When applying to a new job, how do I explain to employers in my cover letter about the 4 months break I took as a result of a family issue?
July 3, 2008 4:29 PM   Subscribe

When applying to a new job, how do I explain to employers in my cover letter about the 4 months break I took as a result of a family issue?

I quit my job in middle of March due to personal/family reasons and is not ready to get back into workforce. I feel very confident in my qualifications for the positions that I'll be applying for but am worried about HR seeing that 4 month break I took. What is the best way to explain myself in the cover letter so HR will at least contact me for potential interviews and not reject me right off the bat after seeing the long break?
posted by willy_dilly to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have taken a lot of breaks by working seasonal jobs, and later it was one of the perks of our contract that we could take leave during the year. You don't have that, but it's your life. You took time for what you needed. What's wrong with that? You made the right choice for your life. You should be able to say so with a bit of pride, even. As long as by quitting you didn't let anyone down. You're fresh and ready to go. I don't find it hard to put a positive spin on this.
posted by Listener at 4:39 PM on July 3, 2008

Perhaps use a functional resume instead of the traditional chronological one? I have various gaps in my career and find that functional resumes work better, and I've not really had a problem with prospective employers probing about why I wasn't working at various times.

That link was just the first in google that came up for me, I'm sure you can find better information with some poking around.

Good luck!
posted by waitangi at 4:43 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Is there some opportunity (real or imagined) that you can use instead?

I wouldn't go into any personal detail about your family issues no matter how legitimate or convincing they are. A potential employer would rather read that you were taking time off to do just about anything other than deal with personal drama.

So think about some of the ways you've spent your time off (personal study, traveling, etc) and play that up.

But mainly stay focused on the future. I wouldn't spend more than a sentence or two explaining your time away from work. Talk about what you want to do rather than dwelling on the past.

Good luck!
posted by wfrgms at 4:47 PM on July 3, 2008

Four months seems like a fairly insignificant amount of time to me. I don't think it is something that needs to be addressed in your cover letter unless their ad specifically asks that you explain gaps in your work history. Do be ready to talk about it in the interview, though. I think that saying that you had to help with a "family emergency/crisis/situation" that has now been resolved will be adequate, and you can always throw in something like, "...and I am excited to be getting back to work."
posted by kitty teeth at 5:13 PM on July 3, 2008

Don't. I certainly wouldn't bother asking about a four month gap. If someone does ask, tell the truth. You were dealing with family issues.
posted by meta_eli at 5:17 PM on July 3, 2008

It is common in today's job market for people to have gaps in between employment. Sometimes people just can't find a job, sometimes they take a 4 month break to visit another country or sometimes they take some time off to be with a seriously ill family member. I wouldn't even go into detail indicating you had an emergency or crisis. Just say you took a break in between jobs to spend some time with your family. The specifics of your leave of absence are not the business of the person interviewing you and in most places, you don't legally have to provide more than a short answer regarding that. By pushing the issue or making you explain in detail, the person interviewing you is opening the company up for a lawsuit.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:47 PM on July 3, 2008

No need to explain such a short break in your cover letter. In your resume, omitting the months from your dates of employment does wonders to smooth over little lapses like this.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:50 PM on July 3, 2008

i agree that a four month gap doesn't need to be addressed in your cover letter. if you are qualified for the position, they might ask you about it—and i agree with those who say you should be honest and say you had to deal with a family situation that has now been resolved and that you are looking forward to getting back to work.
posted by violetk at 5:51 PM on July 3, 2008

Putting something about it in the cover letter would be to "protest too much," don't do that. Lots of people save money and then spend time between jobs taking trips, or camping out on the desert, or starting their new blog, or whatever they're into.

I'd spin it positively and focus on the benefit to them if asked: you took the opportunity to spend time with your family and relax. You gave yourself some time between jobs so you could start the new job rested and energetic.
posted by salvia at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2008

Maybe you're young enough that it matters for some reason, but in my corner of the world, people don't put months on the resume:

1999-2002 JANITOR, Apple, Inc., Cupertino, CA
2002-2004 INDUSTRIAL ESPIONAGE SPECIALIST, Microsoft Corp, Redmond, WA
2004-2008 JANITOR, Research in Motion, Waterloo, ON, CA

Like that.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:57 PM on July 3, 2008 [5 favorites]

On my resume, I just put the years of employment. 2006-2008 implies you already left the job while 2006-present says you are still working there. The only downside is if you left a job in the same calendar year that you started. However, if it was an internship or summer job I might put "Summer 2005" which fits into the year-only style.
posted by metahawk at 7:06 PM on July 3, 2008

mention it in the interview if asked, otherwise don't. anyone interested in your skills won't be put off by the gap (if they even notice it). i had a 3 month gap because i went off to an isolated cabin to write, and that's what i tell employers. i let them know that it's not something i plan to do often, it was just a lot of things fell into place to make it happen, and i chose to go for it. so if they ask, no one would look askance if you told them that you had taken off time for a family emergency. they won't ask what it was, and you don't have to tell. but, it might be worth saying, "fortunately, i don't anticipate anything like that happening again." you'll be fine.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:57 PM on July 3, 2008

Don't mention it unless they ask (don't put it in the cover letter) and if they do ask, just say "I decided to take some time off between jobs, but I'm now ready to enter the workforce again". Four months isn't really that long though, so I would be surprised if anyone even asks!
posted by ranglin at 10:36 PM on July 3, 2008

Don't bother; let it come up in the interview, if it does. I just interviewed somebody yesterday whose resume had three long stretches of no employment shown; I asked about it, and their response was sketchy to say the least, but if their response had been "family issues" and there had been just one stretch, I wouldn't have given it another moment's thought.
posted by davejay at 11:07 PM on July 3, 2008

Let me start by editorializing a bit:

Of all the odious, soul-crushing, JUST MOTHERFUCKING STUPID aspects of looking for work in the corporate world, this must be the worst: the idea that, if you happen to have taken a respite from being a drone for a period of even a month, you're somehow obligated to explain. As if daring to briefly prioritize your family or God forbid, you're own happiness is somehow a red flag or a sign of an irresponsible person or even ANY OF THEIR FUCKING BUSINESS.

Ahem. That said, this is the world we live in, and depending on the stick-up-the-assedness of the company or the industry it can be an issue. Definitely don't bother with it in the cover letter, that just sounds like you have something to hide. Four months is a perfectly legitimate period to not find a job EVEN IF YOU WERE LOOKING THE WHOLE TIME, so i can't see anyone even mentioning it in the interview. But the corporate world never ceases to amaze, so you never know.

In my industry, it's fairly common to do freelance/contract work, so I write at the bottom "all unaccounted for periods were filled by freelance/short term contract work." I'm sure i touched the keys of a computer to make a website during all those periods, even the ones where I was coasting off unemployment, so it's not really a "lie" per se. Also this is on like page 4 of my resume, so no one gets that far anyway.

And finally, as mentioned elsewhere, if they do quiz you on it, "health problems" is the perfect way to scare them into shutting the fuck up and asking something meaningful.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:33 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Actually, I would avoid mentioning "Health problems" as drjimmy11 suggests. It will shut them up, but they may also wonder if it's a possibly recurring issue and that may factor into the hiring decision. Family issues is fine. Taking time off to travel is fine. Sabbatical is fine. Anything but "health issues", "stalking ex-girlfriend" or "was shooting heroin" would probably be fine. Most companies don't care about a singular gap like that if it has a remotely plausible explanation that isn't likely to affect them.
posted by barc0001 at 3:28 AM on July 4, 2008

I wouldn't worry about four months. That's a relatively short period of time off - many people take that long to find a job even if they're looking fulltime. If you're the best person for the job, they'll hire you.

And any company that makes a big issue out of somebody not being employed for that short a period of time is probably some place you do not want to work.
posted by davetill at 4:24 AM on July 4, 2008

You should not mention it in your application package (cover letter, resume, other required materials) simply because it is not a qualification. If there will be many applicants to this job, anything in your package which raises potential disqualifications, even if only to rebut them as such, will simply make it easier to hit the delete key on you.

However, I strongly disagree that the gap will never come up. While it is short, it is current, and you will be asked "why did you leave your last job" and you may be asked "what have you been doing since." My suggestion is that you put a positive spin on it: "I recognized that I couldn't meet the high standards I set for my professional contributions while facing these other demands, so I resigned in order to allow my colleagues and boss to get someone in the spot who could be at 100%. That's all resolved and I am ready to be the strong contributor again I always have been" Etc. However, it isn't possible to say what the best degree of specificity is, or what the consequences will be. Just need to be positive!
posted by MattD at 6:33 AM on July 4, 2008

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