How to Explain Gaps on a Resume

By the Australian Careers Service


Many people will experience a gap on their resume at some point or other, and with every single industry being impacted in some way by COVID-19 this year, it’s going to be even more common in the years ahead. 

Life happens. It might feel awkward having a gap on your resume, but you’re not alone. The good news is, many employers know and understand this. A gap is no longer the ‘big deal’ it used to be — as long as you explain why it’s there positively. 

Here are four ways to do just that: 

1. Prepare your answer 

The best way to explain any gap on your resume is to assume you’ll be asked about it and make sure you prepare your answer. 

Time out of the workforce can often make us feel less competitive and cagey about our reasons for taking time off. Spend some time thinking about why you were out of work, how long for, and what you did with that time — what did you learn and how will it benefit you in this role? Keep answers concise and confident.  

2. Just be honest 

Employers will question longer gaps because they want to make sure you’re committed to the job you’re up for — if you’ve taken time out for medical or family reasons, they’re seeking reassurance you can do the job. 

This is your chance to demonstrate your professional honesty. Make sure answers don’t come across as ‘confessional’ but focus on the confidently reassuring the employer you’re ready, motivated and committed to take on the job at hand. 

3. Put a professional spin on it 

Think about any transferable skills you may have developed. If you took time out following a redundancy to travel, you could share what you’ve learnt and how travelling has helped you improve as a professional (though time management, organisation or adaptability for example). 

If you were let go, make sure you don’t bad-mouth your last employer. Stay positive and focus on what you’ve gained from the experience, not what you’ve lost. 

4. Don’t panic 

Remember: the employer isn’t seeking to catch you out, they’re just curious. Don’t get defensive or anxious if asked about a gap on your resume.

Bring the focus back to why you’re in the room and what makes you the ideal candidate. You don’t have to go into in-depth detail during the interview if the gap was for personal reasons. Advise the employer you took time out for personal/family reasons and it allowed you to refocus on what you’re looking for now in your career. Then launch into how that led you to apply for the job you’re interviewing for and the unique skills you have for the role. 

Speaking as someone who’s sat on interview panels numerous times and observed how candidates responded to being asked about employment gaps, I can assure you it’s those who don’t treat the gap as an ‘issue’ that reassures all of us in the room that it isn’t. 

9 Tips for Choosing the Right Professional Referees
November 5, 2020

By Helen Green 

Referees are key to job search success. In a competitive job market adversely impacted by COVID-19, it pays to ensure the referees you’re putting forward are the most appropriate for the job you are applying for.

Be strategic when putting forward someone to speak about your work, achievements, skills, and cultural fit for the job you are in the running for. Here are just a few tips that may help. 

 1. Choose your referees carefully  

Referees need to know your character and your work contributions. How well do they know you? Your referees should be able to speak about your achievements, strengths, and areas in which you may need further developing — in the context of their work relationship with you. If they cannot speak about these adequately, the referee phone call may become uncomfortable for them, which ultimately reflects poorly on you as the candidate. 

When putting forward a former manager, you should be very confident they would respond positively to the question ‘would you rehire this person?’ If you have any concerns about this, think carefully about asking them to be a referee. 

2. Compiling your referee list 

Aim for at least three people who might be able to support your job application. This helps you match the referee to the job and avoids over-reliance on the same person, which can be challenging if you are on the shortlist for several positions. Some recruiters now want to speak to your referees before starting the recruiting process, which is a practice proving difficult for many candidates and their well-meaning referees. Referee fatigue is real. 

3. Other people you could consider as a referee 

The challenge is made more difficult for young people with limited work experience, those who have lost contact with their former referees or their referees are long retired, people who have been out of the workforce for an extended period, the self-employed, or those whose last job/relationship with their manager did not end well. Think broadly.  

Some of the following suggestions may work for you: 

  • Current supervisor (if appropriate)
  • Former supervisor with current employer or previous employer
  • Manager of an adjoining internal division who knows your work well
  • Long-standing former client(s) or external stakeholder you maintained a strong relationship with and provided a service relevant to the job you are applying for
  • Person you mentored or managed who really benefited from your leadership
  • Former colleague with whom you worked closely who has now been promoted internally or externally
  • Colleague in another section of your company who you helped/provided specialist advice to on several occasions, resulting in a specific outcome
  • Chair of a committee or internal working group you contributed to substantially
  • Representative of an organisation you volunteered with who knows you well
  • Chair of the school council when you were an active parent representative
  • Sporting coach, teacher, academic, trainer – particularly for young job candidates

4. Match the referee to the job 

This is important. Consider the key selection criteria for the job and the organisation’s profile. A recent client was shortlisted for a position as a senior client relationship manager. She included a supervisor and we discussed the possibility of adding a former long-term client she had collaborated closely with on a key project, to give his perspective as a client. He was delighted to help — this impressed the recruiter and she was successful. 

5. Is your most senior referee essential? 

Often, though not always. There is little point listing the company CEO, as opposed to your supervisor, unless they are briefed appropriately and it is clear they know you and your work. Putting forward both is ideal, as they can offer different perspectives. 

Context matters too. If you are a candidate for a senior leadership role, consider putting forward someone you have managed or professionally mentored as a referee, as evidence of your leadership style. 

6. Communication is key 

Maintain contact with your referees and brief them. Apart from reflecting poorly on you, you cannot expect your referee to do a good job selling you if they have not heard from you in years and have no idea what job you have applied for. Make sure to reconnect and aim to keep your referees as current and relevant as possible. 

Some suggestions: 

  • Provide your referee with an updated copy of your CV, highlighting anything important.
  • Brief them about the job you have been shortlisted for and why you have applied. Do not assume they will know why you are changing careers or jobs.
  • Remind them of your key contributions during the time you worked or volunteered together – especially as they relate to the job you are applying for.
  • Update them about anything significant that may have happened since you worked together; e.g. if you won an award, worked on a high-profile project, were absent from the workforce for several years.

7. Avoid listing referees on your CV 

It is widely understood that candidates will need to put forward referees, so it’s unnecessary to include them. It can also be counterproductive, as a recruiter may call your referees at any time during the recruitment process before you can brief them about the job. Better that you control the selection of your referees and put forward their contact details when requested. Of course, if you have a very high-profile and relevant referee you would love to flag on your CV, perhaps include a brief testimonial from them on page one of your CV. 

8. Make sure contact details for your referees are up to date 

Providing the wrong contact details or outdated information about your referee’s current position is a red flag for hiring managers. Ask your referees how they would like to be contacted and the best time to contact them saves time for the recruiter and makes you look efficient. 

9. If you left your last job on difficult terms 

This can be tricky. If asked, be honest, positive and provide alternatives. Most people have experienced a situation where, for various reasons, a working relationship does not work. A client had worked for an organisation for several years, and for the previous 12 months experienced a difficult working relationship with his line supervisor, who was new to supervising. His position was made redundant. Short-listed for a role, he had been asked for the contact details of his most recent supervisor. We discussed how best to present an appropriate and honest explanation as to why his former supervisor and a senior manager from another division would be able to provide more substantive information relevant to the position he was in consideration for. He was successful. 


Check your referees are happy to remain on your list — this is crucial. Most importantly, thank them for their time and belief in you. 

Helen is a qualified careers practitioner and director of Career Confident in Melbourne. Previously, Helen worked in senior education and career program management roles, primarily at the University of Melbourne.

YOU can read the original version of this article here.

Revamping Your Resume for the Digital World
May 27, 2020

By Elaine Mead 

With the increasing focus on all things digital, it could be time to reconsider those two sides of A4 your once spent hours meticulously writing, googling tips about how to write, and re-writing.

Elaine Mead

The traditional resume hasn’t died just yet, but how it’s used has definitely changed and is continuing to do so. It’s time to rethink how you use your resume to ensure it’s getting in front of the right people and scoring your interviews. 

Searchability and Keywords are Key 

In the early days, the best way for an employer to compare potential candidates was by having a bunch of resumes in front of them. A resume provided an overview of someone’s experience, skills and academic achievements in order to see who was a better or worse fit for the role. From this, employers could create their interviewee shortlist. 

Nowadays, a resume is less about selling yourself and more of a way for employers and recruiters to find and screen candidates. When seeking out potential candidates on online job databases, recruiters and employers will search for specific keywords, job titles and skills, then use the results to create a shortlist. For many jobs, applications are scanned for keywords to create the first shortlist of candidates, so it’s crucial to make sure you’re using the correct keywords, titles and skills. 

You can create a competent list of the keywords you should be using by referring to the full job description, and if you’re putting your resume into an online database, make sure you use a few different job ads for the same roles so you can build a bigger list of keywords. 

Be Prepared for the ‘Digital Interview’ 

It’s no secret that employers will look up candidates online. Your resume might still be the baseline requirement that will be taken into account when an employer is weighing up whether to hire your or not, but you can be quite certain they’ll be conducting a ‘digital interview’ – looking up what they can find out about you online – as well. 

It’s no longer about just being on LinkedIn. Employers will want to see recommendations from past employers and colleagues, as well as details of the projects you worked on and what your output and achievement from these were. Employers want new recruits who are engaged and active in their chosen field or industry. Sharing — or better yet, writing — an article or two on your area of expertise will showcase your enthusiasm for your work.  

Having a well-maintained profile filled with relevant content can help build your credibility to potential employers, and also demonstrate you as a contributor and influencer within your chosen field. 

Elaine Mead is a Careers and Work-Integrated Learning Educator based in Tasmania.

ViewPoint: Talk Up Your work or Get Left Behind.
January 28, 2020

By Kathryn Crawford Saxer.   Kathryn Saxer coaches mid- to senior-level professionals on career management and development.

“Write like a girl,” I told my career coaching client.

Kathryn Crawford Saxer, jobs columnist for Seattle Times Explore

My client, a scientist with several years of postdoctoral research experience, was applying for a faculty position at a prestigious university. We were working through drafts of her cover letter. The first draft of her letter was good: well written, well organized, coherent and clear.

But there was a tone.

“Your letter reads very humble,” I told her as I marked up the document. “I think you have a lot of room to be more braggy. I expect you are competing against men who have no problem doing so.”

My editorial comment is backed up by a recent study published in The British Medical Journal that found that men “are much more likely than women to heap praise on their own research and emphasize its importance,” as the study authors wrote in a New York Times editorial in December.

The researchers analyzed the titles and abstracts of more than 6 million life-science articles. They found that in the most highly cited scientific journals, male-led scientific teams were up to 21% more likely than women-led teams publishing comparable studies to use positive adjectives like “novel,” “excellent” and “unique” to describe their results.

And words matter.

The researchers found that articles with a more positive spin in their titles and abstracts were linked to more citations, a critical component in hiring, promotion, pay and funding decisions. The researchers were studying science writing, but the findings are a useful analogy for emails, presentations and promotion docs in the business world.

“There’s a tentative tone to the letter,” I told my client. “Maybe a little diffident. You use phrases like ‘I am eager’ and ‘I am thrilled.’”

Instead, I told her that I wanted her to claim her place, rather than ask for it.

“You describe your research, but don’t say what the impact was. I bet you’re shying away from claiming impact because it feels braggy.”

“I thought I was bragging!” she said, and took another stab at the letter.

A couple of drafts later, her letter confidently outlines how she will contribute to the university’s success. She describes her research and how it intersects with the department’s research focus. She references her publications, calling out which she was lead author on, and stating matter-of-factly the number of citations to date.

The letter is still well written, well organized, coherent and clear, but without the “eager” and “thrilled” language that undermines her serious professionalism. She describes her research as “novel.”

“Nice work writing like a girl,” I told her.

Resume Tips to Transform Your Job Search
March 18, 2019

This is an extract from the  post  56 Resume Tips to Transform Your Job Search that first Jobscan Blog.

Creating a resume for your job search should be easy. Download a template, write up your work and education history, then fire it off to eager potential employers. But once you start, the questions start piling up. Are objective statements still a thing? Do I put the company name or my job title first? Which skills and duties do they care about? How small can I make my fonts and margins to fit everything on a single page? And what’s this I’m hearing about applicant tracking systems?

We’ve got answers– 56 resume tips to guide you through the process.

Every Time: Name, phone number, and email address: With so much else to consider, job seekers sometimes forget to make themselves reachable. Just ask an experienced recruiter.

Ensure that your name is prevalent at the top of your resume, followed closely by a personal phone number and email address. Don’t use your work contact information if you have other options. Read more