Minding the Gap: How to Explain Gaps in Your Employment

Whether intentional or not, many workers take time off from work, which leaves them with a gaping hole on their resume. Sometimes, it can be to pursue an exciting adventure, like backpacking through Europe, earning your Master’s Degree, or raising a new born. In other cases, the situation may have been unexpected or unavoidable, like caring for a sick relative or your company downsizing, resulting in you being laid off. Because of this, your resume is going to stray a bit from the norm, but that’s perfectly okay! Having an employment gap on your resume does not mean you have suddenly contracted some deadly plague and no employer will risk coming near you. You are not untouchable as far as job seeking goes. All a gap in your career experience means, is you must learn how to effectively market yourself as a valuable candidate.

Make no mistake, any recruiter or hiring manager who sees a gap in your employment is going to ask you about it. Don’t let this deter you. When an employer asks you this question, it means they’re interested in you as a candidate and aren’t automatically disqualifying you from the running due to the employment gap, So, this is not the time to say that you didn’t feel like working anymore and decided to stay at home to spend more time watching the Great British Bake-Off reruns on Netflix. As ideal as this scenario sounds, it’s not what a hiring manager wants to hear. An employer is seeks candidates that are ambitious, driving, and will bring value to their organization.

While career gaps may seem like the kiss of death, they’re not. As long as you can effectively explain why you took a hiatus from work, there’s nothing to fear. Here’s the right way to justify an employment gap. 

What If You’re Laid Off?

Being fired from a company can often be unexpected and depending on the job market, you may not get another position right away. It’s hard to explain to a hiring manager that you were let go in the first place, let alone found difficulty in procuring a new job. Or is it? The one thing you absolutely way to stray away from is bad mouthing a previous employer. Instead of saying, “That company had the audacity to let me go when I did everything for them,” try framing your explanation like this:

“My company went through corporate-wide layoffs and unfortunately due to funding, my entire department was let go. I’m thankful for the time and opportunity I had there as it was a good learning experience and I believe I can take the skills I developed with XYZ company into my next position.”

Finding Yourself Through Travel

Similar to those who take a year off in between high school and college, there are many instances where an individual may decided to pursue travel opportunities. Not all companies offer unlimited PTO and it may take you years to earn multiple weeks off per year. Maybe you’ve spent years stashing away your hard-earned dollars, you’re in-between jobs, or the opportunity to jet-set across the globe fell into your lap and you’ve decided to go for it! Guess what? Not only should you follow these pursuits, but exploring new cultures and places can actually help you develop skills that you can sell in your interview. 

I’m not suggesting you stroll into your interview and mindlessly jabber about how boring your old job was and how totally sweet vacation was. I can tell you right now, the hiring manager certainly won’t be impressed. Instead, you’ll want to say something along the lines of this:

“It came time in my career where I felt that it was the right moment to step away and see more of the world. In my travels.” From here you can use specific examples to highlight achievements or soft skills you developed during your globe-trotting adventures. For example, maybe you volunteered abroad or participated in an excursion that required you to lead a group of people. 

Concentrating on Your Education

Taking up opportunities to further your education is one of the easier employment gaps to explain. While you may have returned to school simply because you were interested in obtaining another degree, you can use your schooling as a way to market yourself as a valuable candidate. Here’s an example of what you can say:

“I chose to go back to school to strengthen my technical skills. I saw the modern workforce and growing advancements in technology and decided that I wanted to become a valuable asset for the evolving needs of today’s workplace. I knew that by learning highly sought-after coding skills, I could help shape the future of the workplace and directly contribute to the success of my future employer.”

Taking Time off for Yourself or to Care for a Loved One

Life rarely goes exactly as planned and an unexpected circumstance may arise that requires you to step away from work. Whether it’s due to personal issues or the health of a loved one, sometimes a break is unavoidable. Many individuals in this circumstance feel nervous to disclose this information to potential employers as they see it as extremely private or are fearful about where to draw the line when sharing personal information in an interview. Still, you want to be honest when the question about your gap arises. So, how do you respond?

For time off due to a health or medical-related issue, focus on how the situation contributed to your growth. Here’s an example:

“An unanticipated situation arose that required me to step away from work in order to focus on healthcare-related matters. The circumstance challenged me in ways I could never imagine, showing me the power of positivity, personal motivation, and effectively managing my affairs. I am excited to be able to shift my focus back on my career and apply what I’ve learned to a new role.”

Did you spend your time taking care of a loved one? If so, here’s how to explain your circumstance:

“After some thought, I decided my child/mother/father/spouse needed my full attention during their medical struggle to ensure they received optimal care. During this time, I used my free time to invest in my own professional development by participating in online tutorials, webinars, and classes. I even ensured my skills remained up-to-date by taking on freelance projects when my scheduled permitted.”

Whether planned or not, employment gaps happen. When they do, reentering the workforce can feel extremely intimidating. However, gaps are more common than you think, and if you prepare to strategically position your employment gap in a positive light, you can really capture a hiring manager’s attention. Not everyone’s resume, nor their work experience, is a cookie cutter mold of perfection; it’s okay to color outside the lines sometimes.

Michele Loizzi Written by:

Michele Loizzi is the Director of Recruitment Marketing Services at Human Edge.

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