The missing jigsaw piece: handling gaps in your graduate CV

Dealing with gaps in graduate CVs and applications

If there are gaps in your education or working life, here's how to present them in your CVs, cover letters and applications for graduate jobs.

Graduate recruiters will notice if there are chronological periods in your applications that are unaccounted for, for example, if you took longer than the standard time to complete your A levels or degree. It’s important to think carefully about how you present such ‘gaps’. Try to seek the positives in all your experiences and, if, for example, personal issues have affected what you were able to do, learn to feel comfortable about conveying the appropriate amount of information in a calm, clear way.

There are various reasons why you might have gaps in your employment history or in your studies. These include illness (both physical and mental) and taking time out for caring responsibilities or because of bereavement. If your academic performance has been affected by serious events in your personal life, these could be considered mitigating circumstances and could be taken into account when graduate employers review your applications. 

Unusual chronology in your academic record

It is conventional to give dates of academic results gained, although you don’t need to give start dates. Still, employers will probably notice if there is an extra year or three that has crept into your academic track record.

Ultimately, employers are more interested in the results you gained (and your work experience) than a slightly unusual timescale, but be prepared to explain any discrepancies in a straightforward and polite way. With any luck, you’ll be able to use the opportunity to convey something positive about yourself: for example, having the courage of your convictions to change direction in your degree, or retaking examinations after some difficult circumstances.

Vacations: what did you do last summer?

You don’t need to detail what you’ve done with your vacations during your degree on an application – however, be aware that if you have little or no work experience you will be up against some stiff competition from those who have. If you went travelling or chose to spend more time studying, make sure you can explain the rationale behind your choices and how you felt they worked out and what you learned.

Top tips for presenting info in your graduate CV and applications

  • Put the most important information first when listing academic qualifications and jobs: the subject and result gained, or the job role and company. Dates can be included in brackets afterwards. 
  • Don’t feel you must give reasons for unusual dates (eg that show you did your A levels three years after GCSEs). However, if you are invited to submit a cover letter, you can use this to give your reasons and express them in a way that shows you in a positive light. If you are invited to an interview, be prepared to offer an honest explanation. 
  • Don’t make things up to fill in gaps: it is much too easy to be found out and you are unlikely to sound convincing. 
  • Make sure you understand the skills employers are looking for. This will help you frame your experiences in a way that will increase your chances of being hired. Our guide to the top ten skills that will get you a graduate job is a good starting point.
  • Keep notes about your activities and responsibilities, both during term-time and vacations, that you can refer to when the time comes to apply for internships or graduate jobs. Include temporary or part-time jobs and extracurricular activities. It can be easy to overlook how much you have achieved and learned from your experiences outside your studies.