Whether by choice or circumstances beyond your control, you find yourself between jobs. Now’s the time, you think, to seek full-time employment. But first, you need to address the latest career gap on your resume.
This break or two can happen throughout your working life, and other professionals have them too. While taking some time off itself does not automatically disqualify you from being considered for new work, it requires you to explain nonetheless.
Expect any potential employer to ask where you last worked, what you did there, why you left, and what you did in between. Your answers to these seemingly simple questions will influence the course of the interview and your overall chances of getting the job.
Find the best approaches to explaining your employment gap and pertinent concerns, such as causes and durations.
What Are Common Reasons for a Career Gap?
The global coronavirus pandemic undoubtedly cost millions of people their jobs in 2020. There’s a bit of a bright spot with some industries showing signs of recovery as evident in job openings.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate dipped to 6% in March 2021, although this figure was higher than that recorded in February 2020, which marked the time before the pandemic.
COVID-19 as the reason for unemployment and inability to find a job thereafter is generally understood, although employers will still ask about the specifics.
In building your career-gap explanation, you need to identify the cause. Here are commonly accepted reasons for having an employment gap:
- Pursuing a degree
- Taking care of a loved one
- Getting married or raising kids
- Starting a business
- Looking for better opportunities, benefits, or finding the right company aligned with one’s goals and values
- Going on a medical leave
- Looking for workplaces nearer to home or more flexible work arrangements
- Getting laid off and having a difficult time finding work
- Personal reasons
Is There an Acceptable Employment Gap?
A 2016 blog post on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Liberty Street Economics relates that the longer a person is unemployed, the less likely they are to find a job. The central premise, which serves as the post’s title, also confirms that employers look into the unemployment duration as part of the job screening.
For BLS, long-term unemployment means unemployment lasting 27 continuous weeks (six months) or longer. This definition is used in the Current Population Survey (CPS), whose estimates were used in the blog post.
While there’s no “prescribed” or “ideal” length of employment gap, being unemployed for, say, four months will not raise as much scrutiny as being out of work for four years. It’s all the more reason to find the best angle to explain your situation.
How to Explain a Career Gap in a Job Interview in Three Steps
1. Be honest
It can be tempting to adjust your employment dates to shorten the gap. The worst is when you lie about why you were no longer with your last declared workplace.
Lying on your resume or in the interview is counterproductive because HR personnel can ask your former employer. It will only muddle your application when you are found to withhold information such as being fired or laid off.
Those circumstances are tricky to explain, but you are better off being upfront from the get-go.
2. Explain briefly and clearly.
While some hiring experts recommend that you don’t have to justify having gaps in your employment history, you may end up doing so and ramble on unless you have a prepared response.
Frame your explanation using these main points:
- Start with a reason. Reveal why you took time off to recover from burnout, take care of the kids, travel, or finish your degree. If you have been laid off due to economic forces and business model shifts, tell it as it is. Bring up your accomplishments like awards to put it out there that you performed well when the decision came about. Were you fired or asked to leave? Share what you’ve learned from the experience without badmouthing your former bosses.
- Mention the lessons and skills you’ve learned during the gap: volunteer work, classes, gigs, challenges you have overcome using newfound skills that will make you more productive at work, interact well with others, and so on. You can elaborate on or demonstrate such skills later.
- End on a positive note. Circle back to your interest in the job and how your experience and skills fit right into the position.
Additional key points in discussing your career gap successfully:
- Answer the question directly. Don’t lie, but don’t overshare either. Talking too much can get awkward and distract you and the interviewer from the main topic.
- Prove your growth during the gap. Be very clear that you’ve been engaged in activities that bridge the gap. Taking classes, volunteering, and doing side gigs will earn you points for making the most of a so-called lull and showing your willingness to learn.
Show that you are ready. Say that you’ve taken care of matters, such as childcare, school, and business that prompted the break, and that these won’t be a problem when you start working full time.
3. Write, revise, rehearse
You can cover the points above in three or five simple, clear, and direct sentences. Avoid verbosity and too many details; the interviewer will surely ask questions when they want to know more.
Read aloud what you’ve written so far, edit out awkward phrasing, determine pauses, and keep it short and sweet. Practice until you sound natural and calm in your job interview.
You Can Get Hired
Employment-gap questions are routine interview questions that can quickly derail your game plan.
You can prepare to steer the interview in a more favourable direction where your experience and competence will take the main stage. After all, you want to show that you are qualified despite things that happened in the past.
Lastly, be confident in telling your story. You may have made difficult decisions, but you have learned so much and are ready to work again.