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How Do I Handle Unemployment on a Resume?

How Should You Handle Unemployment on a Resume?

Are you sitting at the computer ready to create the stellar resume, yet scratching your head figuring out what to do with burdensome employment gaps? Life is stressful enough without worrying about how to explain that time of unemployment to the interviewer.  The current economy doesn’t help matters, either.

A few missing weeks, months or even years in the job chronology can be enough to keep some up at night. The reasons for employment gaps vary. Valid reasons like death, illness, children and newborns, travel, layoffs, personal care or education can be factors. Incarceration and other more severe problems can be more challenging to explain. And let’s be honest, some choose to remain jobless.  As comic Leslie Nielsen observed “Doing nothing is very hard to do…you never know when you’re finished.”  But more than worrying about the gaps, I would recommend coming up with a strategic plan to make yourself a marketable candidate and reduce concern from potential employers.

Whatever the case may be, you’re in your present predicament and it doesn’t need to stop you. Yes, employment gaps can stand out to job recruiters, but don’t let that be an excuse for failure. It’s better to be honest with yourself and accept this reality, even if it means not getting the job. Never resort to lying, that doesn’t help you or show respect to the person taking the time to interview you. Take courage and do the best you can.

First, decide what type of resume you want to use. The most traditional is the Chronological Resume. This format may not be appropriate for those who have severe employment gaps or completely changing careers. You want to minimize any potential red flags recruiters notice due to employment gaps. Although you don’t want to be dishonest about your unemployment, you want to avoid emphasis as well. You can demonstrate the ways you will benefit the company using a Functional Resume. The Functional resume will give more emphasis to your skills, strengths, education (if applicable) and some major accomplishments. Understand that some recruiters are biased against the functional resume and will pass your resume by, but you could have other opportunities.

Use the time of unemployment to your advantage, rather than a handicap. Think of skills you developed or activities you participated in during unemployment that could strengthen your chances of getting a job. If you stayed home to have a baby and raise children, you could emphasize the responsibilities of supervising young children. If you were forced into retirement through layoffs you can demonstrate your ability of self initiative and need for little supervision by stating that you immediately went to work looking for a new job and the resources and tools you used to do so. If incarceration was the culprit (no pun intended), this will be more challenging, but show the recruiters in a sincere way the steps you’ve taken to learn from the error. If you haven’t been involved in anything during your unemployment, change that now!

I wouldn’t bother adding short periods of unemployment. Most of the time employers don’t look down if the time has been brief or a while ago. You may be required to answer for longer periods. You may even want to address the issue in the form of a cover letter. Just include essential details; You can discuss further if brought up in the interview.

Remember the importance of self confidence when dealing with this. You don’t need to be proud of unemployment, but don’t let it be the thing that holds you back from getting a job if you can help it.  Show that you have confidence in your abilities, that you are the right person for the job. Whether your unemployment was a choice or a mistake, show sincerity and ability in your possible future role!

Take the personal initiative to show your skills and talents in your resume, be prepared to explain employment gaps and don’t be deceitful with the information you put on your resume. Happy hunting!


  • - How to Address Gaps in Employment History by Peter Newfield, President of, at
  • How to Handle a Gap in Your Job History by Cynthia Wright at


7 comments… add one
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  • the resume formats n samples are gud

  • Great guides you have here. Definitely very useful for job seekers.

    But I reckon that even if you use functional resume, I’m pretty sure employers would end up asking you on your employment gaps too. Just my personal thought though (if I were an employer).

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Resumes.

  • I had a string of unfortunate firings and some employment gaps due to some substance abuse problem which had me missing days of work. I lost my most recent job in my opinion wrongfully but never sought action against, and not because of a substance problem. The last job before my most recent was in 2015 in which I worked for six and a half years and did great when present. I don’t always know what to say about why I left “such a good job” if I liked it. During the gaps i had great depression and was down and out but that doesnt come off great in an interview. I was trying gather myself from a hard time, Im lost for words at what to say. I did have a job as temp in which no questions were really asked but those jobs only last so long. I’m looking for something more permanent . I have been through multiple interviews lately and have been mostly completely honest, just saying that the gaps were mostly health issues. Which was technically true but they always have some sort of grip with complete honesty about losing my jobs. Im just looking for any information on how to better approach a situation such as mine. sorry such a long question.

    • I’m not qualified to answer such a question, but a career counselor or interview coach may be able to help. There is a lot of stuff on the internet if you Google “how to interview when you have been fired” or “interview questions about unemployment gaps” but I don’t know how reliable it is.


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