When it comes to explaining an employment gap, we often say too much or too little — here’s how to provide just the right amount of details.
You took some time away from your career, and that's OK. Maybe you tended to a sick family member, catered to your kids, pursued another degree, or traveled the world. Whatever it might have been, you're now ready to jump back into the workforce.
Not so fast.
If your resume reveals any gaps in employment, expect hiring managers to inquire.
Of course, what seems like a simple question will be paired with a simple answer … right? You know why you took that time away from your career. But can you clearly explain your decision and how it worked to your advantage? After all, you're vying for a job against candidates who might boast more recent experience.
Instead of getting caught in a bind of stress and fumbling your words (we've all been there), enter your interview prepared to master your employment gap explanation.
Here are six tips to help you overcome the inevitable “What have you been up to?” interview question.
1. Don't overshare
If not properly prepared, a moment of panic could lead to you to divulging way too much information.
Does someone who's been sitting behind a desk for 10 years straight, want to hear every detail of your six-month adventure through Asia? Does he or she need to know how you afforded it? Or that a brutal breakup sparked it? Probably not.
Nor does the hiring manager want to know the nitty-gritty details of the diapers you've changed or how awful little Tim is before bedtime.
If you've faced challenges and were forced to take a gap in employment due to tragedy or hardship, be careful here too. Sometimes people — especially mere strangers — don't know how to respond when it comes to grief, so spare them. And you certainly don't want to break down in tears during your interview. Try to keep those details to yourself — or between you and your therapist.
2. Offer an explanation
You definitely don't want to overshare, but don't cloak yourself in mystery, either.
Instead, find the right balance. Explain you took time off to spend with your kids, needed to decompress after several high-pressure years in your field, or that you faced little choice and owed it to your mom to help her out. There's no shame in that.
By explaining why you elected to call it quits for a while (without oversharing), a hiring manager will likely feel more comfortable knowing what happened — and that you didn't just run away.
Important note: Remember there's a difference between explaining and justifying. Don't get stuck feeling like you have to justify why you stepped away from your career. You're not out to prove anything.
3. Highlight new skills
Unfortunately, changing a diaper in under a minute doesn't count as a new skill set (though that is a commendable feat).
Be sure to mention any volunteer work, classes, certifications, or even conferences you attended during your employment gap. If none of those options are relevant, know you probably picked up a new soft skill.
General soft skills include communication, adaptability, problem solving, and critical observation. Remember to show, not tell. Offer concrete examples and situations that show how you learned to better communicate or how you became more comfortable adapting to unexpected situations.
Being able to show you've grown during your employment gap is respectable, so don't forget to highlight it.
4. Emphasize why now's the time
If you stepped away from your career without a concise timeline tied to your reasoning, explain why you're choosing to re-enter the workforce now instead of, say, a year from now.
Again, be concise and don't feel like you have to justify your decision. Simply let the hiring manager know that you've done what you needed to do during your time off and now you're ready and raring to get back to work.
5. Be confident
You need to be 100 percent confident in yourself and your employment gap explanation. If you show uncertainty in your decision, the hiring manager might feel a little unsure, too.
Don't downplay what you've been up to, either. You only cared for your sick mother? That's a heavy task. You only took care of your two kids? That's no easy feat. You only went back to school for your master's degree? That's a big deal. Own your decision and explain it clearly and confidently.
6. Move on
At this point, you're probably wondering how long this explanation is going to last.
There's no reason to dwell on your employment gap. Sure, it's right there on your resume, so prepare to address it, but don't feel as though you need to acknowledge it for more than a minute or two. Again, offer an explanation, highlight the positive outcomes of your decision, and explain why you're ready to strike up your career again. Don't overshare and don't spend time trying to justify your decision.
Chances are, the timespan of your employment gap is a lot shorter than the amount of experience you actually have, so there's no need to let this brief moment of time define you or what you're capable of bringing to a company. Go ahead and move onto your previous experience and all those awesome accomplishments you've already banked.
Now that you know how to explain gaps in employment during the interview process, make sure you're presenting it effectively on your resume with these six tips.
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