How to Address Difficult Circumstances in a Cover Letter
The key to addressing any difficult circumstance in a cover letter is deciding whether or not an explanation will help you. If you have a three-month gap between jobs five years ago, your current employer is probably not going to notice or care. Bringing it up in your cover letter is only going to draw attention to it. If, however, you're currently unemployed, some context might help your employer understand why you're still hirable.
When addressing difficult circumstances, always weave the information into a forward momentum sentence. Make sure that the circumstance is linked to where you're headed or what makes you a good candidate for the position. If you've been unemployed for a while, you can say, "In my passion to continue serving my community, I have taken the last six months to ensure that I find a volunteer coordinator position that best utilizes my abilities." In that sentence, you're acknowledging that you've been unemployed six months, but you're also making it active. It sounds like you have a plan and that you've been working hard through the unemployment toward your goal.
Personal factors are never a bad thing to include, since they make you more human to the employer. They can also create sympathy or understanding around job loss or unemployment. If possible, frame the personal circumstances in a way that highlights your marketable skills. For instance: "When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I returned to Philadelphia to serve as her caretaker. That time honed my skills as a social service worker and helped me develop the patience, empathy, and fortitude I hope to employ as a hospital aide." Do not frame it in a way that makes it seem like you're complaining or asking for special treatment. Be professional.
It'll be a judgment call when it comes to whether or not you should address a work history gap on your resume. Sometimes it's better to just focus on your experience and highlight your knowledge. Be aware, though, that employers will notice large, unusual work gaps as well as current unemployment. A lack of explanation can come across as suspicious. Best to include small, throwaway lines when you can that indicate what you were doing during that time-whether it was volunteer work, family time, or job searching.
Index of Cover Letter Examples