4 pictures collage of a woman having an employment gap

How to Confidently Explain Employment Gaps During the Job Interview

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 trying to figure out how to explain your employment gap without burning your chances to land the job?

The best way to explain employment gaps is to first talk about why you decided to take a career break. Then address what you did during that break to maintain your skill level (or acquire new relevant skills). And lastly, talk about why you are ready to return to work, and how you plan to add value to the role that you are interviewing for.

This blog post is for you if you planning to return to work after a career break and want to walk into the interview feeling confident that you know EXACTLY what to answer when the interviewer asks you to explain your employment gap.

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

When you have an employment gap, and it is taking longer than you anticipated to land a job, it is easy to think that the reason for not getting the job offer is because you have a career break on your resume.

Here’s the thing.

Employment gaps are getting more common and even before the pandemic, companies were starting to see the benefits with people taking a career break. Since the pandemic, the number of candidates with employment gaps has only increased, making it less of a stigma.

But… that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get asked to explain your resume gap.

Because you will.

Why do employers care about employment gaps?

Employers are not afraid of employment gaps.

They are afraid that you are not ready to come back to work (and that you may be taking a career break again in the near future).

Or that your break is unintentional, meaning that the reason why there’s a career break on your resume is related to your work performance (or lack thereof), and not because you decided you needed a mid-career break.

They are also concerned that you, depending on how long your employment gap is, haven’t kept up with your profession, and that your competence and capabilities are not up to the same standard as if you’ve continued working.

There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into hiring new people, so employers want to make sure that they select the person that can hit the ground running and add the most value to the organization.

And if you have been away from the job market for a while, it is only natural for employers to be curious as to why you took a break, what you did during the break, why you decided to return to work now, and how you kept your skills and knowledge up to date, so that you are a valuable resource.

They also want to make sure they don’t have to be worried that you are going to take another mid-career break if they decide to hire you.

And since they are most likely interviewing other candidates that don’t have an employment gap, you need to address this topic in a way that both satisfies the hiring team’s curiosity and confirms to them that the fact that you had a career break will not impact your productivity or ability to add value in their role.

Here’s how to do that.

Start by explaining why you took a mid-career break

When you are asked about your employment gap, you don’t have to give a lot of details but it’s important to explain why you have a gap in your resume so that you assure the hiring team that there was a reason for your gap.

Here are a few examples of how to explain your employment gap:

If you’ve been travelingI resigned from my job a year ago to travel around Asia for a year.
If you’ve been caring for a relativeI had to leave my job ten months ago to take care of a close family member that had fallen ill.
If you’ve relocatedI 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 reasonAfter having worked without a break in employment for the last 15 years, I decided to take a break for a couple of months.
If you’ve been made redundantDue to restructuring at my previous company, my role was made redundant four months ago.

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, this article walks you through how to answer the “why were you fired” question. So, if that is your situation, make sure to head over to that article since I’m not going to cover it here.

Explain what you did during the employment gap to maintain your relevant skills

Now that you’ve explained why you have a work gap, it’s time to talk about what you took did during the employment gap that illustrates that your knowledge and skills are still up to date. And if you have acquired new skills and knowledge, make sure to mention them too.

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.

At the end of this post, you’ll have example answers based on the different employment gap reasons.

Talk about why you are now ready to return to work

After you’ve explained why you took the gap, what you did during the gap period to ensure you kept your skills and competence up to date, it’s important to explain why you are returning to work. And why now.

Turn the focus to their role

Wrap up our answer by steering the conversation towards their position and your ability to do the job they’re hiring for.

I’ve listed a few examples below of answers depending on the reason for your employment gap.

As you will see in the examples, 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.

How to Explain Employment Gap Depending on Career Break Reasons

How to Explain Gap in Employment Due to Family Reasons

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

How to Explain a lengthy Employment Gap

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

How to Explain Employment Gap due to the Pandemic

Due to restructuring at my previous company because of Covid, my role was made redundant four months ago.
I’ve been having conversations with several companies, but so far, I haven’t found the right position for me yet.
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.

How to Explain returning to work after a career break due to traveling

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.
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.

How to explain taking a break from career when you've relocated

I resigned from my job six months ago because I decided to move to a new country.
I took a bit of time off to make sure to settle in and to ensure we’re all set up with anything and everything from the bank, healthcare, insurances, etc. That is taken care of now, I’m fully focused and ready to start working again.
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.

Show your confidence by owning your story

Because there is so much stigma associated with having a career break on your resume, and we’ve all heard the horror stories of how difficult it has been to restart a career after a break, it can easily impact your self-confidence.

And that, in turn, can lead to self-sabotaging. How? If you come across as nervous, hesitant, or vague when answering, the interviewer will pick up on that and may start wondering why. They may even think that you’re trying to hide something.

So when you explain your employment gap, you want to do so with confidence.

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 have a gap in your career. It doesn’t make you any less qualified or capable of doing the job.

Own your story by talking about your gap in an honest, confident, and to-the-point way 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.

An exercise I sometimes do with clients is to role-play the interview, where my client pretends to be the interviewer probing about the career gap, and I answer as my client.

I encourage you to try this approach either with yourself on a piece of paper, together with a friend you trust, or with a coach (and if you want my help, here’s more information).

Things That Can Hurt Your Chances to Land the Job After An Employment Gap

Trying to Hide Your Employment Gap

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.

Failing to Maintain or Renew Your Knowledge During Your Time Away from Work

I’ve mentioned this already several times, but it is so important that it deserves repeating.

When you have an employment gap, whether intentional or not, it is crucial that you maintain your skills and capabilities during the break, so that you can slot back into work seamlessly.

There are so many ways you can stay up to date

  • Read newsletters and listen to podcasts
  • Participate in forum discussion
  • Log in to LinkedIn regularly and actively engage with the content.
  • Take online training to maintain or deepen your expertise.
  • and much more.

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.

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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

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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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