How to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume as a Parent

The days of feeling ashamed of employment gaps are becoming a thing of the past. Parents, it's time to own your gap and your story.

For what seems like forever, it has been viewed as a professional no-no to have a gap on your resume. And by gap, we're talking about a period of time during which you may not have been employed either full-time or part-time.

Plenty of us have faced recruiters who ask about these blips in work chronology as if you may have something to hide or perhaps the gap is indicative of some sort of professional failing on your part. But let's get real, shall we? This view of resume gaps has always failed to acknowledge the full realities of a woman's life. Vast numbers of women take time to step out of the workforce in order to raise and care for children or look after aging parents or loved ones. Or sometimes, (gasp) just to live our lives beyond the cubicle and explore other interests and passions.

An image of a woman on an interview.
Getty Images.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of women leaving the workforce to attend to other needs, including family care, multiplied practically overnight, as has been well documented by numerous studies.

The Center for American Progress for instance reported in October that four times as many women as men had dropped out of the labor force in September 2020—roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men. The report went on to explain that mothers were shouldering the majority of family caregiving responsibilities, as they have done historically. This reality, according to the report, will have a significant negative impact on women's employment and labor force participation rates.

Now, circling back to those resume gaps and how they may affect your future employability. It's unfortunate that this still has to be an issue in the screening and hiring process in the year 2021. But because it can be, it's important to be prepared for such questions and to be able to handle them like a pro. With that in mind, here are tips for addressing a gap on your resume from some of the leading voices in the career and recruitment industry.

Own the Gap

Let's start with the single most important point for women and mothers everywhere: own your gap. If we're to bring about continued change in society and the hiring process, we must stop making excuses for living our lives, taking care of our families, or striking out on our own time from time to time. Life is not always a neat, linear process.

"If asked about the gap, my first tip is to not apologize," executive coach Bonnie Marcus, author of Not Done Yet! How Women Over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Claim Workplace Power tells Parents. "Be proud of the decision you made to opt-out for a time period."

The good news is that as we're all learning not to apologize for work gaps, change is taking shape, say the experts at LinkedIn.

"There's been a cultural shift toward greater acceptance of nontraditional career paths and recruiters and hiring managers understand that people have good reasons for taking time off from their careers, now more than ever," LinkedIn Career Expert Blair Heitmann tells Parents. In fact, 79 percent of hiring managers today would hire a candidate with a gap on their resume, according to LinkedIn data.

Particularly in light of the pandemic, a career gap is something that's no longer a red flag to employers, and most are unlikely to penalize you, adds Heitmann.

Know You're Not Alone

Many find comfort in numbers. So, here's another statistic to consider: Having a career gap is now far more common than you may think. Heitmann says the majority of professionals today (62 percent) have experienced a career gap at some point in their career.

But just because you're not alone doesn't mean you won't face hurdles. About 61 percent of women who've taken career breaks said it was challenging to re-enter the workforce after the break.

Identify Transferrable Skills or Newly Acquired Knowledge

Did you juggle a million tasks while away from the workforce? Were your time management capabilities fine-tuned managing your household and your children's needs? Or did you perhaps take a few continuing education courses? All of these things can be used to craft a compelling narrative to move your career forward.

"If you have a gap in your resume due to caregiving or parenting duties, it's important to reflect on that time to identify any transferable skills that relate to the job opportunity you are interested in," says Carmen Bryant, marketing director for Indeed. "You can explain how the time provided you with the ability to strengthen your time management, and organization skills."

Kristen Salvatore, chief marketing officer for The Mom Project, offers similar advice. "Were you required to manage multiple schedules and be a project manager for every single family member? Did you utilize a new scheduling tool to do so? Or perhaps you learned to be adaptive in the fast-paced environment that is child-rearing," Salvatore tells Parents. "Was there any necessary networking you had to do to plug into different supportive communities in order to learn and share tips for supporting you and your family? Did you apply your professional skill set to any volunteer opportunities?"

These are just some of the questions to ask yourself when updating that professional profile or preparing for an upcoming job interview. Many people gain valuable skills and experience while outside the workforce. If you served as a condo board president, completed a marathon, or learned a new language, you may want to mention these things as well, say the experts at ZipRecruiter.

Organize Your Resume and Professional Profile

There are various schools of thought when it comes to how best to craft a resume timeline and online professional profile in response to a work gap. More than a few experts suggest not trying to hide the gap at all, indicating that doing so could potentially do more harm than good.

"Including your career pause avoids mystery gaps on your resume and can help provide the recruiter or hiring manager more context when assessing your application," says Salvatore, of The Mom Project, which is among a handful of career platforms that have actively sought to provide tools that are more inclusive of diverse life paths.

In the case of The Mom Project that has meant adding The Mom Project Pause, a function that's part of the platform's Resume Rev tool. The new feature allows users to add a career break when building a resume on the site. The pause is listed in chronological order so that it seamlessly complements other professional experiences.

LinkedIn has also taken steps to make it easier for people to embrace the diversity of their lives. Most notably, LinkedIn recently added such professional title options as "stay-at-home mom," and "stay-at-home dad" and other caretaking titles.

These changes are just the beginning. LinkedIn will also roll out such options as "parental leave," "family care leave," and "sabbatical," choices to professional profiles to be even more reflective of the world today.

ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel, author of the bestselling book Get Hired Now! offers a slightly different option for how you might handle work history gaps. "The first thing to know is that you don't necessarily have to explain resume gaps," Siegel tells Parents. "A great resume is a marketing brochure, not a biography. It needs to show your relevant skills and experience, not a minute-by-minute accounting of your life. So, if you'd rather not discuss the gaps in your resume, structure it in such a way that it highlights your skills first, and then provides information about your most relevant work experience."

To this end, Siegel suggests listing about three relevant past roles you've held and providing about two to four bullet points under each role outlining specific responsibilities and notable accomplishments. Order these professional roles from most to least important, not chronologically, says Siegel.

In the event, you do choose to include your work history gap ZipRecruiter offers a variety of useful approaches. For instance, if you took time away to raise children, you might opt to craft a funny, engaging resume entry:

Stay-at-Home Mom, 2014-2020

  • Raised three children—ages 7, 4, and 2
  • Changed 6,729 diapers
  • Reduced "crying time" by over 63 percent
  • Had only one emergency room visit, which resulted in absolutely no visible scars
  • Received "best parent" award from subordinates four out of five years

Focus On Your Experience, Qualifications, and Passion

When interview time arrives and you're asked to explain a career gap, keep your response simple but strong. There's no reason to feel self-conscious about your decision to focus on family and you don't need to over-explain it.

"When answering any question regarding the gap in your career, succinctly address the question and then pivot the direction of the conversation to focus on your experience and qualifications as it relates to the job," advises Salvatore.

And while you're shifting the conversation, be sure to emphasize enthusiasm for getting back into the workforce, adds Bryant, from Indeed.

"Show that you are excited for the future as a working woman. An example of this could be, 'I took over child care duties for my family during the pandemic, and I was happy to have the additional time with my kids. Now, I'm looking forward to getting back to work and pursuing my professional passions," explains Bryant.

One additional thought on this point—if you found the time during your career gap to engage in any online education or to pursue additional certifications, this too can help you shine in the eyes of a potential employer, so be sure to mention such efforts. Even volunteer roles in your community that you may have held are relevant and helpful.

"Using your skills to help others through this difficult time shows commitment to finding solutions and growing professionally, which will absolutely help you stand out," says Heitmann.

Your Resume is Merely a Starting Point

Remember this: You are far more than the words on a piece of paper or the description on an online professional profile. In the best of worlds, these things are merely the trigger for a deeper conversation.

"Show up to an interview ready to talk about your skills and accomplishments, and projects you're proud of. Be prepared to explain how you can contribute to the company's success and why you're the right candidate for the job," says LinkedIn's Heitmann. "Be ready to ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate you understand the company's industry and business plans."

Have Confidence

We only have one life. So, own it. Don't feel the need to make excuses for living the way you want to live as a mother, caregiver, or human being.

"Believe that you made the best possible decision for yourself, your family, and your loved ones and be confident and proud of that decision—as opposed to feeling like you did something wrong and need to justify yourself," says Stephanie Redlener, founder of Lioness, an underground society where women leaders learn to lead with power, pleasure, and purpose. "Leave behind the fear and guilt that women tend to often feel."

And know this: Body language speaks volumes.

Walk into (or show up on Zoom) for a job interview with your head held high, feeling confident about your choices. It will show. And then, repeat these words to yourself: "Yeah, of course, I did that. Any thoughtful, strong woman, who has the opportunity to make that decision, would."

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