How to explain a pandemic job gap in your resume

Navigate the big and small gaps in your employment history, the smart way.

Most people will have a gap in their work history at some point in their careers. This has become even more common as 9.6 million American workers lost their jobs in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, studies show that 84% of job seekers believe there’s a stigma around being out of work, and 67% think it’s affecting their employment search.

If you’re a job seeker who’s unsure how to deal with gaps in your resume, you’re in the right place.

What is a job gap?

Simply put, a job gap is a period of time (usually several months to a few years) during which a person is not employed. There are many reasons why someone might have a gap in their employment history, including taking care of family, going back to school, or simply not being able to find a job. Whatever the reason, job gaps can always be easily explained!

5 resume tips for your career gap

Be honest about job gaps

Just lying about a job gap on your resume will only make you look untrustworthy.  Being dishonest about anything will likely be discovered during the hiring process anyway. Most employers are understanding about firings and lay-offs – but getting caught lying will reflect much more poorly on your character than a gap between jobs.

Make small breaks less obvious

While you should never lie on your resume or job application, there are ways that you can make an employment gap seem less obvious. This is especially important as organizations now use AI to process applicants, and you may be filtered out. One simple trick if you were only unemployed for a short time, don’t include the months you worked at a company, just the years. While you should still be honest in the interview for why you left, this can help you get your foot in the door:

Administrative Assistant, Company A,2018–2020
Operations Manager, Company B, 2020–2021

Acknowledge big gaps

If you needed to take a significant amount of time away from your career, you can also format your resume so that long employment gaps appear as their own job. For example, if you were away from the workforce from 2020 until 2021 caring for a sick family member, list this on your resume as if it were a job, and include your responsibilities and the skills that you learned during this time:

Caregiver, Miami, FL, March 2020–November 2021
I took time away from my career to care for a family member. My responsibilities included financial budgeting, managing appointments, and basic medical care. I learned time management and personal finance skills.

In your cover letter, offer a very brief explanation for long periods out of the workforce and try to focus on the steps you’ve taken to stay sharp and relevant in your industry.

Don’t forget about freelancing, volunteering, or classes

Show your initiative and highlight the specific skills and knowledge you learned while not working. Volunteering can show that you’re practicing the skills for a great hire (teamwork, emotional intelligence, commitment), while freelancing, even if it’s not directly related to the job you’re applying for, is a way to show new skills in action (time management, multitasking, quick learner). It’s great if you were able to take an in-person or online training program, but even taking a couple of free online courses shows that you’re proactive and up to date on the latest in your field.

Practice your interview answers

While you should have already provided some context in your cover letter, plan how you can frame a job gap when asked in interviews. Try to stay positive and keep in mind the skills and knowledge you learned out of the workforce. How could they help you be a valuable employee?

If you were fired, the most important thing you can do is show that you learned from your experience (Now I know to talk to my manager if I’m going through a significant challenge in my personal life – and work with them so my job performance isn’t impacted.) If you were laid off due to company-wide cuts, you’ll need a quick explanation about why your position was eliminated (COVID-19 pandemic, company reorg). If you left to act as a caregiver, remember to still keep your response brief and, if possible, unemotional.

Need more advice for navigating the world of work? Check out our other free resources for job seekers!

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