especially in a southern city to ‘explain’ that he had given up a really good fast track job to follow his wife to her new job. But he nevertheless did overcome this. It was not an easy transition.

      1. Cranky Comms Lady*

        My husband also had a hard time finding work when he followed me, which was complicated further by state licensing issues. Nobody ever said it was strange for a husband to follow the wife, but now I wonder if that’s what some of them were thinking.

    9. AshleyH*

      Good luck! I moved from St. Louis to nj with my husband and was unemployed for about 6 weeks. Thankfully my husbands job had a trailing spouse program and I ended up working there. Since then we’ve moved back to the Midwest (this time because of my job) and no one has ever so much as paused at my month gap in employment.

    1. Merely*

      Yes, welcome to Wisconsin! Coincidentally, my boyfriend is also starting his new job on January 4th. Wonder if they’ll be co-workers. :P

      1. badger_doc*

        Definitely, welcome to WI :-) I love this state. Not so much the winters, but everything else is great.

        1. Amanda*

          Native/former Wisconsinite here. It’s a beautiful, lively state with lots to do, great food/drink and tons of personality. And don’t be intimidated by Packers fans – we’re not crazy, we’re just passionate!

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Nothing to add but an anecdote.

    When I was screening candidates, I came across a resume that had an eight year gap.  As in, this woman graduated from college and had nothing else on her resume for eight years.  No work experience.  There was zero explanation in her cover letter.  She graduated from an Ivy League university so I hope she wasn’t thinking that’s all she needed to get an interview.

    The only gaps that made me nervous were 6-12 months. If the resume was good, I’d ask. An explanation like yours shouldn’t raise an eyebrow though.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      Wow. Did you ever get to the bottom of what happened? I would have been tempted to call her for an interview just because my curiosity would have overwhelmed me.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Nope. I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate in that hiring process, but in retrospect, she would have been an interesting interview.

    2. Adam V*

      What did that cover letter say? “I want this job, thanks” ?

      I’m just trying to understand what a cover letter looks like when you have nothing to write about relevant job experience or how you’ve been spending the last eight years.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        She talked about the classes she took, and that she could do the tasks listed in the job description. That’s it. Of course she had no way of pointing to any proof that she could do those things…

    3. Clever Name*

      I have a 2 year gap in my resume because we moved across the country just after my son was born, and we decided I’d stay home with him until I decided I wanted to go back to work. That turned out to be about 2 years, and when I was first looking, I explained my gap in the cover letter. Now, 6 years later, I don’t even bother explaining it, and no one has even asked.

    4. neverjaunty*

      Guessing that she was a stay-at-home mom and was afraid that putting it in the cover letter would be seen as unprofessional, or would get her immediately round-filed. I have heard advice that the best way to handle explaining this kind of gap is to wait until the interview.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I have heard advice that the best way to handle explaining this kind of gap is to wait until the interview.

        Except, in this case, no interview was going to happen…

        1. neverjaunty*

          I’m not saying it’s GOOD advice (and I’d be interested in AAM’s take), only that it’s something you commonly hear if you’re trying to re-enter the workforce: employers tend to perceive mothers as less reliable and hire-worthy (which is true), therefore don’t mention the reason you were out in the cover letter or you’ll get screened out right away, instead you should wait until they’ve already decided they’re interested in you and can explain it at the interview.

    5. LSP*

      This sounds exactly like a friend of a friend. She went to the most famous Ivy of them all, hasn’t worked in at least 8 years, and yet expects to be recruited by a top agency in her field at some point.

      All she does now is go to hot yoga and hip-hop aerobics class. Girl, please.

    6. Lizzy*

      I think it was ABC’s 20/20 who once did a segment about Ivy League educated women (who resided on the East Coast) who left high paying jobs in their late 20’s/early 30’s to become stay-at-home moms. This was around the early aughts and when they did a follow up with these women a decade later, many of them were divorced and had to reenter the workforce, often taking lower paying jobs and downsizing from the comfy lifestyle they enjoyed while married.

      I wonder if this was a similar example where a stay-at-home mom was having to reenter — or in her case, enter — the workforce after going through a divorce. That being said, no work experience? I am a little stunned she didn’t even have a few years of experience to her name, especially with her education background.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        There’s a great book about this called The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? by Leslie Bennetts, an homage / unofficial sequel to Betty Friedan’s classic.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        And that’s what I couldn’t wrap my head around. No clubs? No volunteer gigs? No special projects? No extracurriculars? Not even a relevant course listing? Just a degree and an objective and her contact info.

        1. L_A*

          You’d think someone “smart” enough to get an ivy league degree could creatively put what she’d done for 8 years as Home and Childcare Manager into a resume format.

    7. matcha123*

      I feel sorry for her. How is she supposed to know that anyone would want to know that? If I were her, I wouldn’t be able to guess that people would want some kind of reason for why I didn’t start working out of university. Or, if I only worked part-time and thought that only full-time employment counted as something to put on your resume.

      Why would a six month to one year gap make you nervous?

      If I had the money, I’d take a year off of work. I got my first job at eight and have been working almost non-stop since then with much of my work going to support my family. I’m burned out, but from reading postings here, I can make a guess that any potential employer wouldn’t care anything about that.

      Sure, it’s possible the girl was a flake who assumed life would be handed to her. There are also a slew of other possibilities, too…

  3. Meredith*

    Ooh, chilly time to move to Wisconsin! We’re expecting our first snowstorm of the year this weekend here in Madison.

    Best of luck with your move!

    1. Amy*

      Well we moved to Texas in the middle of July, so we haven’t made the best moving decisions with regards to seasons lately. ;)

  4. fposte*

    This and the job hopper thing makes me think about driver’s ed in high school. In driver’s ed, they tend to include “scared straight” stuff in order to curb the heedless teenagers. The problem is, us overconscientious and worried types get completely freaked out by that material, so on our population it has a deleterious effect.

    I think similarly that the “employment gaps are a problem” and “a history of job-hopping can hurt you” are important information for heedless types who are making job decisions based strictly in the moment, but overconscientious and worried types overread those pieces of advice to make trouble for themselves even though they’re not really in applicable situations.

    1. Amy*

      That’s very true. After reading around online for advice I started to get the same thoughts that were answered here. A few months don’t really matter if there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation and your work history is solid. I definitely freaked myself out though to the point of considering staying in an extended stay hotel just to stay at my current job until I found something else.

      Thankfully my fears have been allayed and we’re moving in three weeks!

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yes! Totally different topic, but I’ve heard the same thing about cleaning out your recycling bottles. They tell you to clean it out because if they don’t, some people will put them in the bin still filled with ketchup or whatever, but instead, conscientious people get worried about whether they’ve scrubbed every last molecule of stuff from it, and that level of attention is not really necessary–it doesn’t have to be as clean as, say, your actual dishes.

      1. fposte*

        I’ve thought about that! Basically, a lot of the instructions of the world assume you won’t comply with all of them. And as a literal person I struggle with that.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          I think it’s because advice like “Don’t ever do XYZ ever for any reason seriously just don’t do it” is easier to turn into a soundbite than “Nearly everyone will have to do XYZ at some point. It’s not ideal (especially if you do it for a long time or show a pattern of XYZ-ing) but it’s also not the end of the world.”

      2. the gold digger*

        My husband washes – with soap and water – stuff that goes into recycling. I try to tell him that the wasted water is worse than putting a jar with some peanut butter on the sides into recycling, but he does not believe me. (It’s not gobs of peanut butter – I get every last bit out with a spatula or my fingers – not as clean as the Nutella jar, but close.)

          1. the gold digger*

            Isn’t it going into an incinerator? I don’t want the people who work at the place to deal with something filthy, but I am not in the habit of creating filthy containers for my food. I think any flame that can melt plastic can handle some peanut butter.

        1. OfficePrincess*

          My husband runs them through the dishwasher. I guess it’s not as much wasted water because we were going to run it anyway, but when he’s out of town I only give my bottles a quick rinse (to the point where nothing is obviously visible or stinky) and toss them straight into the recycling bin.

      3. Adam*

        My roommate discussed this with me the other night. I had thrown out an expired bottle of oyster sauce. I had dumped the leftover stuff out and gave it a good rinse, but there was one tiny dab left on the bottom of the bottle. She said I needed to get it all out else when it goes through the recycling process it could end up ruining the entire batch it was with. I took her word for it without confirming myself, but the idea that a teaspoon of goop could sabotage and entire load of recycling was kind of surprising.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And articles would be a million miles long if you had to add 100 caveats based on really specific situations! :)

    3. EmilyG*

      Much agreed about conscientious people! A few years ago, I moved across the country for what I could tell, within the week, was absolutely the wrong job. Within three months, I had an offer for a pleasant and agreeable job in the same city with the same salary, but considered not taking it (even though it was a rare opening at that organization!) because I was unreasonably afraid of looking like a short-timer. Thank goodness I was just unhappy enough to throw caution to the wind (and it all turned out great in the end).

    4. Stella Maris*

      “The problem is, us overconscientious and worried types get completely freaked out by that material, so on our population it has a deleterious effect.”

      Thanks for this – this is something I experience but couldn’t put into words! (After stressing for two weeks about the “required paperwork” for condo renovations, including a floorplan, I went to the office and said “I’m replacing the wall tiles, how should I put that on the floorplan?” And they said “you don’t need one if you’re not doing flooring.” Well, the form says “any renovation requires ALL of the following: blah blah blah, including a floorplan.” I was trying to follow the rules!)

    5. Barney Gumble*

      I’m not so sure… New York City had to pass a law making it illegal to refuse to hire the unemployed, because the hip new way of removing applicants from the pool was “Unemployed need not apply.” I suppose it was a little kinder than requesting that the unemployed go walk into the sea, but if they’re not hiring those who have been unemployed for a few weeks, I doubt prospects are good for those who have been unemployed for a few months.

      I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that once a company reaches a certain size, what’s best for the company and what’s best for individual employees is no longer the same. If you are hiring for a large company, and you get two candidates, one who is the straightest of straight arrows, reliable, consistent, and certified (in the good way), but is completely devoid of original ideas, and another candidate who is either a million-dollar idiot-savant or maybe just an idiot, why would you choose any candidate but the safe one if the company is big enough to absorb them? If you choose the idiot-savant who turns out to be an idiot, suddenly your neck is on the line; the only time someone has been fired from hiring a mediocre candidate is when the sheer weight of mediocre candidates drags the company down with them. Besides, let’s say you choose correctly, and make the company millions with your hire; it’s not going to get you anything in HR — in large companies HR is not on the “executive track”. It’s only in smaller companies with less poorly-defined roles (and more to gain) that someone can bridge that gap.

    6. Anxa*

      Oh my goodness, yes!

      I’ve actually commented on this here before, but I did not need to be worried even more about driving than I already was. I’m still a bit of a nervous driver and I didn’t get my license until I was in my 20s (which affected which jobs and volunteer opportunities I could take, and is still haunting me today).

      I need to read this comment a few times. I’m paralyzed in my job search because I do not have a solid work history at all (a solidish work history drops off when I graduated 7 years ago). I’m so worried about taking a job I know I’ll be leaving and worried that I look lazy or like a loser for just working part-time, etc.

      I think I AM in the applicable situation, but I think I need to just accept that I am not a good candidate and my job history is what it is and either option (waiting in part-time purgatory or leaving my first full-time job too soon) are both gonna stink and to just pick one.

  5. Henry*

    I’ve been on the hiring side a few times. On one occasion we were recruiting for an office-based job where we wanted somebody good, who would stay in the role (and grow in it) for several years, instead of an ambitious new starter who viewed the job as a springboard. We had a candidate come in with a 4-year gap on her CV, so we asked about this at the interview. Her reply was “I took a break to have children; now I’m looking for something where I can work hard in office hours but leave on time to go and look after the kids”.

    We hired her; that was 6(?) years ago and she’s still with us, still doing a great job, and still getting to spend time with her kids. Not all gaps are bad.

  6. Lizzy May*

    Agree with everyone else that a gap following a big move is fairly normal. There are even companies who don’t like to look at candidates if they’re not local. Being in state might actually make finding a job easier then staying in Texas and job hunting long distance.

  7. the gold digger*

    Expat Texan in Wisconsin who got a job with a six-year gap. Laid off, got married, moved, husband had good job that he threw away for politics, etc, etc, etc. Just have a good story.

  8. F.*

    I proudly listed my 13 years of raising children on my resume and had no problem getting full time employment as an admin. at a large corporation in 2000. I would love to hear from others who are re-entering the job force now (2015) after being out raising children whether it has become any more difficult.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In general, I wouldn’t recommend listing it on a resume. Putting it there doesn’t mean no one will ever hire you (as your case proves), but it will be a strike against you with a lot of employers — not because of the time away, but because listing it on a resume can be seen as problematic for the sorts of reasons I talk about in #5 here:

      1. Anxa*

        Would this advice change for jobs that don’t accept cover letters or don’t make it clear?

        And if I job accepts neither resume nor cover letter, do you think it’s appropriate to list in the small open-ended box or somewhere on the application?

    2. AnotherAlison*

      One of my coworkers took a 2 year gap and a 4 year gap for kids. She got hired on during a busy time in the industry after the first gap, and went back to the company she had already spent six years out of college the second time.

      I think going back to a company that knows you, leaving on good terms to begin with, and staying in touch helps. I’m not sure what she did to stay on top of her technical skills, but if you’re rusty, you might be able to hire back as a level 2 instead of a level 4 or something like that.

      Until I met her, I would have said it wasn’t likely possible in a technical field like mine, but now I think it is, as long as you have a lot of experience and a good foundation before you have the gap. A 1-yr experience person who takes 4 years off would likely have a harder time and would be starting from scratch as a “new grad” type hire.

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      I think part of it may have to do with how you list it. I’d actually appreciate seeing it on the résumé if it is there to explain why you were out of the workforce for 13 years (instead of just an unexplained gap), but if it’s written in a way to make raising children sound like a professional (instead of personal) job, then I’d definitely count that against you (i.e., don’t start listing out your responsibilities like taking kids to soccer practice or changing diapers).

  9. Overeducated and underemployed*

    Thanks for asking. I’m facing a potential 4 month gap when my current contract runs out and I’m not sure whether it will help a lot to get another term job to fill that gap, or just focus solely on getting something permanent (I’m in a very competitive field and obviously it’s taking a while!). When your resume is covered in short term jobs it’s hard to figure out what will help vs hurt.

  10. Amanda*

    I worry about this. I have multiple gaps of a year or two but I’m not a flake! My issue is that I’ve only ever worked in jobs that were designed to be limited-term (anywhere from a few months to two years) and there has always been a period of time where I was looking after a job ended. Throw in searching in a bad economy, a major medical crisis, a few moves and a six-month trip around Africa and Europe – one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life, but no an socially acceptable excusing for not working.

    Never been fired, never left a job early or on bad terms. I’m currently working but it’s another limited term position. Anyone else suffer from the “only work history is limited term jobs” problem?

    1. BuildMeUp*

      I haven’t had that experience, but I think Alison has suggested in the past to note on your resume that a job was designed to end at a certain point. “(Contract position ending 11/2008)” or something similar, so that at least covers the reason you left the job.

      Hopefully if you list it like that it will help make clear that you were between contract gigs and hadn’t been fired and spent a while looking for a job.

    2. Evie*

      I think this kind of situation is where a very well written and situation specific cover letter can help because you can explain the situation. If you end up applying for more fixed term contracts you can say something like: “as you can see I have a history of dice term work and love being able to experience so many different working environments etc” and when you go for more permanent positions: ” I’ve had experience in many different settings while working foxed term jobs, but now I’m looking to settle into a longer term role and grow with a single company for a while” or something more eloquent.

  11. BSharp*

    What about the part-time shuffle? When I left college in 2009, I took a bunch of overlapping part-time jobs. I was in a crappy job market, and at one point I was working 7 part-time jobs just to make ends meet. I always had at least 2, but many were short-lived–one small business started bouncing paychecks, the US Census only needed me for two months, etc.

    Since 2012, I’ve had a great, salaried, full-time job with a company that I love. But how on earth do I explain the mess that is 2009-2012?

    Even skipping the least-relevant-and-also-overlapping jobs, from 2009-2012 I have my student office job for 1.5 yrs, my first job for 6 months, my second job for 8 months, and nannying for 9 months. And if I skip the irrelevant stuff, every time there’s a gap of 3-7 months in between each gig.

    1. katamia*

      I don’t have quite as many part-time jobs as you do, but this is something I wonder about a lot, too.

    2. AJS*

      I think if you put all those jobs under one heading on your resume, and explained more fully in a cover letter, you would be fine. Everyone knows what the economy was like in those years, and I for one would be impressed by someone who never gave up, to the extent of having 7 part-time jobs at once. It shows an awesome work ethic.

    3. Chriama*

      So out of 6 years post-college work experience, you’ve been full-time employed at one employer for the last 3? Did you go to college in your 20s? Then there’s nothing to worry about. Anyone reading your resume would assume you worked a couple part-time jobs after graduation while looking for a full-time position, and the gap really only matters for the first job anyway.

      1. BSharp*

        Minus the graduating part, that’s correct!

        I left college without a degree. I’m interested in finishing my B.A., but currently I’m in a role that would typically require a marketing degree, and I don’t want to leave a good job just to finish the degree. I’ve been doing a class at a time through Harvard’s Extension School online. At this rate I’ll be done in, oh, seven years.

    4. Evie*

      As others have said having your what, 3 years at this point? Full time position with the same employer will do a lot to alleviate any concerns about the part timing. Also as Alison had mentioned if you’re worried about the gaps caused by only mentioning relevant work, you can have a “other work” type section which covers those gaps.

  12. GreenEye*

    Is it worth addressing reasons like “I left to move with my husband” or “I had a baby” or whatever in your cover letter? My husband moved home after our daughter was born and now he’s looking for jobs but has a gap in his resume, so I wonder whether this could be addressed in one sentence in the cover letter.

    1. Evie*

      In a word – yes!
      “After spending some time at home to look after our new daughter, I’m ready to rejoin the workforce” -> why you’d be awesome for the position given your past work history.

  13. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    Oh how I wish this had been answered a week ago when I was trying to explain resume gaps to my mom! I’m still going to forward this to her because it’s a great answer

  14. Octopus's Gardener*

    I have a rather odd situation regarding my gap. From 2009 to 2012, I did not work. My position was “eliminated” at the company where I worked, and I was given a generous severance package, references, etc. However, the truth on both sides was that I was miserable, they were not happy with me (I was on a PIP) and when the recession came along, they took the opportunity to cut some corners. By then, I was so burnt out I swore I would never work again, and I took advantage of UC benefits and my severance to stay out of the workforce. I have had emotional problems on and off most of my life (I am in my 50s now). Eventually, the money ran out and I was forced to return to work.
    In the future, I am not sure how I would explain that gap. When I interviewed by my present employer, they seemed satisfied with the explanation that I was a victim of the recession. However, I’m afraid future interviewers might see that red flag and ask questions. This has actually kept me from seeking other positions (I am currently VERY underemployed and would like something of a more professional nature).

    I’m open to advice/suggestions as to how to devise a good cover story for my strange situation. Thanks!

    1. fposte*

      “I had generous severance and decided to take a break.”

      It’s not really that strange a situation–there’s a reason why “what to do about gaps” is a common question. It’s also going to be the biggest issue at the first job after the gap–subsequent jobs are going to care a lot less.

  15. postscript*

    Amy (OP) – You may qualify for unemployment from the state of Texas and should definitely look into the possibility. Normally, leaving your job voluntarily disqualifies you for unemployment. BUT relocating for a spouse’s job that is too far away to commute can count the same as an involuntary leave (like a layoff) in many states. This is typically not advertised and not in the basic state unemployment information manual – usually it’s in case law from decisions made by judges or administrators over the years in determining gray areas, so you should do some serious Googling or call around for some expert advice (maybe to an employment advocacy group in TX).

    When I moved from New York to California for my husband’s job, I was able to qualify and got six months’ worth of unemployment, which really helped. A cousin was also able to qualify when he moved from California to Washington for his wife’s new job.

    1. Amy*

      That wasn’t something I had considered (mostly due to the stigma still surrounding “applying for unemployment”) but an interesting thought.

      Looks like I may qualify for it if I choose to go that route. I found this on the Texas Workforce Commission website:

      “Quit to move with your spouse when the move is not part of a qualifying military permanent change of station (PCS). You may be eligible for benefits but you will be disqualified for 6 to 25 weeks, depending on the situation. Your maximum benefit amount is also reduced by the number of disqualified weeks.”

  16. Mimmy*

    This is making me cry, lol. My resume gap is…..long. It has been filled with volunteer committee work, some of it quite substantial, but still not what I want.

    1. Evie*

      That sucks. I can imagine it feels pretty shitty. But having volunteer work – especially work which is as you say quite substantial – is a really really good thing.

    2. Anxa*

      My problem is that I gave up on volunteering. I volunteered for 2 years and I just got burned out and it was getting expensive (gas or bus fare, having to eat more substantially to give me energy, increased laundry costs).

  17. bopper*

    Also if you leave the job in 2015 and get a new one in 2016, can’t you just show on your resume:

    New Job -2016-present

    Old Job 2009-2015

    Does that even show a gap?

    I agree with others…if you can, don’t be so quick to get a job. My DH was between jobs this summer and it was nice having him make dinner and do fix it chores around the house and just slow down for a couple of months. Maybe you can do unpacking.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I don’t think you can do that until you’ve been at the 2016-xxxx job for several years.

      You could either have Dec. 2015-Jan. 2016 with no gap, or end Jan. 2015/start Dec. 2016 with an almost 2 year gap. Unless I’m in the latter, worst-case situation, I would not show it that way. If it is the worst case, I guess no harm, other than it looks like you’re trying to be sneaky if someone thinks about it.

      (I once showed a Dec. 1998-Jan. 1999 job duration and an interviewer gave me credit for working there a year in our interview conversation. It was a temp winter break job.)

  18. Cheeto*

    An acquaintance of mine quit her job last month because her husband got the opportunity to travel the country working in a new place every three months for a year. They’re in Raleigh now, then going to Seattle, Minneapolis and finally Cleveland. Three months isn’t enough time for her to find work, so she’s just taking the year off. I wonder how that will affect her resume.

    1. Evie*

      Well, like you say, it’s hard to find work in+for 3 months – unless she is wanting to apply for any random thing (temp jobs, hospitality etc). It seems reasonable that because of the moving around it wasn’t possible to work and so long as she’s positive about getting back into the scheme of things it should be fine.

  19. Isha*

    It made my job search plenty hard! Even with my husband working while I had work done on our home by contractors and having a dad diagnosed with cancer this year. I just got a job this week. It took THAT long. And I have been searching for months!

    Lesson learned.

  20. Naomi Weber*

    Thanks for writing about that! I am also concerned that there is a gap in my employment history because of a move. Me and my husband have moved abroad and not only that this took us a lot of time and effort… I needed few months to adjust to the new language, new culture, new atmosphere. I hope that a future employer will understand that I needed more time to get used to the new place. Thanks for the post and good luck!

  21. Nicole*

    I’m going through this right now. I took a year off to finish my Masters degree (which involved leaving the country), and once my coursework was submitted moved to the US (I am a US citizen) and I’ve been struggling to find a job since. I’m definitely feeling anxious about it as time moves on with no prospects, and while I’ve addressed it in my cover letter, it’s not good that my employment history ends in 2014. I think that’s part of why I haven’t had any luck so far. Hopefully everyone here will soon have better luck. I appreciate all the tips everyone’s been posting!

  22. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

    Based on hearsay and personal experience alike, I can say with confidence that resume gaps matter WAY less than they did when I graduated. So that’s some positive news. I’m just under 18 months away from celebrating the Big 4-0, for reference, and my perception always was that things loosened up somewhat during the late 90s-2000 dot-com boom, and became significantly less restrictive during and after the recent Great Recession. Those senior to me in age and experience are of course better equipped to speak to economic conditions before the mid-late 1990s.

    In my experience, here are some times when gaps are less important:

    +If you’re a recent graduate.
    + If you’re pretty early on in your career (as opposed to, say, the 10-year mark or more).
    + If the gaps were more than a few years ago. (It’s almost 2017, and becoming ever more doubtful that hiring managers are fixated on the 6 months you spent between jobs in 2010).
    + If the gaps can be explained by something perceived as a net benefit to your career or personal development. School is a great example. Many a professional in the NYC area has taken a 6-month gap to train for a new career in the software field, and by the time you complete the 16-week training “bootcamp” and the internship or work-study job, at least 6, and often 9 to 12 months have passed.
    + If the gaps occurred during a known economic downturn. See also: Why none of my friends in software were penalized for “traveling” the world for most of 2002, and why even the biggest stickler for minimizing gaps and job-hopping tells you “don’t worry so much” if your gap occurred between 2008 and 2012.

    That all said, there can be occasions where, given the candidate with gaps and the candidate with none, the hiring manager chooses to interview the latter person. In my profession and many related to it (a technical field), this almost always occurs at a large company with many layers of management and which is known “on the street” for being somewhat dogged and/or bureaucratic in its methods. Prior to my current job at just such a company, I was a manager for many years. Unfortunately, my current employer prefers to reserve open leadership roles for candidates who have no gaps, or one tiny gap many years ago, and this remains their policy even when such candidates are otherwise lackluster and candidates with gaps would be highly effective, revenue-generating managerial talent. As I see it, it’s their loss — and I always like to remind myself that just because I work there currently doesn’t mean it will always be so.

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