In resume writing, should the years of experience reflect only the years of paid full-time employment? Or can certain types of gaps in one's employment history be counted?

Here are some examples of the type of gaps I am referring to:

  • extended personal travel
  • unemployment while actively job searching
  • medical leave
  • taking time off to further one's education
  • family leave
  • part time contracting gigs
  • relocating to a new area due to a spouse or family member's job situation
  • etc.

2 Answers 2


When an employer asks for "years of experience", he's asking for time that you have spent doing relevant work. This includes (relevant) jobs and contracting; it could include longer-term well-structured side projects, but be prepared to document your work there. Working on Debian for six months (with demonstrable outputs) probably counts; spending a few hours putting together a database for your club doesn't.

Personal time -- travel, medical issues, job-hunting, family leave, etc -- does not involve the skills for which an employer is considering you, unless you're applying for jobs in those industries. So no matter how much time you spent on that, it doesn't count. "Years of experience" doesn't mean "years since graduation"; it means "years doing stuff we care about".

  • I will note, there is a difference between formal and informal years of experience. Depending on the sort of company you're pursuing on which they'll expect. Typically the more corporate the more likely they only will count formal experience. Formal experience is strictly the time you spend in your field that you've been hired and paid for. Informal can include any note worthy project you can demonstrate notable participation in. (That said listing these items is still good in the companies that expect formal, they just don't want it added to your years of experience claim) Aug 27, 2014 at 20:48

In general, if your resume shows you being employed at a company then it counts. Even if you weren't actively working (family leave, lengthy vacation, injury). Even part time work (that wasn't for friends and family) counts.

At least in my area (midwest US), that's what I've seen to be the accepted practice. Education, personal projects, and even not-for-profit collaborative projects (unless well known) aren't considered "real" experience.

When I've lived elsewhere in the US, different rules tended to apply and even those tended to vary based on who was evaluating the resume. In general though, it seems as though having too many years listed is more detrimental than too few.

  • 1
    Ordinary levels of vacation and sick time are noise. If you took a 6-month sabbatical, or took a year off to be a care-giver, or something like that, you should subtract that time out when they ask you for a number. Better to be honest than seem to be inflating. Aug 23, 2012 at 20:13
  • @MonicaCellio While I doubt anyone would likely fact check, if someone was straight forward about this in an interview with me it'll likely outweigh the benefit of having 6+ more months of exp in my book. (Because it tells me you'll likely be straight forward and honest at the job, which is a very desirable trait) Aug 27, 2014 at 20:51

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