Returning to the workforce after a long unemployment gap is challenging. As a result of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of people are experiencing this same predicament. However, gaps in your resume can occur for a range of reasons, including dealing with an injury or illness, taking a break to raise a family, or traveling.
You may be wondering how to explain gaps in employment — and whether those gaps could prevent you from landing a job. The good news is that companies are now ramping up hiring — increasing the number of available job opportunities — and the odds are good that potential employers will be understanding of your position.
Whether your gap lasted a few months, a year, or longer, here’s how to find work after long-term unemployment.
The job-searching phase is a good time to strategize about how to explain gaps in employment when asked by a potential employer. If it’s a recent gap, mention it in your resume and cover letter. That’s also a smart move if you’ve been unemployed for a year or longer. If the break was less than a year, you don’t need to explain or point it out.
Although it’s important to address the gap, you don’t need to overelaborate. Address it in one or two sentences in your cover letter or resume – you don’t need to apologize or justify the circumstances. Instead, bring the focus back to the experience, soft skills, and qualifications that make you the best fit for the job.
For example, if you were laid off as a result of the pandemic, state that clearly. If you’ve spent the gap as a full-time caretaker, note that you “took a professional hiatus to provide full-time care to a sick family member.” If you’ve been a stay-at-home parent during the unemployment gap, write, “Took a break from professional career to raise my family and manage my household."
While you’re applying for jobs, make the most of the employment gap by working on your skills and developing new ones. Volunteering at a local organization can provide valuable skill-building experience and widen your network.
It’s also a great time to take virtual courses or look into gaining certifications — especially in skills or areas that are listed in the job descriptions of the roles you’re targeting. When you need to address your employment gap explanation, you can discuss the new skills and experience you’ve acquired.
When deciding how to explain gaps in employment, take the same approach as you did in the cover letter: Briefly address it without apologizing or offering too many details or personal information. Aim to keep your tone positive about the experience, as in: “Unfortunately, I was laid off from the company I was working for due to COVID-19. However, it was a very valuable experience, and I’m looking forward to using the skills I gained as a marketing manager in this position.” Always bring the focus back to your experience and qualifications.
Networking is the perfect opportunity to build connections and strengthen your personal brand. Update your professional and social profiles to ensure they look polished — only post what you’d like a recruiter to view. Join professional networking groups in your industry and profession, and get involved in online discussion boards and virtual meeting rooms.
While virtual connections are helpful, face-to-face networking is even more effective. If your local professional organization holds in-person events, make it a point to attend and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Reach out to former colleagues to let them know you’re looking for a job and ask if they have advice for how to find a job after a long gap. Even if they can’t point you in the right direction, you may be able to ask them for a reference for a future position.
It can be tough to keep your spirits up when you’re figuring out how to search for work after long-term unemployment. Remain patient and relaxed, so you can be in the right mindset when the right opportunity arrives. Stay busy by carving out time for physical activity, self-care, and personal growth.
Ask a family member or friend to help you stage mock interviews to practice answering common questions — especially with delivering your employment gap explanation. You can also ask this friend or family member to keep you accountable during your job search — have them check in with your weekly to make sure you met your application or networking goals.
It can be discouraging when you don’t hear back after you submit a job application. Follow up after a couple of weeks have passed and you haven’t heard anything. You can say something in your follow-up email like, “I recently applied for the job you posted, and I’m following up to see if you have any questions about my resume.” Sometimes, this initiative reminds the hiring manager of your application and leads to an interview.
Also, even if you don’t get the job, send an email thanking the interviewer for their time and requesting that they keep you in mind for future positions. Most candidates won’t take this step — and it can be a great way to show your grace and professionalism (and keep your name at the top of hiring managers’ minds when another position arises).
As tough as it can be to figure out how to search for work after long-term unemployment, remember that you’ve overcome a very difficult situation. Maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on your goals while appreciating the downtime and opportunities to develop your skills and expertise.