I'm Currently Unemployed. Should I Mention That in My Cover Letter?

You're currently unemployed. Should you talk about that in a cover letter? Or is it better to avoid the "unemployment" issue with the hope that it will not be noticed by a potential employer?

Most of us have taken time off during our careers—sometimes by choice, sometimes not by choice. In either case, no matter how wonderful it seemed to you when you weren't doing the daily 9-to-5 thing, an employer might not view it so favorably.

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Employers don't like to see a gap in your work history, particularly if the gap is current and/or long-term. They would rather see that unemployed time explained, especially if the explanation is somehow connected to your job objective, or at least shows strength of character.

How to Explain That You're Currently Unemployed in Your Cover Letter

A long, unexplained void in your work history may cause the reader to think, "This person is hiding something" or "Here's someone who might have a problem" (such as substance abuse, incarceration, laziness, or instability). To gain the employer's trust and put his mind at ease, it's important to justify your employment gaps.

The best place to justify gaps in your employment history is on your resume. Although you are not obligated to mention work gaps in your cover letter, you may want to do so if you are currently unemployed, have been so for quite some time, and you are unable to disguise your jobless state on your resume.

Explain the gap in a way that is honest and feels comfortable to you. Consider all the things you’ve been doing while currently unemployed (volunteer work, school activities, internships, schooling, travel, etc.) and present those activities in a way that's relevant to your job objective, if possible.

For example:

  • Someone looking for a medical sales position who took care of an ill parent for 2 years might say: "I am currently a home care provider for a terminally ill relative."
  • An applicant for a travel agent position could refer to his vacation like this: "I have just returned from travel to Europe, Asia, and South America."
  • A mother wanting to reenter the job market as a teacher's aide might say: "For the last 3 years, I have been a full-time parent and active PTA volunteer at St. John's Academy."

When NOT to Talk About Your Employment Gap

If your activities during your unemployment have no apparent relevancy to your job objective, I suggest you avoid mentioning it in your letter altogether. If you don't say that you’re recently unemployed, is that considered a lie? The answer is no, nondisclosure is not the same as lying. When the time is right, you will tell the employer that you are not currently employed. Until that time, you are not obligated to reveal your employment status.

Don’t Raise These Red Flags About Unemployment

Don't refer to personal illness, incarceration, or drug rehabilitation. These topics raise red flags that will concern any potential employer, so avoid mentioning them in your cover letter or resume. Refer to something else you are doing, even if it doesn't relate to your job objective.

Here are some other activities you might refer to when addressing gaps in your work history. Do any of these apply to you?

  • Volunteer work
  • Independent study
  • Adventure travel
  • Professional development
  • Student
  • Mentor and/or tutor
  • Community work
  • Freelance work
  • Consultant
  • Contractual work
  • Relocation from abroad
  • Civic leadership

Keep in mind that since your cover letter is not a confessional, you don't have to disclose whether or not you were paid for your service. For example, if you worked at the Junior League, you can say you were a "volunteer program coordinator" or a "program coordinator."

The letters by Andres Mejilla and by Lynn Powell have something in common: They address current gaps in employment. If you're looking for a way to justify unemployment, one of their letters may give you an idea for handling your situation. Check them out:

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Susan Ireland Resume Author Susan Ireland is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume and creator of Susan Ireland's Ready-Made Resume Builder.