Smooth out a bumpy employment history with these tried-and-true resume tips

Not everyone is blessed with a picture-perfect employment history that matches their career goals. With a less-than-stellar economy over the past decade, many professionals find themselves with substantial employment gaps or a string of short-term or unrelated gigs dominating their resume. Others are battling gaps because they took time off to raise their families, care for an ailing relative, or overcome a health condition of their own.

If any of these situations apply to you, keep reading. Below are some ways you can pump up your professional resume and supplement your work experience to make a better case for your candidacy.

Honesty is the best policy

At some point, almost everyone – even the hiring manager – has had a gap in their employment. If you take the time to explain what was going on, they're highly likely to understand and not hold it against you. However, if you try to skirt around the issue to downplay it, you put across that you have something to hide. 

You should try to frame the explanation for your gap in a way that highlights your skills, so the person interviewing you knows what you have to offer to their company and team. After all, that's all hiring managers care about. So, focus on skills, achievements, and experiences when you write your resume. 

Highlight unpaid employment 

If you volunteered for a role or took on an unpaid internship that allowed you to build relevant skills or gain industry experience, then these positions deserve a place in your resume employment history. Treat each opportunity as you would a paid job, by describing your role and highlighting your major contributions and accomplishments.

If you stayed at home to raise your children, don't discount the valuable experience you gained while managing the household and caring for your family. Here's a great article about getting back into the workforce after staying home to raise children.

If you're looking for opportunities to help fill your current employment gap, check out resources like Catchafire and HandsOn Connect for volunteer work and FlexJobs for flexible and telecommuting internships.

Group freelance work together

If you did any freelance work for different clients over a period of time, consider grouping these experiences together under one position and then combining the dates. When breaking down the position, use the role description section to describe your expertise (i.e. the services you offered). Then, focus each bullet to highlight the work you did for a particular client and the results you achieved. This will give your resume a cleaner look and make you appear less like a job hopper and more like a committed consultant.

Here's an example of what freelance work can look like on your resume:

Freelance Job Title | City, ST       

PROJECT TITLE (CLIENT) | yyyy - present

Write two to three sentences that briefly explain your role. DO NOT copy and paste your job description. Talk about what you did on a daily basis and at least 1 major thing you accomplished.

  • Write out three to five bullets (max) that show your achievements with this client

  • Anytime you can use numbers, it's best to do so

PROJECT TITLE | yyyy - yyyy

Do the exact same thing you did for the first project you listed – describe the things you did on a daily basis in two to three sentences. 

  • Then, list up to five bullet points that show how you benefited your clients

  • Keep using numbers to show achievements 

If you held a series of temporary jobs that were similar in nature, you can apply this same technique to make your resume look less cluttered.

Remove a position

In some instances, it may be best to omit full-time gigs with incredibly short tenures from your resume altogether. The general rule of thumb is to remove full-time jobs from your resume employment history if they lasted less than three months. This is especially true if the short-term position isn't relevant to the job you're trying to obtain. 

If you're concerned about deleting the work experience entirely, you have the option to briefly mention this position in a Career Note at the end of your work history section. Click on the following link to learn more about using career notes on your professional resume.

If you are removing month-long employment that is professionally relevant to your target career and want to include a career note, here's what that would look like:


Company Name | yyyy - present

Title of role

  • Bullet 1

  • Bullet 2

  • Bullet 3

Company Name | yyyy - yyyy

Title of role

  • Bullet 1

  • Bullet 2

  • Bullet 3

Career Note: Additional experience includes [Title of Role] at [Company Name], mm/yyyy-mm/yyyy

You would not add bullet points to the career note. The idea is that the employer can see you worked at a place and can ask you questions about it during the interview if needed. 

Invest in professional development

If your recent work experience has little to do with your current job goals, look for opportunities to bolster the skill sets your target employers care about. If you're unsure which of your skills need an extra boost, search your network for individuals who work in the field you're pursuing and ask them. It's amazing how many insights and resume tips you can gain over a lunch or coffee date.

There are many free and low-cost training opportunities available online and in person. Take a look at SkillShare, edX, Coursera,, and CourseHorse, to name a few. Also, use sites like to find conferences related to your target field. In addition to being networking goldmines, these types of events often offer certification programs on site. If you're considering a major career change, you may need to go back to school for more extensive training.

You'd insert any professional development or continuing education courses into the Education section of your resume. Here's how:


Bachelor of Science in Computer Science | State University


Coding Boot Camp, Artificial Intelligence for Dummies, Python Programming

As you can see, the extra courses you take are simply listed beneath any degree you have. When you use these courses to fill in employment gaps on your resume, then you'd want to include the dates you took the classes. 

Include “Sabbatical” on your resume

Sometimes you take time off from work and do nothing in that downtime. That's 100% okay! When you have an employment gap on your resume and nothing to fill in that time, then you can simply put that you were on a break from work. Add it into the Professional Experience section in reverse chronological order. 

This is an example of what it looks like to have an employment gap on your resume show up as just time off:


Company name | mm/yyyy - present

Title of role

  • Bullet 1

  • Bullet 2

  • Bullet 3

Sabbatical [or Planned Career Break] | mm/yyyy - mm/yyyy

  • Intentionally left the workforce to raise children who no longer need full-time support, now excited to return to work

  • You technically do not have to include bullets for this listing, but expect it to come up during an interview and be prepared to talk about it then

Company name | mm/yyyy - mm/yyyy

Title of role

  • Bullet 1

  • Bullet 2

  • Bullet 3

This option works well whether your employment gap is for being laid off during COVID-19, you stayed home to raise a family, or you have a 10-year gap in employment. Again, the key is to be honest.

Consider using a different resume format

If it's impossible for you to make your skills and experience shine with the standard resume format, you do have the option to use a functional resume. A functional resume is a different approach which focuses more on skills than professional experience, which can be helpful for someone who has employment gaps on their resume.

Proceed with caution, though: this type of resume should only be used as a last resort. Recruiters and hiring managers generally dislike the functional resume because of the way it strays from the traditional layout. It can also give the impression that you're attempting to hide something. Perhaps most importantly, the ATS may not read this type of resume accurately, taking you out of the running for many jobs before you've even had your chance. 

Keep your employment history consistent

A word to the wise: however you decide to modify your resume, don't forget to edit your LinkedIn profile to match. 93% of employers will review your social media profiles before contacting you for a job interview. Make sure the person they see online matches the one they read about on your resume.

You should also consider including details about the gap in employment on your cover letter. 

Employment gaps aren't the end of the world

You can get back to work even when you have a gap in employment on your resume. The most critical thing you can do is to be honest about it and talk about things you learned or did while off work to augment your skills. Remember to focus on what you bring to the table for the new employer and you'll be able to win the day.

How are you handling employment gaps on your resume? Get a free resume review to find out.

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine and has been updated by Marsha Hebert. 

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