Explaining Employment Gaps in an InterviewApril 29th, 2011 | Interviewing | 1 Comment »
Whether you’ve been out of work for just a few months or a few years, when that question comes along in an interview, “what have you been doing in that time?” a little bit of panic inevitably hits you. What can you say that won’t scare them off? How do you express everything that’s happened since your last position?
We’ve talked before about filling those employment gaps, but addressing the issue in an interview is a whole other story.
What have you been up to?
Be honest. Have you been job searching after a lay off or termination? Or maybe you took time off for sickness, children or elderly parents. Perhaps you wanted to travel or explore a different career path. Whatever it is, be as honest as you can.
That said, don’t bare your soul. If it was sickness in your family, be as honest as you can without getting emotional or too detailed. If your job search in a tough economy left you jobless for months and months on end, avoid looking desperate or defensive.
Really, that’s all?
Once you’ve been honest about the main reason for your gap, make sure to highlight other activities you’ve focused on throughout that time. Emphasize your volunteer work, classes you took, contracts and side projects, and group involvements. If you took time off to simply figure out your life and career, show how you set goals and made specific steps to achieve them.
Discuss skills you learned during this time that can transfer well to your career path. Perhaps you advanced your social networking skills, improved your communication skills, or became a better leader. Prove that you continued to do your homework and keep up with industry trends by attending seminars, reading news, and browsing industry related journals and magazines.
And going forward?
Emphasize that you’re not money motivated. You may have been laid off or fired, but maybe the reason your employment gap is a little long is because you were looking for a long-term opportunity, not just another paycheck. Show your determination in staying focused on your chosen career path.
If your time off was for personal reasons, explain that you simply couldn’t continue to give the level of commitment to your previous position that you wanted. Reassure the interviewer that now everything is taken care of, and you are ready to recommit with full force.
Ultimately, convey how excited and enthusiastic you are about getting back into the workforce, especially at this company you’re interested in (explain why you’re interested!). Assure the interviewer that the gap in no way diminished your reliability or determinism. Re-emphasize your skills, how you’ve improved and stayed up-to-date.
An employment gap is not the death of your career, as long as you know how to handle it well. Think about your answer carefully, and next time, that wave of panic will stay well away.
-Clare Saumell – Marketing Director at Ashley Ellis