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.
Put the most important information first when listing academic qualifications and jobs.
What is a gap in a graduate CV or a job application? This is a period of time that appears to be unaccounted for (such as taking longer than the standard time to complete your A levels/highers or degree) and it’s a sure bet that graduate recruiters will notice them. The number of questions an employer may have about of them will vary according to the length of the gap, the timing and the reasons why.
It’s important to think carefully about how you present any 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.
What if the coronavirus has caused a gap on your student or graduate CV?
Most of the below was written before the coronavirus and. as such, reflects the advice we would give in ‘normal times’. Employers know that the coronavirus pandemic has had a seismic effect on the economy and therefore will not be shocked if there is very little on your CV for the years 2020 and 2021.
Don’t worry too much about your CV, therefore, if the coronavirus has (for example) disrupted your plans for a gap year travelling abroad or placement year, affected your ability to complete your course, turned you into a carer or made you ill. You can still follow the advice below – just explain where relevant that the coronavirus overturned your plans. In fact, you can write about the skills you have gained during lockdown and the pandemic in your applications: read our tips on how to write ‘lockdown CVs’ and then move on to how to answer interview questions about lockdown.
What are likely CV gaps for graduates seeking their first proper job?
There are various reasons why you might have gaps in your employment history or in your studies. These include:
Illness (both physical and mental), caring responsibilities and 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. You may not want to write about your mitigating circumstances on your CV, but instead refer to them briefly and factually on a covering letter or in the ‘mitigating circumstances’ or ‘additional information’ section of an application form.
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 when you get to interview. 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.
University holidays and vacations
You don’t need to detail what you’ve done with your vacations during your degree on an application; having no employment during university holidays isn’t seen as a gap by graduate recruiters. It is also normal for students to take gap years before or after university, so this won’t be questioned.
However, be aware that if you have little or no work experience you will be up against some stiff competition from those who have – although, as noted above, no reasonable employer would expect you to have undertaken work experience during the pandemic. If, prior to the pandemic, you went travelling or chose to spend more time studying put this on your CV or in applications and outline how you feel these decisions worked out and what you learned.
Being unemployed for more than six months
Many graduates worry that not being able to find a job immediately after leaving university will make them look unemployable to graduate employers: this is absolutely not the case. Graduate recruiters will not be surprised if graduates take a while to get started in their graduate career (especially during the pandemic) and will not penalise a job applicant because of it.
At the same time, however, you don’t want to give the impression that you have spent the majority of your time watching boxsets on Netflix. Before the coronavirus, we would have argued that grouping together temp work on your CV or writing about your continued involvement in one of your extracurricular activities (for example, volunteering or being involved in community groups) can help to make a gap less obvious. If temp work and extracurricular activities haven’t been possible, employers will understand. However, if you can give the impression you have kept busy during the coronavirus, it will be all to the good. For example, if you have taken up a new exercise regime or done one of the other career-friendly, socially distanced activities we suggest, it will show recruiters that you have been working on your skills and personal development.
Tips on how to explain gaps 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, as mentioned above, 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.
- Seek advice. You can access your careers service even after you have graduated and careers advisers will be experienced in helping you to explain unusual gaps. You could also ask the advice of a HR professional (for example, if you meet them at a virtual careers fair or event) or a recruitment consultant at a recruitment agency. If it is appropriate, you could also ask the advice of a relevant charity.