What to say in a cover letter if you haven't worked in a few years

Written by dirk huds Google
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What to say in a cover letter if you haven't worked in a few years
Significant gaps in a career should be addressed in your cover letter. (Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

There are many reasons why an individual might have gaps in their career progression. It may be due to a travelling experience or taking time out to raise children. When it comes to re-entering the workforce, these gaps in a CV should be explained at the application stage. That's where the cover letter comes in. Your cover letter is the chance to explain why these gaps appear and to stress the positives that you have taken from them.


Studying is a positive reason to have a gap on your CV. You may have taken time out to pursue a higher qualification or learn extra skills relevant to your employment sector. This should be highlighted in your cover letter and a link made between the qualifications you earned and how they are relevant to the position you are applying for. If you were studying and you gained a qualification, this will be listed on your CV under the “Education” heading, but it is worth pointing this out again in the cover letter to avoid the potential employer simply focusing on your employment history.


Taking a gap year after university or a career break later in life are now reasonably common occurrences. A potential employer is unlikely to be prejudiced against such a break, particularly if you can demonstrate the things you learned from the experience. This could be as concrete as skills learnt on a working placement abroad, or as personal as the experience of living in another culture. Always highlight how the time out helped you develop as a person.


If you have taken maternity leave or a career break to raise children, explain it as such in your cover letter. Highlight any work you may have done during that time, such as freelance projects. If your children are young and you are not able to return to work full-time, this should be stated. However, whatever position you are applying for, relate how you have adequate childcare arrangements to meet the requirements of the job.


Periods of unemployment can be difficult to explain fully in a cover letter. It is often a good idea to wait to explain the gaps properly in an interview. However, you will need to list them. If the unemployment was caused through no fault of your own -- such as a company downsizing or a compulsory redundancy -- include this. If you were fired, do not state this on the cover letter, but consider how you will emphasise the positive of that situation at an interview, such as what you have learned about yourself in the process. It is important to write down the things you have undertaken during the period of unemployment to increase your chances of finding work. These may include taking a class to develop your skills or volunteering.


Be aware that not all gaps in an employment record need to be explained. If you took a couple of months off to travel between positions, this gap is not going to arouse suspicion. Likewise, if you were unemployed for a short period of time, this is not suspicious as you may have been looking for the right job, particularly if your CV relates a steady career path since.


You should be truthful on your cover letter, but always emphasise the positive and be confident. In your cover letter you can explain how you perhaps coped with difficult situations or fulfilled a dream. If you have a significant gap on your CV, you should offer some kind of explanation on your cover letter so the potential employer understands why they are there. You can explain further at an interview, but with no initial explanation, an employer may just discard your CV.

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