How to gloss over gaps in your work history

Repost from 11-05-15 from other blog (which I’m going to shut down once everything I want is moved). Again, it presumes you can work, but it’s all very sound advice for anyone with a gap in their work history and I still follow it now that I’m applying for jobs again.

It’s a saying: There’s good AIDS and bad AIDS.  It’s exactly the same with gaps in your CV work history.  If you took time out to raise kids or look after a sick relative, you’ve got good AIDS.  Some people will still be prejudiced, because it’s still the employment equivalent of AIDS, but many people these days are understanding.  Today I’m talking about the kind of gaps in your working experience that are bad AIDS.  The ones (such as taking time out for HIV treatment, unfortunately) people are automatically wary of, that make them just not employ you, in spite of what a lovely person you are with so much to offer the workplace.

For people with mental health problems, finding a job is daunting enough without having to feel bad about taking extended time off work. The longer you’ve been out of work, the worse it looks, right?  Whether you’ve been trapped at home with anxiety, sectioned in a psychiatric hospital, drying out in rehab, serving time in jail (unless you’re required by law to disclose), working in the sex industry or running away to Borneo to hunt aliens, there’s a way to explain it in a positive light.  And take heart, there’s probably someone with a harder gap to explain than yours, and prospective employers probably don’t care anyway.

Here are some of the ways you can cover gaps in your CV:

1. Short gaps:
If it’s in the same calendar month and it’s a gap of less than four weeks, just write the month and year of employment (you should do this anyway, no-one cares what the day was, otherwise they’ll ask.  If they want days for everything, write that you started on the first day of the month and ended on the last day for every single job).

If it’s in a different calendar month and it’s a gap of less than four weeks, just put it forwards a month, or move the subsequent job backwards by a month (or both). You can’t do this if it’s your reference because they will confirm the dates of employment to your new employer. Nobody expects you to remember the exact day and month you started a job so if it does come up they probably won’t care.

2. Long gaps:
If it’s more than four weeks, you need to think about what you did during that time. Don’t put it on your CV at all unless it’s been 6 months or more. Then, a brief note in the “about me” section at the top will be fine. Here’s how to phrase it:

If you were sectioned and in hospital:
State something like, “I was in hospital recovering from a serious illness.” It’s the truth, you just need to word it to not scare people. I know you’re not scary, but life stuff can scare people who have never come across it before. That’s why I’m writing this. If they ask you at interview (which they shouldn’t), just say it was private or that you’d rather not talk about it. You can even pass it off as deflective joke with something like “well it wasn’t a deadly contagious tropical disease so don’t worry!” If you weren’t working for them at the time they have no legal rights to know why you were in hospital as long as you can account for your whereabouts.  If they want to check that you weren’t in jail they should stump up for a Disclosure and Barring Certificate (criminal record check).

If you were in jail:
I have never had a sentence or been in prison (but I have been arrested and dumped in one of those little jails at the police station which is like being left in solitary after long enough, however because my accuser – my mother – kindly proved themselves to be a habitual liar, I got let out with no charges pressed and can pass any level of DBS check to prove it.  Had she been a bit more underhanded, I would be writing a slightly different article), but if it was me, and if it wasn’t a legal requirement to tell them, I would just leave a big glaring gap and if they ask, tell them the truth. In many offences in the UK, you are unfortunately legally obliged to disclose it so you would have to tell them anyway. If they’re going to be shit about it, they probably aren’t going to be a great employer, and I know that’s not what you care about when you’re unemployed, you just want money and references, fast, but give yourself the best chance of getting a job and reduce your chance of landing back inside again, especially if you’re still on parole.  Gumtree is a good place to find a job if you’ve got a criminal record, I say this because the three jobs I’ve had from Gumtree didn’t even ask for references (pick which ones to apply to though).

If you were unable to leave the house:
You were jobhunting. Unemployed and jobhunting. They generally won’t want a reference for this. If they ask at interview why you weren’t on benefits, say you were living off your savings. That might help you look more responsible, because you saved some money.

If you ran away and did something manic:
This is called “travelling” or “extended travel” just be ready to enthuse about some distant enough location or other, even if you were homeless and begging and two towns away from home.

If you were in rehab:
Either go with a vague “hospital” or be fully honest and tell them how long you’ve been stopped for.  People love a good redemption story as long as they’re sure that you’re not at risk of starting using again.

If you were doing a far higher job and now you want a lower job:
Address it at the top (after contact details, before work history) otherwise they’ll think you’re spamming employers for any old job. Even if you are (c’mon, you can’t be monogamous in job applications, ain’t nobody got time for that when 60% of employers don’t even acknowledge your application with an auto-reply), you don’t want them to think that they’re not the only one – save it until you’re negotiating conditions and salary.
“Being a doctor was fantastic but it did not offer me a work life balance.”
“Being a doctor was wonderful and now I’m looking to re-train and work out what my next career move is” (change “doctor” for whatever your profession was and remember some unskilled jobs like waitressing have such a high staff turnover that they’re quite happy to have you for 3-6 months while you get your shit together).
“Being a doctor was not for me, which I ultimately realised after three years in a hospital. I am now looking for a job that will fit around my college commitments as I am retraining as a [insert new job here].”

There’s a knack to making yourself look as non-threatening (especially if you’re overqualified, because low level managers are some of the most insecure people in the world) as possible for getting a job. I know you’re not a bad worker person (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading work advice, c’mon, you care), you know it (I hope), you just need to convince those people hiring you that you’re a fantastic, enthusiastic and capable person who is not over qualified and is able to do the job.

If you were working in the sex industry:
You were unemployed and living off savings. Unless you were registered with tax, in which case you were self employed as a masseuse, private tutor, life coach, IT specialist, or whatever it was you told the tax office (bearing in mind that a job title is just a description of what you do at work, they generally don’t care as long as tax gets paid), and work’s been slow, and you’re looking for a job with a more stable income.  Just don’t give them client details for references, it’ll ruin both of your professional reputations!!  But you know not to kiss and tell, right?

Why do employers sometimes care about this stuff?
As someone who has employed people in the past, I can tell you it’s a big commitment hiring a new employee. It doesn’t seem like it as an employee, but you’re protected by a whole bunch of rights that make employers worry that they might not be able to get rid of you if you’re awful. Employers need to make sure you’re not going to be a dead weight or a liability. All of the information on your CV helps them to decide about that. All you need to do is play down the bad stuff and focus on the positive, and this doesn’t mean being dismissive of the questions about gaps. Mostly, though, don’t draw attention to gaps unless you’re asked, and whatever you do, don’t write an essay on your CV explaining every single period of time between jobs.  Only inexperienced employers think this shit matters,* and you don’t want to work for someone who doesn’t know how to hire, because it shows they have huge gaps in their skills base as a manager.  For the same reason, I make it a rule never to work for anyone who hires me without a proper interview.  I made that rule about this time last year, after turning up to an “interview” for an office job where a middle aged white man followed me up the stairs, staring at my ass the whole time, then when we got into his office he stared at my tits (I was fully clothed) then he told my tits that he’d seen enough and could I start on Monday.  EWWW NO!

*The exception is working with children and vulnerable adults. They have to check.

Stop staring at my tits!
Stop staring at my tits!

Have you got any advice for people about covering gaps?  Got any gap scenarios I haven’t covered?  Say it in the comments!

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Author: MsAdventure

I am a twentysomething travel, photography and beauty blogger who occasionally writes about other topics. Within travel, I tend to write mostly about Europe because all the other travel bloggers seem to write about South East Asia. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.delightandinspire.com

6 thoughts on “How to gloss over gaps in your work history”

  1. Are you watching me??? That trip to Borneo to hunt aliens was a clandestine operation!!!!

    Good advice given, thanks for sharing. I may leave out the alien hunting thing on my resume. Unless I’m looking to be hired by a company in Roswell, in which case that could be a plus.

    Liked by 1 person

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