Gaps on a resume are a red flag. Explaining these employment gaps during interviews can be a daunting task, especially if they were not a result of a global phenomenon. Employers will be somewhat understanding if you lost your job during the Financial Crisis of 2008 or due to COVID-19.
However, other times, the world may be quick to judge. Maybe you were enjoying a sabbatical after a few hectic years as a senior-level executive. Or maybe you were dealing with the emotional baggage of a divorce. Perhaps you wanted to help your partner with your newborn. Or maybe you were grieving the loss of a loved one. You could have decided to get a specialization in your field or change your career altogether.
No matter how valid your reason is, unfortunately, those of us with employment gaps have to defend our time off from extra scrutiny. This is because employers may make the unfair assumption that your skills declined during your time off.
Therefore, you just need to persuade the employer that the time you took off from work was used productively.
If you need help with explaining your employment gaps on your resume, take a look at my article here.
In this article, I will break down how you can explain employment gaps during an interview.
Scenario 1: Closing Your Employment Gap with Education
When explaining employment gaps during interviews, you can talk about taking an online course, certification, or going back to school.
In the following examples, you can notice how despite having a personal reason for the leave, I still manage to emphasize the educational activities that I took up during that time.
Went back to school
“Yes, I had to take some time off to raise my little one, who is now happily attending kindergarten. During that time, I signed up for night classes at a local community college and now speak a basic level of Spanish. I have no doubt that this will help me better serve your Hispanic customers.”
Signed up for an online course or certification
“Unfortunately, in 2018, I lost my sister in a car accident. I was grieving for a few months and decided it would be better to quit and take some time to regroup before rejoining the workforce. I prepared myself by spending some time learning email marketing. Though some may not consider this skill to be critical for a data scientist like me, I wanted to understand how to better serve business development teams; for that reason, I signed up for an online email marketing course, and focused on written communication and email marketing analytics in my final project.”
“Due to corporate restructuring in March, despite my three successful product launches at WidgetInc, I was laid off. Since then, however, I have been studying for the PMP. I’m taking the exam in July.”
Scenario 2: Closing Your Employment Gap with Other Projects
Think back to your break from work. Did you work on any projects? This can be any unpaid voluntary work or paid assignments such as freelance projects.
Explaining these projects during interviews is very similar to talking about undertaking studies during employment gaps. Stick to the facts and focus more on the activity rather than the gap.
Here are a few examples
“Yes, unfortunately, our restaurant had to close several franchises following some PR issues. However, during my time off, I volunteered with a local church and helped them triple their social media following. I focused primarily on Instagram and Facebook marketing. As a result of these efforts, we increased our youth program attendance.”
“WidgetInc. and I parted ways in 2018. During my employment gap, I signed up for a local Toastmasters group and achieved my Competent Communicator certificate. I also acted as secretary of the chapter and maintained all the paperwork that we needed to keep things running smoothly.”
Scenario 3: Closing Your Employment Gap with Litigation
If you were fired or if you are suing your previous employer for wrongful termination, you will have to be very careful while explaining such employment gaps during interviews. The employer could see you as someone who is going after one of their own.
Therefore, when asked during an interview why you left that company, avoid blaming your departure on any person or event.
From a psychological point of view, when we say something negative, that negative feeling can become associated with us. Therefore, when interviewing, it’s critical to maintain a positive first impression by avoiding complaining about your ex-boss, the traffic on the way there, or even the weather.
(You can bond over traffic and weather horror stories after you’ve got the job.)
For starters, you can begin your phrases like “we parted ways after I achieved ___.”
However, if pressed for why you left, you should either highlight the positive relationships you were able to nurture during your time there or talk about the steps you have taken to grow as an individual. Below is an example.
“Unfortunately, my employment with Ink Inc. was terminated due to allegations of misconduct. However, their HR team is still investigating the issue. Though I disagreed with their decision, I left the company on good terms. Due to my efforts to uplift the value of customer service, a few customers of mine left recommendations on my LinkedIn profile, which I’ve printed out.”
“Since then, I’ve had some time to think about the way I presented myself to my colleagues. I kept in touch with Ink Inc.’s HR team and sought their advice on how I can improve my soft skills. I took their advice and completed an anger management course and see a counselor regularly. Also, I achieved certification from Harvard Business School on Leadership Principles. In that course, I learned how to understand my colleagues’ motivational drivers, manage their performance, and handle stressful situations. I’ve grown a lot as a person. Now, I try to think three times before presenting any negative feedback to anyone.”
The bottom line is that it does take a fair bit of work to jump back after getting fired, but as long as you show growth and tangible evidence that you’re a good person to work with, you can bounce back.
Scenario 4: Closing Your Employment Gap with Personal Reasons
How do you talk about personal leaves that are strictly personal? You may not feel comfortable talking about these gaps to a stranger. Moreover, they may have nothing to do with your professional life.
You can use any of the following templates to tackle personal questions:
“I was on leave resolving some family issues. But now I am eager to contribute my lead generation skills to your company.”
“I was on leave after my brother passed away. But I am doing much better now and I am eager to support your marketing team with their analysis needs.”
“I took time off because of some health issues, but I have fully recovered now. I am ready to join a company that could use my front-end development skills.”
If pressed and you really don’t want to go into detail, it is totally okay. Choosing to not talk about these feelings or reasons does not in any way invalidate them. Your choice to keep personal life separate from professional life is completely justified.
You can always say something like:
“If it’s alright with you, I’d really rather not talk about it. I took time off to manage a personal matter. It was a painful time for me and I’m glad it’s behind me.”
Then pause for a second and ask a follow-up question about the role, like so:
“I just wanted to ask a follow-up question to what we were discussing earlier. If I can generate 50 leads per week for the sales team, would I be a successful hire when measured against other lead generation specialists at this company?”
If you’re having a hard time preparing for interviews, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org about your unique situation. I’d be happy to help you brainstorm.
If you prefer a longer session, invest in our one-on-one interview coaching session with me by filling out the form here. I have years of HR experience and can help you talk about your unique history in a way that clicks to interviewers.