By Kathryn Vasel, CNN Business
Early in the pandemic, more than 22 million jobs were lost, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While breaks in employment can traditionally be red flags to hiring managers, you shouldn't be too concerned about a pause given the current situation.
"Don't worry about it," said Vicki Salemi, career expert for job site Monster. "It's more about how you handle the gap and what you should do. We have experienced such a collective global unprecedented situation that if you do have a gap, you are not alone."
Here's how to handle it with potential employers.
Be prepared to address it
If a recruiter or hiring manager brings up your time out of the labor market, keep your response short and refocus on the future.
"Assume they are going to ask," said Salemi. "Be prepared to say what happened and more importantly, why you are a strong candidate for the role you are pursuing ."
She suggested saying something like: 'I worked in hospitality, and as you know the industry was severely impacted and so I took some time off and re-evaluated.'
The key is to be prepared with your answer.
"Don't be self-conscious about it. It might take practice to come across as confident," said Christy Noel, a career strategist and co-author of "Your Personal Career Coach." "You don't have to be sheepish or embarrassed or concerned about it as much, you don't want to inadvertently come across that way."
Fill the gap with something else
Showcase what you've done with your time out of the labor market, whether it was additional education, training and certification courses, networking or volunteering.
"Not every 'job' on a resume has to be paid," said Noel. "If it's applicable to the job you are trying to apply for...include that."
For instance, if you volunteered to do marketing for a nonprofit and are looking for a marketing position, she suggested including it as experience.
Look for specific skills or requirements in job postings that are appealing and take this time to fill any gaps.
"Consider practicing some professional development skills," said Kyle Elliott, a career coach and founder of CaffeinatedKyle.com, who suggested LinkedIn, Coursera, edX and Udemy to help learn new skills. "Focus on some of those qualifications that job postings are asking for."
This way, if the break comes up during an interview, you can easily pivot the conversation to focus on your skills and strengths.
"Show what you have done with your time," said Salemi. "And how you are a top candidate for the job and why you are interested in it and how your skills and experiences ... are appropriate for the role you are pursuing. Always bring it back to the job and why you are the best possible candidate."
Leverage your resume and cover letter
Take the time to tailor each resume and cover letter to a job posting. That means using the same keywords that are in the posting, detailing specific results of your work, and also answering any questions that a recruiter might have -- especially if you are looking to enter a new industry.
"Connect the dots for the recruiter, especially when they are only looking at your resume and cover letter for literally less than five seconds," said Salemi.
Adding an executive summary at the top of a resume can help make an employment break less glaring. The summary, which should be no more than a few sentences, can include transferable skills, past experience and job posting keywords.
Use the cover letter to help address any potential concerns and highlight your experience and skills in how they are applicable to the job,
"The cover letter is valuable real estate," said Salemi, who added it shouldn't be more than a few paragraphs. "It could be a way to say: 'During the pandemic, I decided to switch my career path leveraging my top strengths and skills of XYZ and that's why I am interested in pursuing this job, because I think I would be an asset to your organization.'"
Don't be negative
There's no way around it: the last 17 months have been tough. But try to avoid focusing on the past.
"Avoid being negative," suggested Elliott. "A lot of people end up coming to interviews from a place of negativity sometimes because they have been out of work and the pandemic has been super stressful."
Instead, focus on explaining why you are drawn to the role and detail your skills and qualifications.
"Don't bad-mouth your [former] employer," said Salemi. "Don't focus so much on the past that you aren't able to pivot into the future. You want to demonstrate you are enthusiastic, passionate and positive."