Explaining gaps in employment can be intimidating, but there are a couple effective methods you can use.
In this article I’m going to show you how to quickly and easily explain employment gaps in your interviews. (I’ll also cover how to explain gaps in employment on your resume and cover letter after that).
Let’s get started with the interview…
Explaining Gaps In Employment In Your Interview
Explaining gaps in employment is really just about knowing what reasons are okay to share, and which ones you should tell a white lie about or not share. And then being upfront and comfortable with your answer.
These are all good reasons for having a gap in employment:
- Caring for a sick family member
- Any medical or health issue
- Taking time off to relocate and find a job in a new state/city
- Pursuing further education or going back to school
- Pursuing any other type of professional training
- Taking time off to travel, study, work on a solo project, etc.
- Trying to start a business or freelancer career
- You were laid off, your former company downsized, etc… and you had trouble finding a job after
- You were actively searching but had trouble finding a job (NOTE: I’ll cover this in detail later but you need to make it sound like you were being selective in your job search and waiting to find the RIGHT fit. That sounds a *lot* better than saying, “I was looking everywhere but couldn’t find a single company that would consider hiring me!”
Once you have your reason prepared… Here are the general steps to follow when explaining gaps in employment in the interview:
- Explain the situation clearly but briefly. They don’t need a ton of personal details. Just give them the core facts.
- Show that the situation has ended or is no longer a factor, so they won’t be worried you’ll have to take another break from working. If they hire you, they want to know you’re 100% ready to work for them.
- Reiterate your interest in their position and bring the focus back onto this job interview and this position.
Examples Of How To Explain Employment Gaps In An Interview:
“I had to resign from my previous position to care for an aging family member. I did this for the past year. Since then, my siblings and I have hired a full-time caregiver so I no longer need to be present, and am fully available to work now and in the future. So I’ve begun job searching and I’m focused on finding a sales supervisor or manager position that will help me advance my career further now.”
“I was laid off nine months ago. I started my job search immediately after, and I’m looking for sales supervisor or sales manager positions now to continue advancing my career. I’ve had a number of interviews but haven’t found the right fit yet. One thing I’m looking for is a chance to mentor and train team members, and manage a team directly. I saw that mentioned on the job description for this position… can you tell me more about that?”
Two Things To Remember When Answering:
1. You need to sound like an in-demand job candidate…
If you’re explaining a current gap in employment, you need to sound like you’re being selective and that you’re focused on making sure you find the best fit for the long term, rather than just accepting the first job you come across.
That’ll make a 6 month gap (or longer) sound a bit better.
If you’ve been job hunting during your employment gap, you don’t want it to sound like you haven’t had a single interview in the last few months. That’s never a good idea.
If your gap in employment is related to health, travel, a family member’s health, etc…. then it’s fine to say you haven’t had any interviews.
2. Be upfront and honest…
Gaps in employment happen, and good hiring managers will realize this. If you’ve made it into the interview, there’s obviously something they liked on your resume. So when it comes to explaining gaps in employment it’s best to be honest and upfront.
You probably won’t lose out on the job by explaining the situation. You will definitely lose out on the job by lying or seeming like you’re trying to cover something up.
Explaining Gaps In Employment On Your Resume
Okay, maybe you’re still writing your resume or having trouble getting interviews. How do you explain gaps in your employment on your resume so you can GET interviews in the first place?
Here are a few ways you can explain (or hide) gaps in employment:
- List years instead of months for previous positions. (e.g. “2014-2016”). I’ve used this method in the past when I had a couple small gaps between jobs (by small gap, I mean 2-3 months maximum). This won’t work if you have too many gaps though, or gaps longer than one year.
- If your gaps are longer or more frequent, considering providing a brief note on the resume listing the reason for the gap in employment. Just list it like any other job. Put your previous positions with the dates you held them. And for your gap, you’d have dates there too, and a one-line explanation (“I took a hiatus from work in order to care for an elderly family member in need”).
If you use these strategies, consider going onto LinkedIn and making the same changes there too.
If these options don’t work for you, write a cover letter! This is a good idea no matter what.
In your cover letter, explain what happened in detail and draw their attention to the gap so that you can tell them the full story instead of allowing them to make assumptions (you’re usually better off attacking controversial topics head-on).
That’s how I’d explain gaps in employment on a resume.
Also, nobody can tell you with 100% certainty what will work in your industry, with the specific circumstances of your gap in employment (dates, length, reason for the gap, etc.)
So TEST things out. Send out 10 resumes one way, and if nobody’s responding, change something up. If it’s not working, you can’t just keep doing the same things on auto-pilot. That’s how you end up not finding a job.
And remember that no matter what you do, there are some employers out there who won’t like the fact that you have a gap in your employment. That’s okay…
Companies like that aren’t worth your time.
We’re human. Things happen. And there’s more to life than working nonstop for 40 years.
So don’t get discouraged if a few companies say they’re not interested, or just don’t respond. I guarantee those are the same companies you do NOT want to work for anyway because they’re going to have horrible vacation policies, bosses who question you every time you take a sick day, etc.
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How to Explain an Employment Gap on Your Resume
Options for Explaining Gaps in Your Employment History
Many of us take time off, for one reason or another, from working. Sometimes, it's by choice. In other cases, it can take time to find a new job. What is the best way to explain an employment gap on your resume and during a job interview? It depends on the situation and what you did while you weren't employed.
When to Mention an Employment Gap
If the gap was in the past, you don't need to mention it.
In fact, you don't need to include all your experience on your resume, especially if you have been in the workforce for years. It's acceptable to limit the years of experience you include on your resume to fifteen years when seeking a managerial or professional position and ten years when looking for other positions.
Use Dates to Cover the Employment Gaps in Your Resume
When listing dates on your resume, you don't need to list the month/year if you were in a position for over a year or if your position spans multiple years. For example, you could say 2014 - 2016 (rather than May, 2014 - February, 2016) which would give you some room to cover the gaps:
Store Manager, XYZ Store
2014 – 2016
Sales Associate, ABC Store
2012 – 2014
As you can see, the resume doesn't specifically say when the candidate started and ended employment, which can cover an employment gap.
Check Your Resume Format
You can format your resume to minimize the gaps in your employment history.
For example, don't bold the dates and/or use a smaller font than the one you use for the company name or job title. Start your resume with a Summary Statement and Career Highlights section, so you are highlighting your skills and accomplishments, rather than when you did what.
Omit a Job (or Two) on Your Resume
You don't need to include all your experience on your resume, especially if you have been in the workforce for years.
It's acceptable to limit the years of experience you include on your resume to fifteen years when seeking a managerial or professional position and 10 years when looking for a technical or high-tech job.
Include Other Experience Gained During the Gap
What did you do while you weren't employed? Did you freelance or consult? How about volunteering? All those experiences count as work and can be included on your resume. List them as you would list your other jobs - with job title, company name, job description, and dates of employment. If you took a class, you can list that in the Education section of your resume.
Tell the Truth
What's most important is to tell the truth. If you lie on your resume, it will probably come back to haunt you. Employers verify work history, and if you put incorrect information on your resume, I can guarantee that they'll find out if they check.
Use Your Cover Letter to Briefly Explain the Employment Gap
When you have employment gaps that don't fit on your resume (you took time off to care for an aged parent or to raise a child) you can use your cover letter to explain the gap. However, you don't need to bring it to the employer's attention.
Explaining an Employment Gap During a Job Interview
Explaining a gap in employment during an interview can be tricky.
The best approach is usually to address the issue in a direct and forthright manner. Provide a clear rationale for taking time off if the break was voluntary. If you took time off to deal with a particular issue like caring for a sick relative or completing coursework and are ready to return to full-time employment, make it clear that the reason for your time off from the workforce has been resolved.
If you were laid off due to a workforce contraction, it would be important to provide any evidence of strong performance as you explain the circumstances surrounding the downsizing. Whenever possible secure recommendations from supervisors, colleagues, and customers confirming your competence. Incorporate these with your LinkedIn profile when feasible.
Of course, it will be more difficult to make a strong case if you were fired due to performance issues.
If you are now targeting a job which requires different skills or competencies, then you might emphasize how your strengths are better suited for the job at hand. If you have taken action to correct any problems which led to your dismissal, you should mention the steps you have taken to strengthen your abilities.
You should generally avoid any negative characterization of your former employer since many prospective employers would take the employer's side. A proactive approach providing evidence of your competence, and any positive recommendations from previous jobs can be helpful.
Emphasize the Positive
Make sure that you emphasize any constructive activities during your gap period such as volunteer work, workshops or coursework, consulting or freelance work. Finally, exude enthusiasm for returning to work and make a very strong case for why your target job would be exciting for you and an excellent fit.
Read More:Interview Question: Explain the Gap in Your Employment History