Returning to Work After a Job Gap: Resume & Cover Letter Tips

by Kimberly Sarmiento

Job Gap

The best time you can read about strategies for returning to work after significant time off is before you take a break. That’s because the best thing you can do to overcome a significant job gap is keep experience up-to-date through part-time or contract positions or through volunteer work. However, if you have taken time off without volunteer or part-time work, there are still several strategies you can use to minimize the impact of a job gap on your resume.

First Impressions

Rather than allowing your job gap to be the first thing a hiring manager notices about you, make sure you use a summary section and career highlights to introduce yourself to the reader. By leveraging these sections in the top portion of your resume, you can grab the reader’s attention and perhaps gain an interview before he/she notices that you have a job gap in your career history.

Formatting Tips

While many job applications will ask for career history to be listed with months and years, it is not necessary to include months on your resume. When using years alone, significant time off work can be covered. Consider the difference:

  • Program Director – Company Name | December 2015 to Present
  • Program Director – Company Name | November 2005 to March 2014
  • Project Manager – Company Name | January 2001 to February 2004

VERSUS

  • Program Director – Company Name | 2015 - Present
  • Program Director – Company Name | 2005 - 2014
  • Project Manager – Company Name | 2001 - 2004

When using month and years, a hiring manager would notice a 20-month gap between each job in the first example. In the second example, there is no noticeable break in employment.

Highlighting Education

If you decided to take time off to advance your education, you may want to highlight that as part of your career overview. Of course, you want to list your degree and school as part of the education section of your resume, but you may also want to include details on your time at school as part of your reverse chronological job history. This works particularly well if you served as a Research or Teaching Assistant while completing your education. Consider:

Company Name | 2015 - Present
Professional Standards Partner

  • Served as a Member of the National Professional Standards Group responsible for managing the resolution of accounting and auditing technical matters as well as the quality control function for audit service practice in liaison with the national office professional standards group.
  • Developed policies and procedures to ensure the firm’s quality control policies and procedures were appropriately applied on audits of federal, state, and local government entities.
  • Assigned engagement quality reviewers to lead the implementation of the quality review program.
  • Led risk assessments and developed review programs to drive compliance.
  • Developed and directed continuous monitoring programs associated with DCAA timekeeping compliance, key audit quality initiatives, and crucial risk and compliance initiatives.
  • Mentored 100+ auditors and grew the audit training program to address federal government audit.

University Name | 2014 - 2015
Full-Time Student/Research Assistant

  • Completed required courses to earn a Master’s in Business Administration, graduating cum laude.
  • Conducted research for senior-level professors, assisting them with material used for economic studies and statistical analysis for published papers.
  • Headed a student team in conducting a cost-benefit analysis to help a local business decide if facility expansion would be the best path to grow their revenue; presented conclusion to company leadership and earned recognition for the best project in the course.

Company Name | 2011 - 2013
Audit Partner

  • Built and developed Grant Thornton’s risk-based public sector audit practice and grew the practice to $6M P&L, leading more than 100 professional auditors on audit and advisory engagements.
  • Created, developed, and implemented strategic plans and processes for the practice; proved instrumental in ensuring availability of resources needed to deliver high quality audits.
  • Served as the Partner-in-Charge of audits, attestations, and advisory engagements for federal government clients, including Department of Defense organizations with assets and revenues totaling hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • Led audits that tested transactions, internal controls, and compliance with laws and regulations as well as advisory engagements, assisting clients with financial accounting and reporting activities.

Explain Details in Your Cover Letter

Generally speaking, I think it is best to go over anything that can be perceived as a negative at the job interview rather than address them in your resume or cover letter. However, if you have taken more time off than the previous strategies can cover, it might be a good idea to go into some details in your cover letter. Explain to the reader why you took the time off and why you are ready for full-time contributions now. Consider:

After our family relocated for my husband’s work, I spent time getting my children accustomed to their new schools and volunteering for parent/student related activities. Now that my children are settled, I would like to go back to work outside the home. I believe my previous achievements in project management, cost savings, and team leadership make me an ideal candidate for this position. Additionally, I have managed several fund-raising and student events for my children’s activities.

OR

Several years ago, my father became ill and I needed to take some time off to care for him. He has since passed on and I am ready to return to work full-time. During the time where I worked primarily as his caregiver, I pursued and completed my MBA. I also assisted by brother-in-law in marketing the mid-sized sporting goods store he ran with my dad for 10 years, resulting in a 10% increase in revenue. Additional examples of my work include:

The key to overcoming a “job gap” is to make sure a potential employer knows you can do the job you are applying to whether you’ve been off work for a few months or a couple of years. The tips presented in this article should help you land the interview you need to convince a hiring manager of just that.

Editor's Note

If you are a stay-at-home parent looking to return to the workforce, you can also read this article: Cover Letter and Resume Tips for Stay-at-Home Moms.

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