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How to Explain Gaps in Employment

by | How to Interview, Interviewing General, Job Search

As if job hunting wasn’t hard enough already, sometimes unexpected life changes can complicate the process even further.

Introduction to Employment & Resume Gaps

This article is about how to explain a resume gap in a job interview. This is a common challenge for anyone who has taken time away from work for any reason, whether professional or personal.

Recruiters and hiring managers are trained to look for gaps in candidates’ resumes and ask questions about them. After all, gaps can sometimes indicate a candidate could be a risky hire.

However, there are often good reasons for gaps. People commonly need to take some time away from the workforce to take care of other pressing matters — for example, caring for family members or recovering from health issues.

If you have taken some time away or otherwise followed an unorthodox career path, your gaps will likely come up in your interviews.

Do not fear! We’re here to help you address these gaps in a neutral or positive way that will explain your decision and experience without raising red flags.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons for having gaps in your work history and how to address them.

Parenthood Employment Gaps

Raising young kids takes a lot of time and energy. If you’ve taken time out of your career to care for children, you may have a significant gap in your resume.

If you’re currently trying to return to full-time work after time away to focus on parenting, here is some guidance on how to answer questions about your time away from work in your interviews.

1. Project Confidence

This is a very common situation. Be confident in the decision you’ve made to make your family a priority.

However, you must also show you are confident in your readiness and ability to return to work and excel in the position at hand.

Do not go in to your interview apologetic or take a timid stance on the issue. Boldly but politely explain your thoughtful and calculated decision to take time off for your children.

Then, make it clear you are ready to return and enthusiastic about getting back to work.

Your interviewer will likely appreciate your candor and your solid stance.

2. Don’t Be Defensive

While you do want to project confidence, you don’t want to be defensive. Understand that it is reasonable for the interviewer to wonder about your gap and don’t assume they are biased against you.

The key is to be confident and straightforward without over-explaining or falling into self-deprecating language.

Defensiveness can make interviewers wonder if you’re hiding something —or if you’re truly confident in your abilities.

3. Brush Up on Technology

If it’s been some time since you’ve been in the workplace (5-10 years or more), technology has likely advanced past what you were used to.

Brush up on workplace essentials, such as Google Drive, Google Calendars, Microsoft Office, and any other software specific to your industry.

Your technological competencies will likely be asked aboutin your interview and you don’t want to be caught off guard.

You can analyze the job description for specifics on what technical skills are most important in the role you’re interviewing for.

You can also tap into your network and/or research industry trends to learn more about technical skills that could come up.

4. Keep Up with Your Industry

Much like technology, industries are changing all of the time.Hopefully you’ve kept tabs on major developments while you’ve been out of the workforce, but if you haven’t, take some time to do some research before your interview.

You want to make sure you can keep up with the conversation during your interview, as well as be able to speak knowledgeably about the current challenges and triumphs facing your industry.

Even if you’ve kept up on changes, you may have to counter mistaken perceptions that you’re“out of touch.”Be aware that interviewers may have concerns about your ability to jump back in.

Prepare to talk about how you’ve kept your skills and knowledge fresh.

You can discuss any part-time work, volunteer experience, classes, or other relevant activities.

If you don’t have a lot to talk about, consider signing up for a job-related class or online training course.Even if you won’t have time to complete it before your next interview, your decision to enroll can reinforce your commitment to returning to work and show you have some current knowledge.

Family Care Employment Gaps

Many people are faced with the difficult choiceto put their career on hold to care for a loved one, and few regret making that decision.

When re-entering the workforce after this type of break, most of the previous tips still apply.

You want to demonstrate that you made a thoughtful and difficult decision to take time away, but are now fully ready to return to the workforce.

In addition, here are some more things to keep in mind:

1. Awareness is Rising

As our population ages, elder care responsibilities are becoming more common, which has resulted in employer awareness rising.

This, of course, is good news for you. However, fairly or unfairly, most employers will worry about a long absence, even if it’s for something as noble as caring for a family member.

That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to…

2. Demonstrate Your Commitment

You can help put your interviewer’s concerns at ease by highlighting any valuable skills learned during your time away from your career.

You want to emphasize all the ways you’ve been growing and learning, and not drawing any more attention to the gap than is strictly necessary.

You can do this by discussing any training, volunteer work, and/or freelance projects you’ve taken on during your time away.

You should also mention any industry conferences or seminars that you’ve attended, and any professional associations or organizations that you’ve joined.

Talk about staying up-to-date by reading trade journals or industry publications to show that you are aware of the latest changes.

3. Be Teachable

You may have been working at the top of your field when you decided to take time away, but the rate that technology and industries are changing means you may not be able to pick up exactly where you left off.

This may be a concern for your interviewer, wondering if you are coming back to the workforce with an attitude of “I already know everything I need to know,” or if you will be teachable.

Demonstrate that you are teachable by displaying a willingness and enthusiasm to learn new things and an ability to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

Re-entering the workforce after an absence may also mean reporting to someone younger than you.

This is a topic that your interviewer may introduce, so be willing to discuss your teamwork competency skills and how you are more than willing to contribute to the team in the capacity appropriate to your role.

Unemployment

Sometimes the gap on your resume exists because you simply couldn’t find a job, despite your best efforts. During difficult job markets, this is a common scenario.

However, if the gap is long, your interviewers may wonder if there’s some negative reason why you haven’t found a new position yet.

1. Be Honest

There are many reasons you may be currently unemployed. Perhaps you are a new graduate and your limited experience causes you to lose out to candidates with more experience. Perhaps you were laid off because your company was downsizing and there wasn’t anything else in your area.

Whatever your situation, honesty is usually the best policy — as long as you didn’t leave under negative or controversial circumstances.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to reveal all of the details. After all, negativity or self-deprecating details could raise real red flags.

You want to make it clear that your unemployed status is not due to performance or personal issues.

If you did leave your last position under negative circumstances, you’ll want to put more thought into how you describe. Your best bet is to describe the circumstances in language that is as neutral as possible — for example, “it wasn’t a good fit” or “the position requirements changed.” >> Then, redirect to more positive experiences.

2. Stay Positive

If you’ve been job searching for some time, you are probably dealing with a level of some (very understandable) frustration.

However, just as defensiveness is considered unprofessional, so is bitterness and other signs of negativity.

Focus on the positive and don’t express your frustrations to your interviewer.

By the same token, you also don’t want to come across as desperate or ready to take whatever job they’re willing to give you.

Even if you are greatly needing employment and ready to do whatever it takes to secure a job, retain your professionalism. No employer wants to feel like you view their position as a second — or third or fifteenth — choice.

Employment Gaps Since Graduation

If you are a new graduate looking for your first full-time position, the job search process can be particularly tricky. You don’t have as much experience as other candidates who are looking, and probably don’t have the same caliber of references to vouch for you.

The good news is that interviewers understand that no one comes out of college with a resume full of experience.

If you’ve made it to the interview process, they are already interested in you and you’ve passed the first hurdle.

Your next task will be convincing them that you are up to the challenge of the role at hand.

Before the interview, you should have researched the company and be able to match the skills and education you already have with the competencies they are looking for in the role.

In the time since graduation, you’ve hopefully been keeping tabs on your industry of interest, staying abreast of new developments, and landing internships and volunteer opportunities you can discuss to demonstrate your seriousness and level of dedication to the job, company and industry.

Resume Structure to Address Employment Gaps

There are ways to structure your resume so that gaps don’t stand out as much.

If you are able to “wow” them with your skills and qualifications before they see the employment dates, the gaps in time may not seem like such a large concern.

For instance, it is advisable to begin your resume with a shining resume summary that highlights your greatest accomplishments and that you clearly have the skills for the job.

Next you can have a section on your hard and soft skills, as well as professional achievements, certifications, and other impressive factors that make you stand out, before going in to the past job breakdown.

Another way to disguise a gap of a few months is to simply change the date format on your resume.

For example, instead of:
Company ABC, January 2007 – January 2009
Company DE, June 2009 – December 2010

Use:
Company ABC, 2007 – 2009
Company DEF, 2009 – 2010

Good interviewers will notice this, but if your resume is good, they will likely be willing to give you a chance to explain in the interview.

Lastly, you can add the gap as if it were another job role.

For example, you could include a heading like Elder Care (2014-2019) or Director of Fundraising, Volunteer (2018-2019) or Marketing Consultant, Part Time (2016-2019)

You can then expand on a heading like this with a description of duties and activities, focusing on what’s relevant for the position at hand.

For example, if you’re interviewing as a physician assistant, elder care duties will be very relevant.

If you’re interviewing for an accounting role, you won’t want to go into a lot of detail on unrelated activities, but it can sometimes be helpful to indicate you had a compelling reason for your time away.

This isn’t always necessary, particularly if your gap was only a few months. However, it is an option to consider, especially if you have a lengthy gap and/or your gap responsibilities are relevant to the work you want to do.

Practice and Positivity

Whatever your current situation, perhaps the most valuable thing you can do for yourself is to think through, outline and PRACTICE discussing your gap before interview day.

While practicing can feel awkward, we’ve seen time and again how practice has helped candidates from all sorts of complicated backgrounds to ace their interviews and land jobs.

Having a comfort level with what you are going to say beforehand will not only boost your confidence, it will also raise your level of positivity.

It will be much easier to avoid slipping into a defensive or negative tone if you don’t feel you have to grasp for reasons to defend your choices.

Instead, you can easily explain your situation while feeling relaxed and positive. You won’t be as susceptible to nerves and the entire interview process will go much more smoothly.

We’ve designed Big Interview specifically to help you practice well with specific questions for your industry and skill level.

If you don’t currently have the funds available to join Big Interview, there are many, many helpful articles on this blog to assist you in answering even the most difficult interview questions.

You can also practice on your own, recording yourself on a webcam or phone and playing it back to see where you can improve.

However you choose to practice, we STRONGLY recommend doing so before your interview so you can work out all the kinks before the stakes and nerves are at their highest.

We wish you every success in your job search, and don’t forget to let us know how it goes!