9 Tips for Managing Gaps in Your Resume Due to Mental Illness

Published on: 28 Dec 2017
resume pen glasses on table

If you live with mental illness, there may be gaps in your resume where you had to take time off work. Sometimes those gaps can be months or even years long. Now you’re on the mend, and you’re looking to re-enter the job market. You’re worried though that those gaps will count against you.

Fortunately you can write a resume or cover letter that is honest about your gaps but still presents you in a positive light. Here’s how:

1. See The Gaps As A Good Thing

Don’t be so down on yourself about the gaps in your resume. When you took time off work to tackle your mental health, that showed that you were taking responsibility for your own well being. After all, you can’t be an effective employee if you’re coming in to work ill. Those gaps demonstrate you’re willing to overcome adversity and take personal responsibility. You can play these traits up in your resume to illustrate what a valuable employee you could be.

2. Early Gaps Can Be Hidden

If you had to take time off work early in your career, it’s actually easy to deal with them in your resume. Most recruiters want to see your most recent experience, and in most cases that’s around the last 15-20 years. If your gaps were further in the past than that, feel free to omit them. Your resume will still flow, and you won’t have to worry about explaining time off if you get to interview.

3. Emphasize Other Activities

You may not have been working during those gaps in your resume, but you were most likely doing something else. Use these activities to prove you were still busy improving yourself and growing your skills, even when you weren’t earning. For example, you can include any of the following on your resume:

  • Volunteer activities
  • Freelance work
  • Part-time employment
  • Project work
  • Education
  • Full-time parenting

Any of these will show that you’ve still been working, even when you haven’t been traditionally employed.

4. Try Online Tools

When writing your resume, it will be useful to have some outside input on it. These tools can help you put it together and let your experience shine through:

  • State Of Writing: Use the writing guides on this site to help get your resume ready for recruiters.
  • Resumention: If you’re looking for a professional writer to help with your resume, check Resumention.
  • BoomEssays: This site offers resume editing, so you can ask them to polish yours up. The Huffington Post recommends this service as well.
  • Via Writing: This site is an excellent grammar resource, if you’re looking to improve yours.
  • Essayroo: There are resume templates here you can use to get started when writing your resume.
  • Easy Word Counter: This tool is perfect for ensuring a resume is short and succinct.
  • Custom Essay: When you need thank you letters, this site will help you write them.
  • Cite It In: This site helps you cite all your sources correctly in your resume.

5. Be Honest

It’s tempting to sweep your illness under the rug when talking to a potential new employer. You don’t want them to know about it, but you do have to explain the gaps in your resume. The best policy is to give them the shortened version.

If you were being interviewed, all you would have to say is, “I was dealing with an illness that meant I had to leave the workforce temporarily. I now have it under control, so I’m looking to get back to work.” The Americans With Disabilities Act states an employer should not discriminate against you, but remember you don’t have to give them all the details.

6. Focus On Writing A Functional Resume

Resumes don’t need to have a chronological format that lists each job in succession. There are other formats that emphasize competency more than employment history. Using an alternative layout might work better for you.

“If you write a chronological resume, the gaps will be very obvious for everyone to see,” said Big Assignments resume editor Sarah Gardener. “You can avoid making those gaps so obvious by writing a functional resume instead. This kind of resume focuses less on where you’ve worked, but rather on the skills that you’ve acquired and the things you’ve achieved. This will help hide those gaps, and actually show a recruiter why they should hire you.”

7. Use Your Cover Letter To Address Issues

If you want to address your illness head on, the best place to do so is within your cover letter. As mentioned above, you’re not required to go into details. You can write something like:

“I had to take time off work to recover from an illness. Now I am back on track, and I want to resume my career.”

This statement tells the recruiter exactly why there’s a gap in your resume and emphasize that you’re eager to get back in the workplace.

8. Apply to Companies That Understand Mental Illness

Organizations in the health or wellness space are more likely to be understanding and accepting of taking time off to cope with mental illness. Talkspace, for example, has hired several employees who have gaps on their resumes due to recovering from mental health conditions and chronic illnesses.

Most companies prefer employees who can empathize with their values and customers and exemplify their mission. Your health challenges will allow you to utilize a personal angle in your cover letter and identify with any wellness or illness-related missions.

9. Promise Only What You Can Deliver

Now that you’re recovering from mental illness, show the recruiter you’re capable of bringing value to the company. When promising what you can do, however, only offer what you can deliver. Remember, you’re still in recovery, and you don’t want to overexert yourself. Even when working within your means, you can still be an amazing employee.

Even with gaps, you can write a resume and cover letter that show recruiters you’re worth hiring. Be honest and play up your strengths. This strategy will prove you’d be their best hire, no matter what your job history looks like.

Bio: Mary Walton is an editor at Academized, an academic writing service where she helps students improve writing skills. She has an educational blog, SimpleGrad.com. Mary has lived and studied in Australia, so now she works remotely for Australian Help, a service for Aussie students.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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