Dear Sam: I have been out of work for two years battling cancer. I am now cancer-free and cleared to return to work! I’ve come across some companies passing me by—because of this two-year gap—something I’ve learned through the placement agency that has been helping me with my job search. I have a great background mixed with years of experience and a degree. Is there a way to address this employment gap without too much personal detail, but enough to get employers not to pass me by immediately? – Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: First of all, congratulations on your wonderful news; I am so pleased you can call yourself a survivor! I work with a lot of clients who have recent employment gaps for one reason or another—returning to school, staying home with children, caring for a family member, or navigating an illness like yourself. In these situations, I always have begun the professional experience section with a little byline providing a brief explanation of the career hiatus. This ensures readers don’t start making assumptions in regards to what has been going on during your time away from work, and makes certain they do not think you have been unsuccessfully searching for a job for two years. Let me show you what I mean through a few examples.

For someone in your situation —

“Focused on personal health needs during the course of the past two years, navigating an unplanned journey resulting in ‘survivor’ status and a clean bill of health.”

Now, some may be uncomfortable divulging that the break was because of their own health; if that is the case, you can always say “a family member’s health” and paint a broader picture that you were caring for someone close to you. It’s a sticky subject as, on one hand, you certainly don’t want to be dishonest, but in the same token, personal information is exactly that—personal—and you do not want to have an employer think there could be ongoing health concerns.

For a parent who took some time away from work to care for a special needs child —

“Left 10-year aviation career to work through high-risk pregnancy with wife, staying home for first few years of son’s life as he navigated some health challenges. Now, at almost four years old, he is a thriving preschooler—with no health concerns—ready for his dad to start flying again!”

For a professional who returned to school —

“Focused on professional development over the course of the past few years, returning to school full-time, completing a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and equipping myself with both the experience and education to embark on a career as a Controller.”

Presenting the upfront byline is one way to approach this situation. A second way would be to incorporate a brief explanation into your cover letter. For example, I worked with a teacher who had stayed home with her children for the past six years. The following statement was incorporated at the end of her cover letter:

“Leaving the classroom to raise my own family, I have spent the past few years putting my education and experience to work while volunteering within preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Whether supervising a field trip, contributing to the organization of PTA fundraisers, or going into the classroom to support lessons and activities, I have enjoyed practicing my skills and maintaining my readiness to return to work now my youngest is heading to 1st grade.”

I hope these examples give you confidence in presenting your situation—in a positive light—to potential employers. I should note that all of these examples presented were for actual clients, all of whom were able to successfully navigate the transition back to work and communicated to me that the hiring managers appreciated their honesty and forthrightness. Best of luck to you, and I wish you continued good health.