What is a CV gap and is it a problem?
CV gaps are points in your life where you were not employed, and where the break from employment cannot be explained by something obvious (such as being a full-time student.) They are something many of us have been trained to fear. Some people worry that even the smallest gap in their CV will make them unemployable or less attractive to potential employers.
So let’s bust some CV gap myths, shall we?
What counts as a CV gap?
Most potential employers won’t even notice a gap that is shorter than a couple of months. While you might be asked to explain a shorter gap, it’s unlikely. As a general rule of thumb, be prepared to explain any gap of 3 months or longer.
Gaps from a long time ago are also less likely to be questioned. Employers tend to be more interested in what a candidate has been doing recently.
Why might someone have a CV gap?
Life is unpredictable and sometimes things happen that we cannot control. Similarly, sometimes people need to take some time away from the working world for all sorts of reasons.
Example reasons for CV gaps include:
- Dealing with an illness, injury or disability.
- Caring responsibilities for an unwell child, partner, family member or other dependent.
- Spending some time as a stay-at-home parent.
- Losing your job and taking some time to get a new one.
- Struggling to find a job after leaving College or University.
- Going travelling.
- Taking a sabbatical.
Does a CV gap make me unemployable?
No! People have breaks in their employment history all the time, and for all sorts of reasons. While you might be asked to explain the reason for the gap, no reputable employer will hold it against you in and of itself.
The idea that any CV gap is terrible is among the most commonly given bad advice for young jobseekers.
If you’re stressed about an explainable CV gap, consider this: an employer who would judge you for something so normal and common is not an employer you want to be working for! Because chances are, their expectations and perspectives will be wildly out of sync with the norm in other areas, too.
Read on to learn how to handle the CV gap question with confidence and professionalism.
Should I explain any gaps on the CV itself?
There are different schools of thought on this. After researching what various experts think, my own answer is “no, unless the gap was very long, very recent, or both.” If this is the case, explain the gap with a brief, one-sentence summary.
- “I have been a stay-at-home parent for the last five years, but now that my child has started school I am eager to rejoin the workforce.”
- “I was made redundant from my long-term position when [Company] downsized and am looking for a change of career.”
If the gap was short (less than 6 months) or longer ago, don’t take up space on the CV document with an explanation. Just be prepared to be asked about it at interview.
How to use a CV gap to your advantage
If you can, it’s always good to explain what you did during your time away from work that makes you more attractive as an employee. Obviously, no-one expects you to be learning to speak three foreign lanaguages or play the cello while raising young children or recovering from a serious illness. But using your time productively is really important for those who have a CV gap due to unemployment.
Here are some ways to use your time to help employers see your CV gap is not a problem:
- Undertake some freelance work.
- Learn a new skill or improve your existing skills.
- Take a class, course, or professional qualification.
- Read books or papers and attend events related to your field of interest.
Filling in that time is a great way to show employers you are a Young Professional building the key skills we all need in life and work.
Remember that unpaid and voluntary experience can be included on your CV, as can any qualifications you’ve gained outside of the workplace.
You can’t help the past. Focus on the present and future
Employers are (usually) not concerned about CV gaps out of judgement or a moral issue with periods of unemployment. Their concern is this: will this person be a reliable, loyal employee?
This means that while you should explain your CV gaps honestly, you should keep the primary focus of your CV, cover letter and interview on what you can bring to the table for this employer – now and in the future.
For example, say you took a year off to go travelling. A great explanation might be, “I took a year out to travel. I immersed myself in other cultures and learned a huge amount about myself and the world. It was a great experience, but I’m settled back in the UK now and ready to throw myself into focusing on my career.”
Explaining CV gaps due to illness, injury or disability
If the gap in your CV is due to a period away for health reasons, you can state that simply and matter of factly. You do not have to give details, and it is illegal for a potential employer to ask you to. “I needed to take some time out to deal with a health issue” is usually enough. You can add “I’m fully recovered now” if that’s true for you and you want to disclose it.
If your health issue was related to an ongoing illness or disability, you are entitled to have reasonable accommodations made for you if you are offered a job. You do not have to disclose this at interview stage unless you need adjustments making for the interview (e.g. a ground floor interview room, a BSL interpreter, etc.) It is illegal for employers to:
- Discriminate due to disability or health status, either at interview/offer stage or once you’re employed. This includes discriminating due to a health-related CV gap.
- Refuse reasonable adjustments to enable you to interview or do a job.
- Require you to give more information about your health than is strictly required to enable them to make adjustments for you. This includes asking you for details about your illness at any stage.
Explaining CV gaps due to losing a job
If you were made redundant, your contract expired and wasn’t renewed, the company folded, or something else outside of your immediate control happened, say so!
Explaining a CV gap after being fired could fill up a whole article by itself. In short: be honest. Don’t sugar-coat the reality but don’t give in to excessive self-deprecation either. Describe briefly what happened, acknowledge the role that you played in it, and focus on what you have learned from the situation and would do differently next time. Some employers will hold it against you, and you cannot escape from that reality. Many more, however, will be impressed by your honesty, especially if you show reflection and self-growth as a result of your experience.
Explaining CV gaps due to Coronavirus
Your CV gap is definitely going to be less of a big deal than you fear is if you’ve had job issues due to the COVID-19 crisis. Millions of people are in the same boat right now and young people are being hit particularly hard. Employers are having to make difficult decisions about staffing cuts that they’d really rather not be making.
No-one with even a shred of decency is going to hold a CV gap due to a global pandemic against you. If they do, it speaks to really weird values and probably a lot of workplace dysfunction lurking under the surface.
In short: don’t stress!
Most professionals will have a CV gap at some point during their career. So be honest and brief. Focus on positives, and emphasise what you can offer your potential employer.