How to Deal with Gaps in Graduate Résumés and Applications
First of all, what does a gap in a job application mean? It refers to a period of time that appears to be unaccounted for (e.g. taking a longer time to graduate compared to other students).
Recruiters tend to ask applicants to explain obvious gaps on their résumés or applications (if they are any), and it’s important for graduates to know how to prepare for it.
One thing to keep in mind is that you'd want to provide positive explanations to maintain a good impression of yourself. Here are some examples of how you can phrase your explanation for common situations that may have caused a gap on your job application or résumé.
Situation #1: Physical or mental illness
If your academic performance were affected because you were unwell, or if you’ve taken a gap semester or gap year because of a persisting illness, it could be considered mitigating circumstances and could be taken into account when employers are reviewing your application.
You may write about your mitigating circumstances briefly in your cover letter, or in the ‘additional information’ section in your job application form. For example, you may say “Due to a recurring medical condition, I had to take a leave of absence for one semester, which is why I took a longer time to graduate compared to my peers. However, I’ve now returned to full health and I’m ready to start my career with XYZ company”.
Situation #2: University or college holidays and vacations
Typically, recruiters will not question graduates about having no employment history (e.g. internships) during semester breaks or school holidays, as they don’t see these as gaps.
However, not having any work experience at all will make you less attractive as a job candidate – especially if you are competing with other graduate applicants who have internship or part-time work experience.
But if you did something interesting during your school break that is worth mentioning, such as traveling on your own overseas, you could talk about it in your cover letter. What's important is that you point out what you’ve learned from the experience.
Here’s an example – “I did not spend time gaining work experience while I was a student because I made use of all my semester breaks to travel to different countries in Asia and Europe. This is because I wanted to widen my horizons while I am not tied down by commitments. I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture, and the experience allowed me to gain new perspectives. I became independent and resourceful from valuable life lessons learned through traveling alone to foreign countries.”
Situation #3: Being unemployed for a period of time after graduation
Many graduates worry about not being able to secure a job immediately after leaving school as it may make them seem unemployable to employers. While employers would be curious about what you’ve been doing during the time that you’re unemployed, they will not actually penalise you for taking your time to start your career.
This does not mean they’d be impressed by you spending all those months binge-watching shows on Netflix after graduation, though. And if that is true – do leave that information out. Instead, you should highlight your involvement in extracurricular activities, for instance, to help make your gap look less obvious.
If you’ve done other noteworthy activities during your period of unemployment, such as volunteering or charity work, you should mention those in your cover letter and résumé as well. Writing about these implies that you have used the time on giving back to society, as well as to job hunt (instead of being a couch potato!).
Whether or not you have a strong justification for your gap, never make up a false one. You don’t necessarily have to go into detail with your explanation, but not addressing your gaps or lying about them will only add to your recruiters’ uncertainty about hiring you.
If you give out an ‘untrustworthy’ vibe, it’s unlikely you’ll be offered the job. And even if you do successfully get away with lying, there’s still a risk of you being found out – which will only make matters worse.
If you have gaps but can still prove that you are a proactive person, employers would view you as a worthy candidate.
For instance, you’ve been unemployed for several months since graduation day, but made use of that free time to take an online course that’ll make you more competitive in the job market. This is something you should mention in your job application. Showing that you’re not just sitting by your laptop, waiting for an employer to offer you the job will make you stand out.
This is an important tip – don’t be apologetic about your gaps. What you should be doing instead, is to explain your gaps in a positive manner.
Phrasing your explanation by saying “I’ve been taking an online course on search engine optimisation and search engine marketing while waiting to hear from employers about my job applications for the past three months” is better than “I couldn’t secure a job”.