If you're looking for a job but haven't worked in a while, you have what is known as an employment gap in your work history.
Most people have been unemployed at some point in their working lives. Even so, interviewers will want to know when, why and how you left your previous position, so be prepared to discuss it.
Why Do They Want to Know?
There's usually a reasonable explanation for a work history gap. However, extended downtime between jobs can be a potential red flag for employers.
"Gaps in employment may cause hiring managers to question a candidate's commitment to their career or wonder if they are unemployable for a specific reason. What we're looking for as recruiters is transparency so we can help you position yourself in the best light," notes TPD Workforce Specialist Dawn Parsons.
How to Explain Gaps in Employment
There are several things to remember when explaining gaps in employment. You'll want to:
- Describe the situation that led to your time off
- Emphasize the skills you learned during that time
- Reassure your interviewer there are no obstacles to future employment and that your commitment to returning to work
Describe the Situation
Discuss a gap in employment truthfully. Maybe you were downsized or left a job to re-evaluate your career path. Relocating to a new city or state or trying to start a business also are common reasons for a gap in employment.
"If the gap is due to a personal choice, whether that be a caregiving responsibility, travel or pursuing education, we want to know that the candidate is serious and committed to re-entering the workforce," says Parsons. "Being able to explain why now is the right time for you to start working again is important to gain an employer's confidence that you'll stick with them if you're hired."
In some cases, you may not want to disclose all aspects of your time off. An interviewer should respect your privacy, but try to at least present the basic facts. A recruiter or hiring manager will feel more comfortable considering you as a candidate if you can wave away any red flags. "I left to take care of my health" is a reasonable answer that doesn't reveal a lot of personal details.
What if you were fired?
"Transparency is still the best approach," says Parsons.
Explain the reason for your termination and what you learned from the experience. What strengths did you bring to the role and where were the gaps?
Avoid bad-mouthing your ex-boss, Parsons advises. Negativity won't help your cause and may actually work against you.
What Have You Learned?
Proactive job seekers also prepare to discuss ways they've sought to improve their skills during their time off. Taking a break for education or certification clearly shows your commitment to your career. Part-time or volunteer work no doubt helped you develop skills that employers find valuable.
Enrolling in free online classes, networking and talking to a recruiter to assist you in your job search also shows motivation, Parsons notes.
Ready to Get Back to Work
Once you've discussed your time off, show that the situation leading to your career gap has been resolved. That way, they won't worry whether you'll need another break. Stress your eagerness to return to work and steer the conversation back to the skills that qualify you for the position. Emphasize that you are fully committed to doing your best for their company.
Explaining a career cap shouldn't be a roadblock to future employment. Be straightforward and positive and you'll navigate this common interview question with ease.
If you're ready to get back to work, start your search with TPD today!