Explaining an Illness-Related Gap on Your CV
Returning to work is never easy after a period of illness, but should you mention it on your CV? By law, you’re not required to provide details about your health or anything related to your personal life as this can lead to discrimination. However, if a gap arises in your CV because of illness, you can be sure that you will be asked questions about it. What’s the best thing to do then if you were ill for a long period of time and were unable to work as a result? And what if you’re chronically ill? As every situation is different, there are no ready answers. Here are some tips to help you on your way.
If you’ve not been able to work for a period of time due to illness, a gap will naturally appear in your CV, whether it’s a gap of several months or even years. If you’ve just been off work for a few weeks due to the flu, of course, you don’t need to refer to this in your CV. However, it’s a different story when it comes to a long-term illness or disability. How you explain depends on the extent of your illness or disability as well as its impact on your ability to work.
There’s no need to provide details of your illness
Various anti-discrimination laws worldwide make it illegal for employers to discriminate against candidates or employees who have been out of work due to illness.
In general, it’s illegal for an employer to ask you about your health or disability unless and until you’ve been offered a job. The only exception is if your physical fitness is tied to the job, e.g. construction work, sports instructor, emergency worker, and so forth.
Report illnesses or accidents that could affect your ability to work
However, you do have a duty to report medical complaints (disability, limitation or chronic illness) that are likely to impact your work or work environment. This is so that employers can make ‘reasonable adjustments’. A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is something that employers can change so that your illness or disability doesn’t put you at a disadvantage at work.
Common examples of ‘reasonable adjustments’ include flexible working hours, a sign language interpreter, more time to complete assessments, step-free access and ‘auxiliary aids’ (adapted keyboard or specialised computer software).
Explaining gaps in your CV
While you don’t have to state that you were ill on your CV, many employers will naturally be curious about any resulting gaps.
Instead of fudging the truth and saying that you were travelling, in education or on a sabbatical, simply state that you took time off for personal reasons, but that the problem is now resolved and that you are now ready to work.
Most employers will understand that life happens and that sometimes, you need to take time out to take care of other priorities.
However, it is never a good idea to lie or mislead employers. If the employer subsequently discovers the truth, they may withdraw a job offer or even fire you after you’ve been hired.
Consider a skills-based or functional CV
With a skills-based CV, gaps are less noticeable because your experience and education are not listed in date order, as in a chronological CV.
Instead, a skills-based CV is organised by your skills with brief examples provided for each skill. While you still include your employment history, it’s not necessary to provide exact date ranges which draws attention away from any gaps.
By arranging your CV in this way, you show employers that you are more than your work history.
Tailor each CV
Tailoring your CV is generally good advice; however, it becomes more important if you have a gap in your CV.
Tailoring your CV means that you draw attention to relevant skills, experience, achievements and personal traits (soft skills) while playing down any ‘negative’ aspects such as illness, unemployment, etc.
This entails scouring the job description for keywords as well as researching the company’s website, blog, social media and Glassdoor reviews to get a feel for what they’re looking for and incorporating their requirements into your CV.
List hobbies and interests
If you were able to pursue your hobbies while you were ill or since recovering, mention these on your CV. Hobbies and interests give employers a glimpse into your personality and also demonstrate that you have relevant skills to make up for the lack of work experience.
Examples of hobbies to include: reading, writing, solving puzzles, organising events, fundraising, volunteering.
Monitor your social media accounts
Most employers will look you up on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) during the recruitment process to get an idea of who you are and your personality.
Therefore, it’s important that the story you tell on your CV matches the one you tell your friends and family on social media. As mentioned above, you don’t need to go into details of your illness on your CV, but neither should you say something that bends the truth, e.g. you were backpacking in Australia instead of recovering from an illness.
According to a survey by CareerBuilder, 70% of employers use social media to run background checks on candidates during the hiring process. Around 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees. Before applying for a job, audit your social media accounts and remove anything that you wouldn’t want employers to see. While you can turn on privacy controls in your accounts, you never know when a post, tweet or picture might be shared by one of your friends or followers..
Tell a positive story
Whether or not that gap in your CV is noticeable, the most important thing is to be able to put a positive spin on your time off (if possible).
Employers will almost certainly ask about extensive gaps during job interviews. While you don’t have to provide details about your illness (unless you want to), you could highlight personal traits which you’ve developed through overcoming your illness such as strength and perseverance.
Look to the future
Employers may be concerned that you may need more time off work because of your illness or that you’re not fully fit to return to work. Reassure them that this isn’t the case or if it is, provide exact dates and times of doctors’ appointments (if applicable), so that they can plan ahead.
Then, turn the focus back on what you have to offer and the value that you can bring to the company. Look to the future and employers will be likely to do the same.