Ask a Resume Writer: What About a Big Job Gap on My Resume?

Got a big gap in your work history? So does Gail. She spent the last eight years taking care of her aging parents. Maybe Gail's resume solution will help you figure out what to do on your resume.

Gail worked with Christy Seawall, a professional resume writer on my team. Here are the emails between Gail and Christy where they discuss how to deal with Gail's job gap.

Big Gap in Work History on My Resume

Dear Christy,
I've been out of the work force since 2004. My parents needed help and I was there for them. They have both passed away now and I am ready to get back to work. I have worked in office settings and that is what I would like to do again.

My main concern is what do I put on a resume as to what I have been doing since 2004? If you have any suggestion I would appreciate it.

3 Ways to Fill a Work History Gap on Your Resume

Hello Gail,
How wonderful that you were able to spend that time with your parents helping them in their final years. The transition back into the workforce is a big one. Let's take a look at how you can fill that employment gap and create an up-to-date image on your resume.

1. Upgrade Your Skills
While caring for your parents, did you do anything to upgrade your professional skills? If so, be sure to list that under Education on your resume, and you might also use it as a "job title" in your Experience section. For example:

Student, ABC Certification Program, XYZ School

If you haven't been upgrading your skills, consider doing that so that you can put something recent and relevant (such as a class, training, or even a certification) on your resume. An easy way to learn what skills you need to update is to read job postings for the types of positions you're interested in. Do they mention skills you don't have or need to update? If so, enroll in training asap so you can put it on your resume.

2. Volunteer Work
Other than caring for your parents, is there anything else you did during this eight-year period? Did you do any relevant office volunteer work (for your church, community, or other organization) that can be used to fill in the gap? If so, treat that volunteer work as you would a job, pulling out relevant skills and focusing on your accomplishments and the contributions you made.

3. List Your Care Giving
If your training and volunteer work don't completely fill your eight-year gap, list your care giving work for the remaining span of time. For example:

Caregiver for aging parents, 2004-2012

You Have Resume Options
If you decide to put care giving as your most recent job on your resume, perhaps you should then target organizations that would value your care giving experience. For example, look for administrative positions with elder care organizations, visiting nurse organizations, geriatric doctors' offices, nursing homes, etc.

Although you are interested in working in an office setting, perhaps a good way to move back into the workforce would be as a caregiver to the elderly. If you do this, you would want to expand on the caregiver section of your resume to highlight what you did for your parents. For example: Coordinated doctor's visits: ensured proper follow-up of doctor's instructions; communicated with family members to facilitate the best care; assisted with daily tasks such as food preparation, household maintenance, and running errands.

Wishing you the best in your re-entry into the workforce. Let us know how it all goes!
Christy Seawall

Are you stumped on a resume issue? Ask Me Your Resume Writing Question.

34 thoughts on “Ask a Resume Writer: What About a Big Job Gap on My Resume?

  1. This is such an important issue for job seekers, particularly with long-term unemployment. Excellent idea to tie the gap to something related to the new employment goals! Find the organizations that value that care-giving experience. Exactly the right thing to do!

    Wonderful advice, Susan!

  2. I think all HR folks are d…heads. Most of us older folks have had better work experience than those that are questioning us now. It’s funny how the above solutions always mirror the std HR reply that you should seek a lower potential job than what you had excelled at previously. I much preferred the olden times when the hiring manager knew what was needed and it wasn’t always available in a lazy degree’d applicant. Experience is really the best teacher and not book theory.

    • Alan, I couldn’t agree with you more! Today’s recruiting process is largely computerized and no human eyes touch your resume unless you meet the KEYWORDS and specific job requirements, such as a DEGREE in whatever. I have over 20 years of managerial experience, i.e. (Operations Manager, Project Manager, Division Manager, Site Manager, Construction Manager, Logistics Manager, etc.). I have have been unemployed for three years now, I am a 8 year Marine Veteran, and all of this marketing I see about hiring Veterans as a priority is smoke and mirrors. It is primarily targeting those soldiers who have returned from Afghanistan recently, which is of course respectable. My discharge year was 1994, so I am an old goat I guess. Bottom line, the government needs to step in to take a stronger look at the recruiting process, because the employers and the recruiting firms hired are taking full advantage of the fact that they have the upper hand due to the amount of unemployed, which gives them plenty of room to search for those DEGREES or SPECIAL certifications that pertain to the job. In other words, the perfect machine. They don’t consider folks like you and I, where we have been in the trenches, we know and understand on how to run and manage business operations. This is a good reason for our unemployment in our country. The ATS (Applicant Tracking System) needs to be disposed of, period!

    • Hello Nancy,
      If you’ve never been employed before (maybe you’re a new high school grad or you’ve been a homemaker who didn’t need to work for pay), you can still create a good resume. I’m sure you have some unpaid experience that will be valued by an employer. Here are a few tips:
      – Instead of calling the section, “Professional Experience,” call it simply “Experience.” That will allow you to include unpaid work and activities that you’ve done.

      – Under that section, talk about unpaid work (volunteer, school, or personal projects) you’ve done that shows you have developed some skills and have good character.

      – You can create “job titles” for that unpaid work. For example: Girls Basketball Captain, Such-and-such High School
      – Led the team to do such-and-such.
      – Organized this and that.
      – Raised $3,000 for such and such.

      I hope this is helpful. If you have more questions, please drop me another note. 🙂

  3. I was wondering if you could give me some advice on a resume i am trying to create. the problem is that i worked for the same company and was discharged twice in the same year that i worked for the company. Would this look bad on my resume, i could really use your help. thank you.

    • Jonnie, do you mean that you worked for ABC Company for a few months, got discharged from that job, then rehired by the same ABC company, worked another few months for them, and then got discharged again? All in one year?
      Just trying to understand before I figure out an answer for you. 🙂

  4. Hi
    I have been off work for over three years now due to ill health i have got psoriasis and got diagnosed with unstable angina and this got me depressed I am now recovered and I have done a first aid course and I have recently started helping out a cafe delivering buffet meals to company’s voluntary do I mention my ill health on my résumé or not?

    • Hello Robert,
      You really had a hard time there. I’m so glad you’re now recovered and back working.

      There’s no need to mention your illness on a resume. Here are a few thoughts:
      – When you list your work history on your resume, include things that you did while recovering that are relevant to your new job, if you can. For example, if you’re going into the healthcare field, you might have a brief entry like this:

      20xx-20xx, Healthcare research in the area of…
      20xx-20xx, Caregiver for ill family member (now recovered)

      – To fill your span of unemployment, you may have to list unpaid work that’s not relevant to your job objective. For example, even if you’re not going for a job in food service, you can list your food delivery volunteer work as your current “job.”

      – List years without listing the months. For example, if a job is six months or more, use only years (no months). If a job is five months or less, you might refer to it by season (for example: Fall 2012).

      For more ways to handle this, please see How to Explain Unemployment on Your Resume.

      I hope you find a job soon!

      • Hi can you help me please
        I was working in retail for 22 years Im 42 ,had four department management jobs then regional sales manager which I loved!! but in 2008 I had a serious car accident on the way home from work which I took time to recover from ,had nerve surgery etc ,I gave birth to a daughter who has autism which with the rehabilitation and then raising my daughter I never felt well enough to return to work…now however my daughter is in school and I am feeling a lot better mentally and physically recovered more or less from my accident.I feel ready to return to work but have a 4 years gap on employment 2009 until now as I took redundancy i was employed until then the company folded. what can I say to cover this and give me a fair chance in the workplace?

        • Dear Tanya,
          My goodness you’ve been through the mill! But you’ve come through and ready to start again. Good for you!

          Please read my advice on Employment Gaps on a Resume. That will give you ideas for handling those years when you were unemployed.

          I hope you land a great job soon!

      • I forgot to add that I am studying for a BA Honours degree which I have completed one third of so far this is in Youth and families pathway though but does cover psychology and sociology etc I would like to work in the same kind of job I was doing previously

  5. Hello! I am unsure how to proceed in my seemingly tricky situation. I was laid off June 2009 after over 1.5 years employment. February 2010 the same company re-hired me and then laid me off (again!) one month later. I then got a new job May 2010 and was laid off February 2011. I enrolled in school January 2010 and have been attending mostly part-time since then. I was also a contributor to a blog my friend started from August 2011 to June 2012.
    Any tips on how to address all of this? Is it best to offer some explanation in the cover letter? Do I list the blog as employment even though it paid about $0.02/hour? It’s all very confusing and I’m attempting to put together an impressive resume and cover letter for a job I REALLY want….to no avail, of course.

    I thank you for any advice in advance!

  6. Hi Cristin,
    You’ve been on a roller coaster, haven’t you? Let’s see if we can straighten it out on your resume by listing it very simply. How about this?

    ABC Company, 2008-2009
    DFG College, 2010-present

    List the job you had May 2010 – Feb. 2011 ONLY if it is relevant to your job objective. Same for the blog writing.

    I think it’s best not to address any of this in your cover letter as it only brings up questions. By keeping it clean and straight forward on your resume, you can keep the focus on what’s relevant to your career goal: your achievement statements.

    Best of luck with your resume!

    • Thank you so much for your response!

      If I list my schooling with my other jobs as your indicated, I assume I should leave it out of the education profile at the bottom of my resume? Also, when I include it and list it like employment looks, should I emphasize points from school, what I’m studying, etc., as I would accomplishments from employment?

      • Cristin,
        If you list your schooling in your Experience section, you should also list it under Education.

        And when you list it in your Experience section, there’s no need to put statements under that heading, unless you have something to say that supports your job objective. It’s fine to have a simple “job title” listing with dates (to cover a gap), without having any bullet statements under that job title.

  7. I wish to know so as how to justify the time gap between the career. I was working with a leading bank, however I left the same around 3 months ago and now looking for a job in same as well as different industry and during these 3 months I am just looking out for opportunity and have not undergone any certification courses.
    Please guide me.
    Thank you in advance.

    • Hello Nancy,
      If you list years without the months I think you will be fine for another month. By the end of April, you’ll need to update your resume with a current “job title.” So try to sign up for some volunteer or other unpaid work that’s relevant to your objective — something you can do while you conduct your job search. That will give you something to list as your current job. You might even think about doing some temp work through an agency. Temp work sometimes leads to full-time work or may at least give you some good networking in your field.

      Good luck!

  8. Hello!
    I have been not work for 2 years 8 months. During the time of unemployment, i spent the time on to get married, taking time off to recovered from miscarriage and taking care of my husband ageing parents. Now i am ready to get back to work but main concern is how should i positively address those missing years on my resume and in my cover letter, what shall i put on my resume since the last day i left my previous job.

    I would appreciate it if you could suggest any ideas on it. With your guidance, i hope soon be employed again and thank you in advance.


    • Hello Teresa,
      You’re not alone with this sort of employment gap. And, although employers will be forgiving of the gap, it’s key that you give a reason for it on your resume. You don’t have to list all your reasons. I suggest you pick one “job title” to explain the gap, and leave it at that. For example, you might list:
      2011-2013, Caregiver

      For more ways to handle this resume problem, see: How to Explain Unemployment on Your Resume.

      Best to you as you re-enter the workforce!

  9. Hi, I am an experienced sales engineer but I have resigned from my full time position for a year now. During my unemployment, I joined a network marketing company to explore the opportunities. But it takes time to build the network and I have my financial obligations so I decided to rejoin the work force. How do I explain that in my résumé? Please help

    • Hi Diane,
      There’s no need to explain that on your resume. But you do need to fill the gap. Have you been doing any volunteer work? Any consulting? Personal projects? Anything else you can list for that time?

      Here’s an article that may help you brainstorm for what to say: How to Explain Unemployment on Your Resume.

      Best of luck!

  10. Hi, I have a gap of 5 years after marriage(since2008) with a 3 year old kid, now want to join again . I have 3 years(2005-2008) experience as asst manager in engineering field,1 year(2004-2005) in quality control ,but now want to shift to HR
    i have got certif for ADBA this year, doing PGDHRM through distance learning .plz help me for resume writing

    • Hi Aarti,
      Here’s a thought for how you could present your current unemployment on your resume. You could list your “job titles” with dates after each of them under the umbrella of “full-time parenting”:

      Concurrent with full-time parenting, 20xx-present
      – PGDHRM studies for ADBA certification, 20xx-2013
      – Some other relevant unpaid work or studies, 20xx-20xx

      See if that will work.

  11. Hi Susan, I have a gap of 51/2 years following my daughter’s birth. I have 5+years of work exp in the field of Manual testing. I wish to get back to work now but have problems in filling the gap in my CV. However, I did takeup a certification course to refresh my knowledge on testing concepts and have also learnt a few tools at the same time. Kindly do lemme know on how I should incorporate the gap in my CV.

    • Hi Rachana,
      You can always list “Parent” for those 5-1/2 years of unemployment. Or you could list the relevant activities during that time. Or, you could do something like this:

      Concurrent with full-time parenting, 20xx-2013
      – Earned such and such certification.
      – Led such and such sports time to victory five times.
      – Some other unpaid activity that is either relevant or shows good character.

      Good luck with your return to the workforce!

  12. I have been out of work for 10 year this year.I have been looking and sending CVs to many different companies without success.I have not had any job since 2003.How do I explain this???I left my previous job due to depression.
    Please help

    • Hello Sipho,
      Depression is a hard thing to explain and I think it best to avoid having to, both on your resume and in your interview. So think about what you were doing during the last 10 years that’s relevant to your job objective. Unpaid activities are useful and can be listed on your resume to tell the employer what skills, talents, and interests you have.

      Please read How to Explain Unemployment on Your Resume and see if you can work with a friend on writing your resume. It will help to have someone to brainstorm with and give you good feedback.

      Best to you!

  13. Why in the world are you advising people to list only years on their resume? At best, this gimick will only “hide” periods of unemployment as these will be discovered when it comes time employment application (which does ask the applicant to list starting/ending months and days for each job.) Basically, you’re telling people to postpone telling the truth.

    • Hello Someone,
      You hit the nail on the head. It postpones telling the employer that you have gaps in employment. If a job seeker can wait until they’re in an interview to explain a gap, it’s much better. They have the chance to watch the employer’s response and discuss it appropriately.

      Also, by keeping dates simple on the resume (years without months) you make the resume quicker to read. That’s a big plus for the reader.

      Thanks for your comment.

  14. Hi Susan,

    I earned my Associate Degree in Paralegal studies in 2011. However due to an unfortunate auto accident, had to undergo surgery last year and had been recuperating since then. I have a three months unpaid legal internship to my credit as a work experience in USA. However I do have an accumulated admin experience of over ten years working for senior managers in various industries. Can you please guide me how to show this gap as I am thinking of reentering work force.

    Thanks very much.


    • Hello Sangeeta,
      I’m so sorry you were in such a serious accident. Glad to hear you’re on the mend and ready to go back to work. A few questions: did you do the unpaid legal internship while you were recuperating? If so, use that to fill the gap. If not, do you have any unpaid projects you were working on during that time that you could list? Are you a parent? If so, you could list that. If all else fails, you could list “caregiver” without saying that it was YOU you were caring for.
      Hope you find a job quickly and can put that on your next resume.

  15. Hello Susan,
    I have taken a break for 3 years now. Reason being, parenting. I have 4 yrs of exp as a S/W tester. I have no idea on how to show the gap in my resume. But from what I’ve seen above, U’ve been suggesting to mention it as ‘Full time parenting’ and listing activities under that. My question/doubt here is,
    1)Is it required for a person with a brk to show it on CV?
    2)Can’t one just apply for jobs with the last work exp as it is and not mentioning the gap at all as the years against the projects are mentioned in the CV and the recruiter might know that there has been a gap on seeing the year?
    3)Or is it fine to just not mention anything in CV abt the gap and leave it updated with the last work done in an organisation while also sending across a cover letter stating the gap and explaining abt it?
    4)Finally, is a Cover letter required at all or is just a CV fine?

    Please answer my queries and guide me in the right direction.

    • Hello Ramya,
      I strongly suggest you fill that employment gap with something relevant or something that shows good character. If you don’t, the employer may worry that there is something negative about your past (prison, drugs, laziness, etc.) that could be a problem for him if he hires you. So rather than taking that chance, he may just toss your resume and move on to the next one. After all, he has plenty of resumes to pick from.

      Always include a cover letter with your resume. Surveys show that resumes with cover letters (even bad cover letters) get a higher rate of success than those without cover letters at all.

      Good luck in your job search.

Comments are closed.