4 pictures collage of a woman having an employment gap

How to Turn Your Employment Gap Into an Unfair Advantage

Do You Have A Gap In Your Employment History?

Are you in a situation where you haven’t worked for a while, and now you have an interview to prepare for? And you’re worried about having to explain why there’s a gap in your resume?

And does your employment gap feel like you’re on one side of the canyon, and the rest of your future career is on the other? And you have no idea how to get over to the other side?

Then you’re in the right place! In this episode, I’m covering this question in detail. This so that you can walk into the interview feeling confident that you know EXACTLY what to say when the interviewer asks you to explain your employment gap.

explaining your employment gap

Is it bad to have an employment gap in your resume?

No. It’s not bad to have an employment gap. If anything, employment gaps are getting more common and companies are starting to see the benefits.

Besides reasons such as looking after a sick family member, caring for a young child or due to job loss, more and more people take a break in their career to go traveling, studying for a degree later in life, make career changes, etc.

With life expectancy increasing and many are having to work well into their 70s or even longer. Plus, the average time a person stays in one job these days is just over four years – and only two if you’re under 35 – then it’s easy to see why having a gap in your career is becoming more common.

Don’t Fall For The Temptation to Be Creative with the Dates

It is tempting to try and hide the gap period by being creative with how you write the dates in your resume. Having worked as an HR leader for 20+years, and having lead recruitment activities in several countries, I’ve seen many creative solutions when attempting to cover up the gap.

The problem with trying to hide your employment gap comes when it is time for the background checks. If you have an employment gap, it will surface when the company verifies your details. If it is discovered at that late stage in the recruitment process, you are in for an awkward conversation, where you have to explain why you haven’t mentioned it before.

And you won’t get the job either. And all that hard work that you’ve put in to land the job has been for nothing.

There Is A Better Way

There is a better way to handle this situation and that is to give an honest answer.

Employers are not afraid of employment gaps. They are afraid that you are not ready to come back to work (and that you will go on another break). Or that you, depending on how long your employment gap is, haven’t kept up with your profession. In other words, the potential Employer’s concern is that your competence and capabilities are not up to the same standard as if you’ve continued working.

Turn your employment gap into your unfair advantage

Having a gap in your career, whether you’ve chosen it yourself or it’s involuntary, is not something to be ashamed of. So, don’t be apologetic about it. You’re perfectly within your right to take a break or having a gap in your career. It doesn’t make you any less qualified or capable of doing the job.

Harvard Business Review did a study in 2017 which showed that organizations benefit when employees take sabbaticals. Many people who take a break from work “said the time away allowed them the space to generate new ideas for innovating in the organization and helped them gain greater confidence in themselves.

So your job is to explain why your employment gap has been beneficial to you and reassure the interviewer that you are eager and ready to start working again.

Let’s dive in!

This is what’s covered in today’s episode:

(If you prefer to read the video transcript; keep scrolling past this section)

[1:20] why you shouldn't be worried about having an employment gap

[2:03] keep these four aspects in mind when answering

[4:05] how to structure your answer; part 1 (with examples)

[6:16] how to structure your answer; part 2 (with examples)

[7:57] how to structure your answer; part 3 (with examples)

[9:26] this is for you that have an employment gap: a super important message!

Video Transcript

CONTENT

Introduction

Employment Gaps are getting common

4 key aspects to keep in mind when answering questions about your employment gap

Start by explaining why you have an employment gap

Then explain what you did during the employment gap period

Turn the focus to their role and how perfect this role is for you (and why)

Be proud of your work history (gaps and all)

Introduction

Are you in a situation where you haven’t worked for a while? And now you have an interview to prepare for? And you’re worried about having to explain why there is a gap in your resume? Does your gap feel like you’re on one side of the canyon, and the rest of your future career is on the other, and you have no idea how to get over to the other side?

Then you’re in the right place. In today’s episode, I’m going to cover this question in detail so that you can walk into the interview feeling confident that you know exactly what to say when they ask you why there’s a gap in your employment history.

Welcome to the Career Upgrade. My name is Petra Pearce, and I am a Career Strategist and a Coach. Over the past 20 years, I have worked as a global HR leader in several fortune 500 companies, helping hundreds of professionals, just like you, to build their careers and maximize their performance. In this channel, I’m sharing insights on job interview questions as well as tips on how to up-level your career. If that’s something you’re interested in, make sure to hit the subscribe button and the notification bell, so you don’t miss out whenever I post a new video.

Employment gaps are getting common

So, you haven’t worked for a while? Perhaps you’ve taken care of a sick family member or caring for a young child. Maybe you lost your job in a company restructuring. Or maybe you quit your job to go traveling or to do something different for a while. Maybe there is a completely different reason why you’re not working at the moment, and now you got three months, six months, or perhaps an even longer gap in your resume, and you’re nervous about what the interviewers are going to think about you because of it.

I want to start by telling you that there’s no need for you to be nervous or worried about it. It is more common than you may think that people have gaps in their resumes.

Besides the more common reasons, such as looking after family members or due to being made redundant, more and more people take a break in their career to go traveling, studying for a degree later in life, make career changes, etc. With life expectancy increasing and many are having to work well into their 70s or even longer. Plus, the fact that the average time a person stays in one job these days is just over four years – and only two years if you’re under 35 – then it’s easy to see why having a gap in our career is becoming more and more common.

4 key aspects to keep in mind when answering questions about your employment gap

Now – let’s look at how to answer this question.
There are a few aspects to keep in mind when answering this question.
The first one is the company perspective. From their point of view, they are looking to understand why you have a gap, what you did during that gap period. And they also want to make sure they don’t have to be worried that you are going to take another break if they decide to hire you. They want to make sure that you are ready to work and 100% committed to working for them.
The second aspect is that you must be as honest as you can when speaking about your career gap. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can hide your gap period by trying to be smart with how you write your years and dates in the resume. OR hope that the interviewer won’t bring it up.
If you have employment gaps, it will surface if not before, then most certainly in the pre-employment screening. If you’ve made it that far in the recruitment process without the employment gap being mentioned, it will look really bad if it is discovered at that late stage. And, you won’t get the job either, so the best thing you can do is to be upfront and honest about it.
The third aspect is that, similar to most of the questions in a job interview; you need to prepare the answer and tailor it to the job you’re interviewing for. Don’t go into ANY interview with the mindset that you’ll be fine winging it and especially not when it comes to explaining a gap in your resume.

You want to carefully read the job description and identify all the capabilities that they are looking for. And then you want to think about what you’ve done in your past and identify activities and achievements that shows that you have the capabilities they’re looking for.

The fourth aspect to keep in mind when answering this question is that it doesn’t require a long answer with a lot of details. Just give them the short version of why you had a gap, what you did during the gap, and then turn the focus onto their position and why you are a strong candidate for it.

Start with explaining why you have an employment gap

Okay, let’s look at a few examples of how to talk about the employment gap, based on some common reasons, starting with WHY and HOW long.

If you’ve been traveling, you can say:

I resigned from my job a year ago to travel around in Asia for a year.

If you’ve been caring for a relative, you can say:

I had to leave my job ten months ago to take care of a close family member that had fallen ill.

If you’ve relocated, you can say:

I resigned from my job six months ago because I decided to move to a new country.

If you’ve taken a career break for no specific reason, you could say:

After having worked without a break between employment for the last ten years, I decided to take a break for a couple of months.

If you’ve been made redundant, you could say:

Due to restructuring at my previous company, my role was made redundant four months ago.

Here the reason for the redundancy can also be things like company closure, site closure, etc. so you can swap the word restructuring with whatever is appropriate in your situation.

If you got fired and your employment was terminated, my next video is all about how to answer the “why were you fired” question. So, I’m not going to cover it in this video. If you are in that situation, make sure to look out for that episode. Better yet, subscribe and hit the notification bell, and you’ll be notified as soon as it is published.

Then explain what you did during the employment gap period

Now that you’ve explained WHY you have a work gap and for how long. Let’s look at how to share the information about what you have done during your gap period.

You want to tell the interviewer that you’ve done something constructive that you’ve kept up with the industry. And that you’ve maintained your skills and perhaps even learned new ones.

If you’ve spent your time lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix or spent your days not doing anything constructive, then that may be cause for concern.

But even if you have been doing that, the chances are that you have done something productive in between the binge-watching and the aimless wander.

So, take some time and really think about what you’ve done with your time away from work and make sure that your answer is showing the interviewer that you’ve done something constructive.

If you haven’t done anything constructive, NOW is the best time to start so that you are able to talk about it in your next interview.

So let’s look at some examples again on how to incorporate what you’ve done into the answer. If you’ve been traveling, you can say: 

It’s been a great experience to see so much of Asia, and I’ve learned a great deal about their different cultures. And about interacting with people from different walks of life in general. I can’t wait to get back to work to start integrating everything I’ve learned.

If you’ve been caring for a relative, you can say:

Caring for my sick relative has naturally taken up most of my free time, but whenever I got a chance, I’ve made sure to keep up to date with my profession and with the industry by reading books and articles daily. And I took a couple of classes online. Unfortunately, my relative passed away, so it was a bit tough for a while, but now I’m ready and eager to start working again.

If you’ve been relocating, you could say:

It’s taken a little bit of time to settle in here, making sure that we’re all set up with anything and everything from the bank, healthcare, insurances, etc. But all that is taken care of now, I’m fully focused and ready to start working again.

If you’ve taken a career break, then you might say:

I wanted just to have a period where I didn’t have to think about work at all, and only focus on me. There were quite a number of trainings I wanted to attend but that I never had a chance to do. So I’ve really enjoyed taking all the classes and training I’ve wanted to take for so long. I must admit that was such a great decision to have this time away from work because it gave me time to really think about what I want to do next in my career, and now that I have this clarity, I am so ready to start working again.

If you’ve been made redundant, you could say:

I’ve been having conversations with several companies, but so far, I haven’t found the right position for me yet.

Turn the focus to their role and how perfect this role is for you

Okay, let’s wrap up our answer by steering the conversation towards their position and your ability to do the job they’re hiring for.

You want to make sure that you answer with high energy and interest to erase any doubts they may have as to whether you are ready to get back to work.

So, if the role you’re interviewing for is a Business Analyst job, your answer could sound like this:

I’ve worked as a business analyst my entire career, and I really enjoy doing it because it allows me to combine my analytical skills and my love for researching with my passion for helping businesses make more money. Your position includes all three of these elements. 

And, what’s particularly interesting with your position is both that it is an analyst role for one of your newest divisions and also your planned expansion into Asia and the possibility to be part of that from the start. In my previous company, we also expanded internationally.

And I’ve been looking for the right opportunity to come along where I can apply everything I’ve learned from that expansion and help another organization do the same thing. The prospect of doing that is super exciting to me.  


As you can see in the example, the focus is on the skills and the capabilities that you have from before your time away from work. And you’re showing them your excitement and eagerness to work and that you are a strong candidate.

If you’ve gained additional skills during your gap period, make sure to mention that too.

And that’s how you explain the gap in your resume. I hope this was useful for you and that you no longer feel unclear with answering this question.

Before you go, I want to leave you with one final piece of advice, which is really important, so please listen carefully.

Be proud of your work history (gaps and all)!

Having a gap in your career, whether you’ve chosen it yourself or it’s involuntary, is not something to be ashamed of. So, don’t be apologetic about it. You’re perfectly within your right to take a break or having a gap in your career. It doesn’t make you any less qualified or capable of doing the job.

If a company doesn’t want to interview you because of your gap period, it is their loss – not yours. And you know what, if a company says they’re not interested or that they’re ghosting you by not responding because of the gap, I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of company you don’t want to work for anyway.

Because if they have this policy when hiring, they probably have similar old fashion and inflexible policies related to anything involving their employees.

You don’t want to work for a company like that. Not when there are great companies with great policies that understand that in today’s work environment, career gaps are a common thing, and it can actually be beneficial because the candidate is READY and EAGER to work.

So, be proud of your entire work history (gaps and all). Present your skills with an honest, confident, and to-the-point answers and be ready to answer any follow-up questions you may get with just as much honesty and confidence and show them what a strong candidate you are.

Thank you so much for watching. If you liked this video, please give it a thumbs up, subscribe and let me know in the comments what your biggest takeaway is from what I’ve just shared with you.

Good luck with your interview, thanks again and I’ll see you in the next video!

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Are you worried that your employment gap will prevent you from landing a new job? There's no need to worry - turn it into your unfair advantage instead!
Women worried that she cannot answer interview questions about her employment gap
Women worried that she cannot answer interview questions about her employment gap

Hi, I'm Petra Pearce

I recently pivoted my career from working as an HR leader for over two decades in global organizations and in places like Silicon Valley, Singapore and London, to now devote all my time helping corporate jobseekers land job offers fast by teaching them how to upgrade their interview skills.

FREE Workbook: 7 Simple Steps to Prepare For Your Next Job Interview

I’m sharing my secret for how I’ve been able to nail the interviews EVERY time!

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Comments

4 Comments

  1. Esther

    I’m personally in a gap right now and I was wondering how I would go about explaining what I did during this time that may be unrelated to my career. It’s reassuring that your post says to just explain it and use it to your advantage. I’ll make sure to do that.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Lanise

    This is a good detailed post

    Reply
  3. Maya

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I needed to hear this, I am a grad of the class of 2020 and considering the circumstances am finding it hard to fill the gap that is starting to gape in my experiences. This has put me quite at ease. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sakura

      This is just what i needed to read! Perfectly written. Loved it!

      Reply

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