Throughout my years of resume writing, one of the main questions I am asked on a near-daily basis is “should I explain the employment gap on my resume?” and the answer is rather complex. As with any question, the answer will vary depending on your background and the reason for the gap.

Ultimately, yes, you should explain long-term employment gaps, but NOT on your resume. I’ll explain more about this later. Your resume is a simple document which details your career, education/training, and skills. That’s it. Let’s say you worked at a company from 2000 until 2012, and you have been looking for work since then. Many people want to add a description of what they have been doing, often resulting in generic sentences such as “currently serving as a homemaker since 2012, responsible for home budgeting and finances” or something similar. Although it may be tempting, avoid explaining this in your resume. Every employer knows that you are trying to hide the fact that you were unemployed, so avoid doing that.

So where should you explain the gap? The answer is your cover letter (and the interview). Employers know that “stuff happens” and well-qualified candidates are unemployed from time-to-time, especially in today’s tough job market, so try not to be overly-concerned if you have a small gap. To help explain the example situation I listed above (unemployed since 2012), mention something like “Since leaving my former employer in 2012, I have been seeking employment with a company that perfectly aligns with my interests and values” (or something similar) in your cover letter rather than listing something that makes you sound desperate. For instance, “I have been applying to jobs since 2012 and unfortunately I haven’t had much luck, but I am very anxious to interview with your company” sounds quite desperate.

Most small gaps do not need an explanation, and if an employer is curious they will ask you. Larger gaps, however, should definitely be explained in your cover letter. Remember, though, that you want to explain the gap in a positive manner instead of making employers think you are desperate. Be as factual as possible without spending too much time explaining the gap. Employers are interested in your skills and abilities, and if a large portion of your cover letter is dedicated to a gap in employment, they are likely to move on to the next candidate.

In summary, use common sense and explain gaps in your cover letter in as few words as possible. Focus on your relevant skills and experiences and include just enough information about your employment gap to ease the mind of potential employers without making it the focus of your documents.

By Drew Roark