Say one has an extended leave of absence from the workforce as a software engineer. During that time, over a period of time, one makes a series of non-trivial contributions to an open-source project, as they wish to keep their skills current.

As there would otherwise be a significant gap between the most recent employer and the current time, is it suitable and appropriate to list it in the "Experience" section alongside past paid employers, so long as the experience is not mis-construed? Would an employer find it misleading? Should it instead be relegated to a "hobbies" section later in the resume? How can it best be presented to be both truthful and flattering to the person submitting the resume?

  • Thanks for editing the tags, Rarity :) I wanted to add more tags, but don't have enough rep yet to create new tags. Aug 10, 2012 at 5:10
  • If the work you did is relevant and helped you maintain your skill set, I would personally consider it highly relevant. Question is why you have the gap - that might influence how you would present this. Mar 5, 2014 at 12:19
  • You should clarify the situation in a cover letter. Point out why this work is relevant to the open position and why you weren't working a "real" job.
    – user8365
    Jan 25, 2016 at 14:49
  • In these modern times, Github and others provide activity overview linking directly to what you've done. This would be valuable information for selling yourself. Mar 12, 2022 at 9:13

4 Answers 4


If the volunteer work that you did for the open source project relates to the work you are applying for, by all means, include it. Just make sure you are crystal clear that it was a volunteer position.

Having volunteer work on your resume between employment gaps demonstrates that you are the type of person who uses her time wisely, and an employer will (or should) appreciate your demonstrated desire to continue to learn new things and keep your skills up to date.

My suggestion is to include it in a section titled "Employment/Volunteer Work" so that you can show a chronological breakdown of where this fits in.

When I applied for my first job, I was volunteering at a local FreeGeek. I listed this on my resume to show the time that elapsed between graduating from college and applying for the job. I received an offer 4 days after my interview.

By the way, I'd leave out hobbies. If it doesn't apply to the position, don't put it on the resume. Think about the last time you had a pile of paperwork to go through, or something that involved finding a needle in a haystack. You are the needle, so make sure the recruiter only sees relevant information. Good luck!

I just read your bio, and you are freaking awesome! I especially enjoyed reading about the Twister game you made as a kid. I'm not sure you can put that on the resume, but it's a cool story ;)

  • I don't know if I would use a header of "Employment/Volunteer Work"; on mine I just list the one relevant volunteer position as "blah blah blah (Volunteer)". But I agree with the rest of this. (Well, I haven't verified the last paragraph. :-) ) Mar 5, 2014 at 0:58

It should definitely be on the resume, assuming it's significant and extended over time.

Recruiters want to know that there's a reasonable explanation for a gap, and they want a feeling that you were proactive during the gap. That's why behavioral interviewing is so popular now: how you have acted in the past and how you act now is how you are going to act if they hire you.

Making significant contributions to a reasonably complex open source project over a period of time is a sign that you love to program, you're reasonably good at it, you can work with a team, and you made time to keep your skills up instead of moping around the house and playing video games.

(I was 6 months between jobs recently. Not a long time, but the first time in my career and I got a lot of good advice during that time and talked to recruiters and learned a lot about the interviewing process and what they think.)


List the leave of absence right in the employment section and include details on the reason for the leave (if appropriate) and what you did during the leave. If you were fired from a job or if you quit a job without having another job lined up, I think it would be misleading to call it a leave of absence. If you had planned on taking time off, you can call it a leave of absence. I would certainly mention that during this time you made significant contributions to open source projects (assuming they were significant). List URLs of the projects and any quantifying info would be helpful (tickets, lines, etc.)


Do not discount the significance of side-projects, or other between-jobs work. If anything, this will likely be a huge boon to your job search.

If you've been collaborating on open-source coding projects, and are seeking employment in a coding field, and you made significant contributions to those projects, it is very relevant to add it to your resume. It shows you have been practicing your skill, that you are an eager worker, and that you have the ability to collaborate with others on large-scale projects.

If anything, I would highlight these skills as much as your job experience - you might even feel inclined to reference the specific project, so that your prospective employers can look at it themselves to get an idea of what kind of coding you're capable of.

You should of course mention that it is Open-source - it would be very poor form to claim sole ownership or even propriety of the project, but as long as you're clear about that, I see no downsides to including it on your resume.

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