Let’s break the ice; employment gaps are normal.
In a post-covid world, career gaps have become unavoidable for many people. Redundancies, extra flexibility, family needs or simply wanting a break are all legitimate reasons for many of us to take a step back from our careers.
And whether these changes were self-inflicted or not, a gap shouldn’t cause you to panic.
In fact, there are many good reasons for gaps in employment, whether that’s to strengthen your industry knowledge through education, refocus your goals, or consider an alternative career path. However, knowing how to explain the intentions and learnings from a gap in your CV is essential.
Let’s break down the best answers to give in an interview setting.
Why Companies Ask About Employment Gaps
Work cultures are more progressive than ever; however, they haven’t yet been able to shake off the stigma surrounding career gaps. Because of this, many candidates worry about presenting as;
Having a skill gap
Difficult to work with
Raw data often reflects these anxieties. For example, one 2020 LinkedIn survey asked roughly 2,000 adults about their personal experience with finding a new job after an employment gap, and 67% believed it was affecting their search. Additional data found that:
"Out of 2,000 adults surveyed, 84% believe there is a stigma associated with being out of work".
However, times are changing. Employers are much more empathetic when it comes to gaps, especially when considering the formidable employment climate during the covid crisis. Although they may still ask questions such as:
How did your last role end?
What were the intentions behind the gap?
Have you been looking for work?
There are numerous ways to approach the above questions. And while your answers should always be an honest reflection of your history, our tips below can help you formulate well-thought-out and authentic answers.
How to Explain Gaps in Employment
1. Honesty is the best policy.
No matter why you’ve had a career break, it’s hugely important to always be open and honest about the length of time off and the reason why.
By doing this, you’ll avoid any inconsistencies from your CV through to your interview, which can strike as a red flag for employers. While it may be easier to avoid the gap entirely on your CV, it’s hard to escape the limelight during an interview, and employers are sure to ask the question.
Some reasons you may have for leaving your last role may include:
Family matters (E.G. caring for a relative, maternity leave)
Personal mental and physical health
For some of these choices, such as maternity leave, little explanation is needed. Good employers will recognise that career breaks are just part and parcel of life. However, some may need extra clarification.
Top tip: Remember, most interviewers, especially for experienced roles, will have examined your CV with a fine-tooth comb. Therefore, trying to hide or manipulate information is always a bad idea.
2. Clearly explain and plan your reasoning.
Interviews can be high-pressure and stressful events. So, planning an appropriate response can not only calm your nerves but help focus your answer.
Example for redundancy:
Try: “My company was in the process of making cutbacks, and unfortunately, I was a newer team member. However, I really learnt a lot from the role and am proud that I made an impact.”
Instead of: “I probably could have made more of the position and wish I’d put more effort in.”
Example for education:
Try: “I felt I had more to learn about my industry. By improving my foundation of knowledge, I believe I’m more capable than ever to apply myself.”
Instead of: “I didn’t know what else to do, so I thought I’d take another course”.
Example for personal issues:
Try: “I was taking time off to focus on myself. Now that I've had space to reevaluate what I want, I'm more motivated than ever.”
It’s worth noting that taking a career break due to family reasons or other personal issues should be respected by employers. It’s completely within your right to refuse a question that delves too deeply into your privacy.
3. Turn it into a positive.
Before your interview, give yourself time for some self-reflection. Rather than viewing gaps in employment history as intrinsically negative, think about how it has been helpful or needed.
The time off may have;
Reignited your passion for an industry
Helped you focus your career ambitions
Allowed you time to develop additional skills
Volunteer for a cause you believe in
For employers, explaining the positive impact of a break will strike a good note. It shows that you can learn and work through challenges, whether that be personal or work-related.
Additionally, a positive attitude is a huge asset in the workplace. Not only does it improve your working relationships, but it reflects your flexibility and resilience to changes within your role.
Top tip: All in all, companies want to see candidates engage and build upon their professional skill set, especially during a CV gap.
4. Get direct advice from professionals.
When it comes to preparing and rehearsing interview answers, you don’t have to go through it alone.
Sometimes the best course of action is to reach out to experienced career advisors who'll provide you with plenty of support and advice before an important interview. These professionals, like those at Freshminds, know exactly what companies are looking for and what they want to hear from a candidate.
Not only can you gain valuable interview tools such as how to present yourself, but how to navigate the sometimes precarious topic of employment gaps.