A job gap can happen to anyone who has been employed, and at some point in your career it’s most likely going to happen to you. When it does, you need to know how to handle an explanation with confidence.
Most candidates are uncomfortable when trying to defend a gap of time in their employment history, mainly because it appears as though something must be wrong with them. In reality there are numerous reasons why people will enter a job search with a break between employers.
A couple of months ago, I was talking with a job candidate who, like others, experienced a gap in her employment – a length of time whereby you are not actively engaged in the workplace. She handed me her resume while at the same time voicing her concerns over being out of the workplace for a year.
Before I read the first sentence she began defending her time off in a way that sounded more like she did something wrong and needed to correct the perception before I caught on that she was out of work. For the next 10 minutes she talked about her family history intermingled with the reason why she was out of the job market for a year.
She ended her explanation with an enthusiastic shout and now “I am ready to get back to work!” which left me to wonder why she gave me a lengthy family history coupled with medical details. I had a better understanding of why she took off work but what I didn’t hear is how she could hit the ground running toward helping an employer succeed.
Let’s talk about her situation. Like many of you, life happens and whether we like it or not, we are all faced with unexpected family or health challenges that can take us out of the workplace for a length of time. How you explain job gaps sets the tone for how employers perceive whether your skills are out of date and wondering how you could contribute to their business.
Most job candidates dread questions regarding times of unemployment for fear that employers might hold this against them in the interview, and in some cases they will unless you get your explanation down to a brief answer.
The job gap explanation should not be a “true confession” of family medical problems, your problems or anything else in great detail. Mainly because the interviewer will get lost in the amount of detail and in the end will probably filter out the long explanation hearing bits and pieces. Always keep in mind the purpose of the interview – to demonstrate your value and ability to contribute.
Truth is most interviewers can identify with real life issues and, in some cases, taking time away from work can demonstrate good judgment and a sense of responsibility. There are just some things beyond your control that has nothing to do with your skill set or experience.
When you are defensive or anxious about the job gap, chances are high you will send the same message to the interviewer. Take a step back with a different perspective, trade places with the interviewer and if you were in their shoes, would your answer lessen their concerns or increase doubt?
There are many ways to answer job gap questions, but the best way to do it is through honesty and a sincere spirit. A job gap will require an answer to help address any concerns of commitment with a potential employer.
Just to say you took time out for personal reasons, might not be enough because it’s too broad of an answer and leaves room for the interviewer to guess. A brief explanation of the reason why you took time off should be sufficient if you demonstrate how you kept your skills updated.
Another way this job candidate could have answered the job gap concern might go like this:
“At the time my father became seriously ill and I made a decision to take time off to help him recover. Even though I took time out to be with him during a challenging time I continued to keep my skills current, attend business events and even had the chance to provide consulting along the way to various organizations.” My situation has changed and I want to utilize my skills (mention key skills related to the employer’s need) in making a positive contribution to your company.
Volunteering can be an excellent way to keep your skills current as well as attending training programs and networking. You can take the barrier away from a job gap by focusing on your skills rather than feeling awkward about the time away.
How have you address job gaps during an interview? What did you learn from the experience?