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How to Explain a Personal Career Gap on Your Resume

(I learned it the hard way so you don't have to.)

For reasons I won’t discuss in this post, I took a personal gap year from work about two years into my career. I used the time to travel, get a professional scuba diving certification, work on some personal projects, and find a new place to live.

Regardless of your own reasons for taking time off, if you’ve stumbled across this page, you’re probably starting to understand that jumping back into the workforce after a long break can be a struggle.

But listen, if you've actually spent your time wisely, you’re going to be fine. Just be confident, put effort into the job hunt, and read these tips.


Stay Fresh During Your Break (if possible)

If you're still on your hiatus, make/do something that demonstrates skill in your career area. This helps because:

  1. It shows employers your level of competency
  2. It shows employers that you're a motivated individual
  3. It gets you back in the work mindset for interviews

In my case, I started my own open source project. It was something that I could refer to during interview questions, and it brought the "coding part" of my brain back up to speed.

If I hadn't done this, I'm not sure I would have landed my job at Amazon.

Don’t Try to Explain It on Your Resume

I made this mistake, and it lost me some opportunities.

It doesn’t matter how concise you think you can be. It’s impossible to convey the exact reason why you quit and what you did in the interim in two short sentences or less.

Wait for interviewers or recruiters to ask you about your work gap.

Imagine you're a recruiter or hiring manager. Your job is to sift through piles of resumes to find the best candidates with a high degree of certainty. Think of it like Tinder for hiring.

It’s beneficial to reject someone by drawing conclusions from incomplete information because, costwise, it's preferable to reject a false negative candidate than to risk hiring a false positive one.

Wait for them to get in contact with you, demonstrate some competancy, then explain when they ask. It makes all the difference.

Frame Your Time Off Properly

It's crucially important that you spend time crafting the story of your time off. Why did you do it? What did you gain from it? Was there anything you'd change about it? Are you a better person for it?

Keep your story concise. The goal is to ease a company's concerns about hiring you while not drawing excessive attention to it.

Recite your story to yourself a few times. Record yourself and listen to it. Ask your friends for their opinion. If any of it sounds excessive or bullshitty, get back to the drawing board.

The more you tell your story, the better you'll get at it, so go through your less desirable interviews first if possible.

Be humble in framing your story. Some people will be wildly jealous that you had the opportunity to do something awesome that they never did.

On the other hand, there's always a chance that one of your interviewers has either had a similar experience or will just be genuinely be happy for you and will like you more for your experience. If so, that might be the company for you.

Overly-Traditional Companies Will Reject You

Many companies will not like the fact that you did this at all. Case closed. Next.

To them, a good, obedient worker would never do something so irresponsible. Why would they risk hiring someone so uncommitted to work when they can find someone who'll just do their job with no questions asked and probably won't take time off?

It sucks, but life isn’t fair. Deal with it.

If you really want a job at one of these companies, you’ll have to find an in-between job, then you can always frame your time off as a “mistake” later down the line.

Final Tips


Keep your spirits up, and good luck!

25. From Pennsylvania, USA. Software engineer at Amazon.com, traveler, scuba divemaster, amateur photographer, aspiring minimalist. A bit restless.

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