Addressing Employment Gaps With Your Resume

For the first few years of my life, my dad was the stay at home parent while my mom worked. Part of the reason was financial. My brother is only two years older than me, and even back in the 1980s, daycare was not cheap! The second reason was political. Given what my parents did for work, it would have been much more difficult for my mom to reenter the workforce than my dad. Her career would have been killed had she stayed out even for a year or two, so it made long-term sense for him to take on the employment gap until I was old enough to start school.

But stay at home fathering is rare. More often then not, it is the mom who does it. In my offline job, I meet with a lot of women who are seeking to reenter the workforce after taking time off to raise their families. One of the main challenges they face is how to account for the employment gap on their resume. In this post, we’ll go over a great format can be useful whether or not you left the workforce to be a parent.

Whenever I meet with clients in the stay at home parent situation, it always bothers me that they can’t just write “stay at home parent” on their resume. I know why they can’t do it (and if you don’t, check out my post on illegal interview topics for some insight), I just really wish they could. I’m all about skill based career development so to me, being a parent is just as relevant an experience as any other. Raising humans requires a LOT of valuable hard and soft skills that employers are looking for: multitasking, communication, budgeting, time management, conflict resolution, supervision, organization… and I’m sure there are more. Being a stay at home parent is not an easy job! But since women usually do it, it’s not even considered a “job.”

Sucks to be us.

But you don’t have be a parent to be out of work long-term. Life happens, and sometimes you suddenly find yourself without a job. Accidents and illnesses are two main culprits, but so are things like companies closing, sudden layoffs, and jobs being eliminated by automation and outsourcing. One day it’s all good, the next day you’re struggling. And, given a job market than favors the employed, industry-wide goal post movement with regards to certifications and credentials, and the myriad of 1000% arbitrary factors that influence hiring decisions, it could take years to get a new gig that is related to the career you were building.

Sucks to be all of us, I guess.

So what can you do if you’re in this spot? How to do you overcome and find another career position? One way to do it is by reformatting your resume.

Most resumes follow a pretty standard pattern that I’ve written about here, made a workbook for it in here, and created a course to walk you through it here. With this format, all of your work experiences are in reverse-chronological order. (Because of this, it is called a chronological resume.) While this is useful for employers to get a quick sense of your work history and career development, it makes any employment gaps very obvious. For all of the reasons mentioned above, this isn’t a good thing! One way to get around this is to create a functional resume.

The Functional Resume

Functional resumes allow job seekers to talk more about the skills they posses and places less emphasis on the circumstances under which they gained those skills. Instead of listing out your experiences in order, you write out your skills and do a deep dive into how you’ve used and honed them. Think of it as a mix between resume and cover letter, since you’re providing more depth than you would on a typical (chronological) resume. Functional resumes are great for masking employment gaps because it’s not reliant on dates. You can show off your relevant skills in a way that makes your experiences and expertise shine. Here is an example:

Addressing Employment Gaps With Your Resume | Looking for a job when you have employment gaps is tricky. In this post, we go over how to reformat your resume to mask your gaps and focus on how qualified you are for the job! |

Unfortunately, recruiters aren’t the biggest fans of functional resumes, mostly for the reasons that make it so great for people who need to hide employment gaps. Also, they get mixed reviews when going through resume reading software because some of the bots are trained to look for job titles rather than key words. Fortunately, you can make a hybrid resume that has the right formatting to keep recruiters engaged but also get through the applications tracking systems.

The Hybrid Resume

Hybrid resumes combine the reading ease of a chronological resume with the depth of relevant experiences of a functional resume. With this format, job seekers lead with the two or three important skills or accomplishments that are most relevant to the job they’re applying for. After providing effective resume statements (AKA bullet points) that provide important details about them, the resume then gives an overview of work experiences. Here is an example:

Addressing Employment Gaps With Your Resume | Looking for a job when you have employment gaps is tricky. In this post, we go over how to reformat your resume to mask your gaps and focus on how qualified you are for the job! |

With a hybrid resume, you can guide the reader through the most relevant aspects of your previous experiences without explicitly connecting them to a specific workplace location. This is great for stay at home parents or people who have picked up skills through freelancing or nontraditional means because you can front load the document with the things that you know the recruiter will want to see. Thus, by the time they get to your work experiences section, the dates (and the gaps they reveal) are much less off-putting because you’ve already sold the fact that you can do what they’re looking for.

Since a resume is often the first time an employer will meet you, choosing the right format is critical for getting them to want to actually meet you in person. If you’re unsure of which one best presents you and your skills, make one of each and see which one you like best. If there are people in your life whose opinions you trust, ask them for their feedback as well. Use this workbook to help you practice! 

Revamping and reformatting your resume is just one way to address employment gaps, but it is definitely the most important one. As you can see from the examples, you can use the same content in either format for different (but still effective) results, In a future post, I’ll got into three more ways to do this: with a cover letter, by volunteering, and through retooling yourself. Can you think of others? Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for the next post!


Dr. Lindsay is career development & academic success coach who loves helping people figure out and proceed to the next levels of their lives.