How to Deal with a Resume Gap Due to Illness
Are you returning to the workforce after taking time off due to illness? It may feel daunting to explain any resume gap, especially one caused by something as personal as your health. So we put together some tips to help you handle this issue while steering recruiters and hiring managers toward the expertise and experience that make you shine.
By: Tonyia Cone | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma
With all that’s happened over the last few years, resume gaps have become more common.
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Some people found themselves needing to take care of children when schools closed due to the pandemic. Others lost their jobs when their employers closed or lost business and had a hard time finding another one. The Great Resignation showed that many were willing to take time off from their careers to reevaluate their priorities at work and in life. And many people had to take significant time off due to COVID-19 or another illness.
Health Comes First
First of all, it’s really important to take care of yourself. Personal health issues — especially those pertaining to mental health — are incredibly important to prioritize, even over a career. And society has come a long way in recognizing the need for self care as well as moving past the stigma of mental illness. Mental health conditions are increasing around the world; mental health conditions and substance use disorders rose 13% from 2007 to 2017. In the United States, about 20% of adults experience mental illness. That’s 50 million people.
If you’re concerned because you’re facing a resume gap due to any kind of illness, don’t worry. You’re not the only job seeker with a gap to explain to potential employers. And the truth is, these days a resume gap doesn’t carry much stigma; 79% of hiring managers say they would hire a candidate with a career gap.
Beware of TMI (Too Much Information)
That being said, it’s very important to be careful when handling your resume gap due to personal illness. Remember that this is your resume we’re talking about, and it is a professional document.
Humans are empathetic when it comes to understanding one another, but when it comes to your resume it’s a bit different. Recruiters, human resource professionals, and hiring managers have the tough job of very quickly filtering and sorting and distilling their candidate pool down to only a few people.
There’s a chance that detailing time off for mental health care could be met by a flood of negative curiosity, with questions such as: “What was the mental health issue,” “How bad was it,” and “Will this affect your future at work.”
Illness is real, your health is important, and mental health has and should become less of a stigma over the years. However, including details about your physical or mental health on your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile crosses over to TMI in this stage of your job-seeking journey.
Addressing a Resume Gap Due to Illness
Generally, you don’t need to do anything special about a brief gap in your resume that is due to illness; anything under six months is not usually worth addressing.
When I work with a client facing any significant resume gap, my first advice is always that as long as you are honest and you’re not trying to hide it, your gap is probably less of a big deal than you think. However, your resume is not the place to explain it. Keep details about that time for your cover letter and if asked about it, your interview.
In the Resume: Just the Facts
There are ways to reduce the impact of the gap with formatting. If you were out for a chunk of time in one year, for example, you can downplay that time by listing years instead of months and years for each position, like this:
Just remember to be consistent with the way you list each position on your resume. If you only leave out the months for one position and include them on all the others, it will be a red flag.
Also, be careful if your gap is less than a few months and crosses over calendar years (for example, between November 2019 and January 2020). You may want to leave those months on since removing them could give the impression that there’s a larger gap than there really is.
If you were able to do anything relevant to your work (like volunteering, education, freelancing, or professional development) during your resume gap, be sure to include that information. It may make sense to include on your resume, especially if you already have a section for volunteer work, education, or certifications. You may even consider moving your Education or Certifications sections up to the top of your resume, ahead of your professional experience.
If you don’t think it fits your situation to include these experiences on your resume, you can still include these details in your cover letter. And if you are asked about your gap in your interview, be sure to highlight these strengths while explaining why you weren’t in a paid position.
In the Cover Letter and LinkedIn Profile: Humanize the Situation
You don’t want to take attention away from your accomplishments in your cover letter, but if your gap was longer than six months, this fluid document is a good place to very briefly address your gap.
Remember: You don’t need to dwell on your illness here or go into details. Your goal is simply to give a recruiter or hiring manager some context so they don’t have the opportunity to imagine you were in jail or off robbing banks. A line or two will suffice, and keep it general with phrases like “personal matter” or “family medical issue.”
You can include this language in your LinkedIn About section as well. Also, if your gap due to illness was substantial, you might want to utilize LinkedIn’s new career break feature in the Experience section.
In the Interview: Provide a Few More Details (If Necessary)
The interview is the only point you might consider opening up more about a resume gap due to illness. However, even at this point, it’s important to avoid TMI, limiting your description to the vague phrases mentioned above.
If an interviewer presses for more details, it should be a red flag for you. It’s wildly inappropriate for someone to say, “Tell me more about these personal matters or family medical issues. What was it specifically?” If this happens, you may want to reconsider working for someone who would cross that boundary.
Sometimes you need to take care of yourself before your career. This is your personal choice, and the bottom line is that since employers are much more lenient about resume gaps these days, a resume gap due to illness is nothing to worry about.
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