If you’re looking for a job, there’s nothing quite so frightening as having an employment gap on your CV or resume.
We tend to see the gap as a failure, a failure to work, a failure to participate in what society expects from us. We know from experience that potential future employers will want an explanation for the gap, and so the panic rises.
Why are there gaps? The reasons are endless and varied: travel, staying home with a newborn, moving to a city or country to follow a spouse, serious illness, caring for family members, trying to write a novel, a burnout.
Here’s the thing: a gap on your CV or resume does not mean you didn’t do anything.
Please let this sink in. A gap on your CV or resume does not mean you didn’t do anything. It doesn’t mean you didn’t learn anything. It doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything important.
In fact, I’d argue that some of our most important personal growth and cherished moments happen in those gaps. We turn into ourselves, we ask ourselves hard questions, we overcome obstacles often without guidance. We emerge changed. Employment gaps represent personal journeys.
Your job in talking about it is to find the stories you can tell that show this growth.
Finding those stories requires looking at your gap with different eyes. Stop thinking about the things you didn’t do in that time, like reporting to a boss or drawing a paycheck. Start thinking about the things you did. Then break those things down into the skills you learned.
The skills you learned and the self-knowledge you gained about yourself are the things you can talk about when describing your gap as a journey. You can find valuable skills you gained during that gap.
For example, if you took a year to travel. You had to organize your logistics, learn to cope in different languages, learn to build relationships with strangers from different cultures. And if you traveled for a year, I’m certain there were a couple of crises you pulled yourself out of. How did you do it? What skills did you use?
These are the stories we can tell to talk about our gaps.
I had a gap of more than 3 years on my CV the last time I applied for a job. During that time, I’d moved internationally twice and had my second child. You can be sure there were some skills I developed or exercised during that time that I used to talk about what I was doing and why.
Also, I was able to articulate why taking that time off work was important to me. By doing that, it let my future employers know what kind of person they would be getting. In my case, it was someone who was committed to her family. That’s still one of my key values and shapes my choices. To not tell that part of my story wouldn’t have helped anyone in the long run.
So, have a look at that gap in your employment history with new eyes. What kind of personal journey does it represent to you? Which stories do you want to tell?
If you want some guidance in deciding whether those are the stories you need for your Story Library, download a Story Library Cheat Sheet for useful questions you can use to check if your story meets your Story Library requirements.