If you’ve been unemployed for any amount of time, you may find it awkward and uncomfortable to broach the subject with potential employers. Keep in mind that business owners typically understand that sometimes good employees find themselves out of work due to no fault of their own. For best results, address the issue up front and honestly in your cover letter when seeking new employment opportunities.
1. Open your cover letter by stating your interest in the position for which you’re applying. Briefly summarize your qualifications including your education and your years of experience in the field.
2. Attach your resume to your cover letter and write, “As you will see in my attached resume, I have been pursuing new employment opportunities for the past six months,” substituting the amount of time you have been out of work. This approach puts the focus on your job search, rather than on your time of unemployment.
3. Write a brief explanation for your unemployed status. If you were downsized from a specialized field, relocated with a spouse or left the workforce to continue your education, explain those circumstances. If you have been holding out for the right opportunity, it’s okay to explain that as well, noting that you are dedicated to your profession and have been looking for the perfect fit.
4. Outline the ways in which you have kept yourself involved in your industry during your employment. If you performed volunteer work, acted as a consultant in your field or stayed involved in business and industry organizations, let the potential employer know. This will identify you as someone who is still up-to-speed on the latest trends and developments despite your absence from the workforce.
5. Finalize your letter by expressing your enthusiasm for the job for which you are applying. Emphasize your desire to get back into the workforce and describe your ability to adapt quickly to a new role.
- If you were unemployed for a period of time by choice, such as taking a leave of absence, raising a family or changing career focus, describe this in your cover letter. Emphasize your commitment to re-entering the workforce.
- If your unemployment was related to a messy divorce, home foreclosure or some other traumatic event you don’t wish to share with potential employers,
- note the reason for your absence as, “attending to private matters of a personal nature.”
- If you were terminated from a job under less-than-ideal circumstances or were unemployed because of incarceration, consider leaving that explanation for a face-to-face interview. Sensitive issues are best explained in person, and if you have a criminal record, you may be precluded from holding some types of jobs.
About the Author
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.
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How to handle sticky situations in your cover letter
A few sentences in your cover letter can help explain a long gap in your work history. Check out these examples for help finding the right words.
Get inspiration for explaining your work history.
Are you wondering how to deal with a sticky work history issue? Whether you were laid off from your last position, took time off to raise children, or are looking to change careers, the cover letter is the perfect place to address potential red flags.
One caveat: Keep the explanation brief. Writing a cover letter is an exercise in selling yourself, so the tone should be upbeat and positive. Review these examples to get inspiration for explaining your sticky situation:
Last month, ABC Co. made the difficult decision to dissolve its operations, so I am available for immediate employment. I am eager to continue my ______ career and was very excited when I learned about your job opportunity -- it’s a perfect match to my qualifications and career goals.
Although I was a top producer for ABC Co., my position was eliminated during a major corporate restructuring. I have been searching for a position in the industry, but the economy has made positions in ______ very difficult to find. In the interim, I have been networking at industry events and keeping my skills fresh, but I am eager to resume my career in the ______ field.
(Note: Don’t disclose medical information that could jeopardize your chance of landing a job -- disclosure is your personal choice.)
After taking time off to undergo back surgery, I left ABC Co. (on excellent terms) to focus on my recovery. As I regained my strength, I went to school part-time and received certifications in ______ and ______. Now fully recovered, I have been given an “excellent” bill of health by my doctor, and am highly motivated to return to the full-time workforce.
Time off caring for an ill family member
In the last couple of years, I served as primary caregiver to my father, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. During this difficult period, I kept my work skills updated by independently studying ______ and actively participating in industry news groups. At this time, I am available to return to work, and am confident that I would be an asset to your team.
Time off raising children
After stepping away from the workforce to start a family, I am eager to resume my professional career now that my children are school-aged. I have kept my skills and connections current through active volunteer work, including leadership roles in school and charitable organizations.
I plan to relocate to ______ to be closer to family, and your opening presents an excellent opportunity. I am available immediately for a telephone interview and can arrange to meet in person on short notice.
Although successful in my ______ career, I have realized that the aspects of my work that I find the most rewarding are all in ______-related functions. I am currently pursuing a full-time position in this area, and am confident in my ability to excel in this field.
After building a successful small business (where I grew revenues from zero to six figures in two years), I recently closed the operation to pursue my passion for the ______ field. Your opening is an excellent opportunity, and I look forward to speaking with you about how I can help expand your operation.
Although I have changed jobs more than I would have liked in the past few years, I am searching for a position where I can make a long-term commitment. If you agree that my credentials are an excellent fit to your needs, please feel free to call or email me to arrange a meeting.
Most recently, I have contracted with ABC Agency and have completed a number of interesting assignments (detailed on the attached resume). While this work is rewarding, the short-term nature of temping does not let me provide the kind of enduring, value-added contributions I find to be most fulfilling as I could as a full-time team member.
Budget cuts required me to take a ______ position in order to remain employed, but I am confident in my ability to step back up to a management position and hit the ground running. I would welcome the chance for an interview to discuss your goals and outline ways I can help you achieve them.
Job search next steps
Now that you know how to handle a tricky job situation on your cover letter, it's time to get your resume in order. Want help making the most of your resume?Join Monster today today and get a free resume review from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. Our experts can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter, even with a tricky work gap.