What Do You Say in a Cover Letter if You Have Been Unemployed for a Long Time?

When the work experience contained in your resume raises questions about long-term unemployment, address the gap in your cover letter seeking employment. Since your cover letter may be the first communication the recruiter or hiring manager sees, you need to stress that your unemployment shouldn't be a deterrent to selecting you for an interview. Therefore, provide a brief explanation about what you've been doing during your unemployment period so the reader won't take a look at your resume, see that you've been unemployed for a couple of years and immediately toss your resume.

Work Experience

The fact that you may have been unemployed for a long period doesn't take away from your professional experience and education. Play up education and academic credentials in your resume. In your cover letter, you could say, "My background includes 15-plus years' experience in sales and marketing. My accomplishments include expanding into global markets in the IT industry and managing global presence in European and Latin American markets."

Refer the reader of your cover letter to your resume for information on your complete professional background. Avoid describing your experience in past tense and definitely don't preface your accomplishments with phrases like "many years ago" or "in the past decade." If you're looking for a letter template, Indeed Career Guide offers sample cover letters for a retired person returning to work, for example.

Family Responsibilities

If you took time off to raise a family, it's perfectly acceptable to mention that. In fact, if you're a former Missouri state employee looking to get rehired, you're eligible for a five-point parental preference in the competitive job selection process. Other states might have similar laws, and some private sector employers may have policies that mirror those. In your cover letter, simply state, "I took two years off to raise my young children and am ready to re-enter the workforce." That way, you explain that you can further justify the reason why you might have time that's unaccounted for in your resume.

Maintaining Knowledge

Employers want to know that you didn't let your skill set, knowledge or expertise atrophy during the time you were unemployed, according to Military.com. Therefore, mention in your cover letter the ways you've maintained your industry knowledge. If you've attended professional conferences, done volunteer work, freelanced or anything that has kept you sharp in your field, absolutely mention it in your cover letter.

For example, you could write, "In the two years since I was laid off when my previous employer's business shut down, I've volunteered three days a week working with the New York chapter of Society for Human Resource Management to develop its HR training and development library."

Avoid Making Excuses

Whatever you do, don't use your cover letter to give excuses about why you've been unemployed. An unemployment letter of explanation is not even needed because recruiters know there are job seekers who have been unemployed for a long period. Many of these job seekers have been unemployed for at least six months.

Avoid badmouthing your previous employer or complaining about the shortage of jobs in your field. If you've been out of work for quite awhile, you may wish to use your cover letter to tell the hiring manager why you've been unemployed, but stick to a concise, factual explanation.