Interviewing: Explaining Gaps in Employment

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A reader writes:

I’ve been looking for a job for the last year and not successful at all.  In fact, I got so discouraged, that I even stopped looking all together for some time.  But now I am ready to get back out there and start the process again.  The problem is, I now have a large gap on my resume where I was not employed. I’m afraid that I may be overlooked again by potential employers.  And, even if I do get a call for an interview, I don’t know how to address my unemployment.  I know it will come up.  What do I say?

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A career is a series of ups and downs, of comebacks. – Steve Guttenberg

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This is definitely a concern for many job seekers.  There is a widespread belief that it is always easier to get a job when you already have a job.  As a result, when you become unemployed, and a period of time goes by, there is the perception that you will be overlooked or something must be “wrong.”  It’s no wonder that many are scared about what a potential employer may think. However, it is not necessarily a bad thing, but you do have to be able to tell the interviewer why you were unemployed during a timeframe. While you cannot change or control negative perceptions, you can still position yourself as a strong candidate that has a lot to offer a potential employer.

You should always be honest when explaining any absence from working, but you do have license to spin what you did in the best way possible.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Took advantage of the time off. If you were laid off from a job and had a hard time finding a replacement, but spent a lot of time with your children you could say, “I took the opportunity to spend a few months with my children in between jobs.”  Or, perhaps there were large home improvement projects that you put off, or maybe you visited extended family out of town.  The point is, think about what you have been doing and how you took advantage of having the extra time you previously did not have while fully employed.

  2. Continuing Education. Did you take a course or attend a workshop? If not, this is a great time to pick up a new skill.  Even if you do not attend a formal course, you can watch multiple tutorials on YouTube or take self-directed learning on sites like Udemy.  There are many courses or classes that add value to your skills as an employee that  you can mention to a potential employer.  

  3. Volunteering. This is a fantastic time to get involved in your community, utilize your current skills or learn new ones.  There are many cases where the knowledge and experiences gained in a volunteer role can turn into great resume builders.  Don’t know where to get started?  Visit VolunteerMatch and browse the many opportunities that are available.  In some circumstances, a volunteer role can turn into a paid role.

The first opportunity to get ahead of your employment gap is by having a strong cover letter in addition to your resume.  Here you are able to briefly address the gap in employment while also highlighting your goals and achievements. When you get to the interview,  be prepared to discuss every aspect of your resume in more detail. This will include explaining why you left previous companies, discussion about the current opportunity you are interviewing for, and addressing any employment gaps.

I personally went through this in my professional career.  I had been working for a nonprofit for a number of years while attending graduate school part-time.  I was subsequently recruited by a large corporation and relocated to another state.  However, only one year later, I was laid off along with many other long-term employees.  For the first time in 10 years, I was unemployed and looking for a job.

Fortunately, I held on to my condo and was able to move back to my home state.  While searching for employment, I took time to do a few home improvement projects, I mentored youth and young adults at a local nonprofit, and since I was home it was the perfect time to get a puppy. 🙂

Despite keeping very busy, I kept track of my volunteer activities and contributions, and rehearsed my potential responses out loud.  This preparation enabled me to easily answer interview questions about my employment gap.  Subsequently, I landed a great new role in my field.

Preparation is the key! If you are unsure what possible questions could be generated from your resume, have another person look at it. It is best to be prepared for certain questions and scenarios that will likely come up in an interview. You do not want to be caught unaware or floundering for an answer. NOW is the time to figure out the best explanation for times of unemployment so an interviewer sees it as reasonable or even beneficial to them.

– Wishing you continued success!



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