Watch your step: How to explain employment gaps to potential employers
Riders on London’s Metro are told to “mind the gap” every time they get off the train, because the gap between the train door and the station platform will trip them up if they aren’t paying attention to where they step. Job seekers need to mind the gap, too – learn how to explain employment gaps, that is.
Employers understand that sometimes gaps exist because a candidate made a conscious choice to prioritize something else of value, and that other gaps are involuntary. A hiring manager mainly wants to know why the gap occurred and what the candidate did with that time.
If you are looking for your next career step and you’ve had some time out of work, how will you prepare to explain an employment gap? Let’s look at three places it must be addressed: on the resume, during an interview, and most fundamentally, in your own mind.
How to explain employment gaps on the resume
Your first instinct might be to hide the gap. We don’t advise that approach. The employer is going to figure it out and you’ll have to answer questions anyway. By trying to hide it, you will have demonstrated that you are not entirely truthful — not a good way to advance in the hiring process.
Because a resume is not a full CV, you won’t have much room to address a gap. It’s usually wise to choose related work experience to highlight, which might mean you won’t cover every year. Sometimes, though, an employer will want to see your last three jobs on a resume, in which case you’ll just have to be honest about the dates. If that happens and your gap lasted longer than a few months, consider addressing it in your cover letter. Briefly and factually state the reason for the gap and highlight any positive steps you took during that time to stay on a path to increase your future value as an employee.
Did you volunteer or do freelance work during your employment gap? If it’s related to the job you’re applying for, it’s fine and even advisable to include those experiences on your resume. Did you do something to maintain your skills and learn new ones? Same thing. A hiring manager wants to know that you had an orientation toward the future and applied yourself to staying current in the interim.
How to explain employment gaps in the interview
Practice responses to questions about an employment gap before the interview. Answering honestly is the best policy. Your response should be brief and drama-free, without casting bad light on your previous employer. If the gap was due to personal health issues, it’s best not to share details.
If questions about your employment gap fluster you, or if you try to avoid them altogether, interviewers will likely make assumptions that will hurt your chances more than if you had been open about it. It’s to your advantage to control the narrative, which means telling the truth with discretion.
Do not apologize for an employment gap. You no doubt had a good reason, and hiring managers understand that there are legitimate reasons. Sometimes business restructuring or a change in the economy affects the stability of employment. Taking a sabbatical to travel or study is potentially seen as a sign of good work-life balance and self-knowledge.
What if you took time off to care for a child or other family member? “Some people are reluctant to add ‘Caretaker for family’ to their resume because they don’t want to come across as unprofessional,” writes Natalia Autenrieth for Top Interview. “If you share that concern, you may be surprised to learn that taking time out of the workforce to take care of a family member is not a death blow to your career.”
After you’ve explained the reason for your gap, move quickly into what you did to improve yourself during that time and why you are now ready to re-engage in employment.
How to personally view your employment gaps
Before you put yourself in a position where you need to explain your employment gap to a potential employer, “reflect on the emotions that the employment gap triggers for you,” Autenrieth advises. “It could be a sense that you are underqualified or somehow unhirable, or it could be regret over an old decision to leave a dead-end job.” This reflection is essential because, she says, “If you are embarrassed or deeply uncomfortable about your employment gap, it will be difficult to answer the hiring manager’s question with confidence.”
Find a way to reframe the gap, in your own mind and then for others, in a way that affirms a positive aspect of your identity. An employment gap does not diminish you as a person or the value you bring to an organization you hope to work for.
Let us help you find your next opportunity!
When you “mind the gap” between your employment, you will be able navigate the transition to a new job without stumbling. Bradsby recruiters stand ready to help connect you to top employers. Check out the jobs listed for the industries we focus on, and if you believe you have the talent and experience to fill one of them, send us your resume and let’s get started.