3 Strategies for Explaining a Career Gap While You Were Overseas

Posted on Jan 6, 2016 | 0 comments

3 Strategies for Explaining a Career Gap While You Were Overseas

Almost all expats have a break in their career at some point. The moves overseas and spouses having to quit jobs to move along with their families mean months or sometimes years without working in your chosen profession. If the gap in your employment is less than one year, don’t worry about it. Employers are used to seeing gaps of a year or less, and this doesn’t put them off. But what if your gap is more than a year, what should you do?


1. Make sure to include any relevant activities during the gap on your resume.

If you studied for your Master’s or took some classes during your gap, include these on your resume under “Education.” You may have volunteered during your time off from your career. If what you did is in line with your profession, include this volunteer work under professional experience. If not, consider including volunteer experience under a separate heading on your resume. Here are two examples to help you figure out if your volunteer experience is relevant or not:


Example 1: You volunteered at an orphanage and played with the kids there once a week for an hour.

Relevant to your career in fundraising?

No. You didn’t do any fundraising. Include it under “Volunteer experience.”


Example 2: You volunteered at an orphanage and played with the kids there once a week for an hour. You also chaired their fundraising drive to raise $2,000 for kitchen repairs and modernization.

Relevant to your career in fundraising?

Absolutely. Include it under “Professional experience.”


This brings up a good point. If you are currently experiencing a gap in your employment or you see one coming up on the horizon, make sure to find something to fill that gap that keeps you connected to your career and using the skills you need to keep sharp. Find a way to volunteer using your professional skill set, take classes, or earn an advanced degree or certificate.


2. Explain the gap in your cover letter.

Your resume doesn’t give you much room for explaining. For example, “I left my fundraising job at the American Cancer Society to follow my wife overseas” isn’t going to make a nice bullet on your resume. But you can dedicate one paragraph of your cover letter to addressing this gap. This helps your employer understand the gap in your resume and ensures that they don’t dismiss you because you have an unexplained gap on your resume. It’s best if you can make the gap a positive instead of a negative. Addressing what you did during your gap in employment that will benefit your employer is an extremely effective strategy.


Let’s take our fictitious friend, the guy who used to work in fundraising but left his job in order to move overseas with his wife. Say he has a five-year gap on his resume because when he moved to Italy with his wife, he was unable to work there because he didn’t have a work visa. Let’s say he already had a Master’s and didn’t want to take additional classes. Let’s also suppose that he was caring for their three small children which didn’t leave him any time for volunteering and using his professional skills. Tough situation right? What does he have to offer from his time in Italy that his employer wants?


On the surface it may look like nothing. But when we talk to our fundraising friend, we find out that he learned a lot about Italian culture, he also learned a lot about American culture by being the outsider. He was forced to learn Italian and adopt a different way of operating. Why will that help him in fundraising? Perhaps it will help him approach and connect with more people in his fundraising efforts. Perhaps he learned how to convince people different from himself to help him or do what he wants. This seems helpful for a fundraiser, right? That’s what he should highlight in one paragraph in his cover letter.


3. Tackle it head-on in your interview.

As you’re applying for positions, you can often figure out what potential employers are going to see as your biggest weakness. Is there something that you don’t have that you think other candidates will have? If you think the gap in your employment will be one of your potential employer’s greatest concerns about hiring you, don’t leave the interview without addressing it. There are two good places to address this. First, you can incorporate it into your answer about what’s your greatest weakness. The answer for this one can look something like this:


If I were in your shoes, I would be concerned about the fact that I have been out of fundraising for five years. And, in fact, I was quite worried about the five-year gap in my employment when I decided to move with my family to Italy. But now that the gap is over and I’m back in the job market, I know that this gap is actually an advantage for you as an employer. After a five-year break from my chosen profession, I am extremely excited to get back to work. I have a renewed excitement for the career I chose. I’m different from other candidates in that I’m not burned out. I can’t wait to jump right back into it and you’re going to see that starting on my very first day.


You can also address it head on at the end of the interview when the interviewers say something like, “Do you have any questions for us?” or “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” With these three strategies, employers won’t care a bit about that gap in your employment!




Passport Career provides more detailed career information and extensive resources about networking, finding a job, internship, alternative career opportunities as well as information on writing CVs, cover letters and interviews. If your organization, embassy, university/college, library, or other institution would like access to our country portfolios (15,000+ pages of expert content for 80+ countries and 250+ cities) to share with your students, employees, spouses/partners, and others managing a national or international career transition, please click here to contact us (or send email to: info@passportcareer.com) regarding a free, live, online demo and details on how to obtain a license to access Passport Career.

Anna Sparks, Expert Global Career Consultant

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