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Breaks in Your Work History: How to Explain Them

written by: •edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/18/2011

Many of us have lulls in our job history from time to time. From taking care of children or relatives, to job losses due to the economy, breaks will occur. Jean Scheid offers some suggestions if your work history appears a little cracked.

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    Why Lulls are a Turn Off to Employers

    Work As an employer myself, employment gaps in a resume are one of the first things I look for. These gaps in employment history don't always mean you won't get the job, but employers will still inquire about those months or years of missing work history. Red flags for employers are:

    Type of Job - If you are only trained for one type of work and have always had jobs in that field, big breaks can be a red flag. To employers, it can mean you jumped from job to job for inadequate performance or perhaps you didn't get along with fellow co-workers. If this is you, you'll need to find some creative ways to explain job hopping.

    Month and Year Gaps - It's wise to skip the months when writing your resume and only include the years. For example if you worked at a job from June of 2007 and left that job in Jan of 2008, to an employer, you were only there six months. On your resume it's best to put that you worked from 2007 to 2008. If the employer wants more information, he or she will ask for it.

    Variety of Jobs - If your education history is geared toward one major but you never worked in the field you studied for, this can be a red flag. The employer might wonder if you just couldn't get hired in your field. Further if you have had many jobs all in different types of fields, an employer might wonder if you have any career goals.

    Too Vague - If an employer can't tell exactly what you did between your work history gaps, you might not even make it to the interview stage.

    The Real World - Although it's totally illegal, if an employer sees you have gaps due to taking care of too many elderly relatives or perhaps you've had three children in five years, they may be turned off. Even though it is illegal for employers not to consider you based on these types of job breaks, it does happen in the real world. To an employer, they may wonder if you plan to expand your family or if you have more elderly relatives you will be responsible for in the future.

    Long-term Illnesses - This is another thing some employers will question in the real world. They may wonder if the illness was a worker's compensation injury, especially if you've had a lot of the same type of illness. Or, they may be concerned about your general health and if they hire you, will you be able to work?

    These are just a few red flags that you will face if you have too many pauses in your job history. On the other hand, gaps, which some employers may look upon as a negative, can be explained on your resume in a positive way and by including job references.

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    How to Explain Them

    Whether you've chosen to backpack to Europe for a year or took off time to start your own business that didn't work, there are creative ways to explain gaps in employment history. Here are some examples to place on your resume to help explain them:

    Job Type - If you are trained in one area but have job breaks, you can either not include all of the jobs starting with the first one you held or include in the "objective" part of your resume a short statement on your desire to reach goals at the highest possible level. At the interview, you can explain the gaps verbally.

    Gap Explanation - Again, skip the months on your resume and only list the years worked. It will make it appear you worked longer at any given place.

    Too Many Jobs - Include on your resume only the jobs that are relevant to the job you are applying for. Keep in mind that you may have to revise your resume to fit the job and interview.

    Too Vague - Even if you did backpack in Europe for a year or took some time off to build a home, what did you learn during that time off? A trip to Europe could instead be written as, art history experience, or architectural internship. Be creative!

    The Real World - It is often inevitable that some of us will take time off for newborns or to take care of relatives. These are essential parts of our lives so list them on your resume and give a more detailed explanation in the interview. You can also choose not to list them and include a statement in your cover letter explaining these non-working times.

    Long-term Illnesses - Again, life happens, so explain illnesses in your cover letter in a positive way and assure the prospective employer that you can be counted on to do the job.

    How to explain gaps in your resume is easy if you stay creative, positive, and include smart statements in your cover letter.

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    References

    Jean Scheid hold a degree in HR management and has been a business owner for over 17 years.

    Work Desk - MorgueFile/cohdra