The missing jigsaw piece: handling gaps in your graduate CV

Dealing with gaps in graduate CVs and applications

Your curriculum vitae or application form is the way graduate employers can find out what you've been doing with your life so far. If you've had gaps during your education or working life, here's how put a positive spin on them.

If you’re nearing the end of your degree studies and looking for a graduate job, you need to get up to speed with submitting convincing, professional looking applications that will persuade your target employer to take a closer look at you. A well executed CV or job application form offers a concise, bird’s-eye view of your achievements and experiences – usually within a timeline. 

While employers aren’t looking for identikit, conventional employees, they will notice if there are chronological periods 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’.

There are few people who haven’t spent a few lazy (and probably well deserved) weeks off during their time at university, and there are usually good reasons for other kinds of gaps, so don’t waste time berating yourself and your misspent youth. 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.

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 have chosen not to pursue this avenue, be ready to talk about what you did do during those months of free time. For example, 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 on your graduate CV

  • 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) – but 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. 
  • Get into the habit of keeping a record of what you get up to when you are not in full-time study or employment. If you are studying or working, don’t forget to keep a note of what you do during vacations and weekends. It can be easy to forget how much you have achieved and learned from all kinds of activities.