Navigating the career world is tough even in the best of times, let alone when you’ve got a space between jobs on your resume due to a layoff, getting fired or a mutual parting of ways. Even when you know what not to say in an interview, planing what exactly you should say if and when you’re asked about the gap can be scary. Especially if you left your past job with nothing lined up in order to take time off or change your career, you’ve got to go into every interview with a clear idea of how to pitch that gap to your interviewer. The key is to be confident, but that’s easier said than done when you’re nervous about how your experience will be perceived. We chatted with HR and career experts to find out how you can be ready for any question that comes your way.
1. Always put something in that space. Even if you weren’t working, you’ve got to account for all time on your resume somehow, according to Kelli Dragovich, SVP of People at Hired. “Regardless of why you may have had a gap in your career, you should never leave the time unaccounted for on your resume. Whatever it was that you were doing, include it just as you would for a job, and highlight the skills you acquired during your time off. If you were traveling, you can potentially add things like global studies, new languages and even negotiation if you frequented markets and haggled for better prices.” Ooh, crafty! “Most people have valid reasons for resume gaps, but the worst thing you can do is not acknowledge it or miss out on the opportunity to highlight how you grew from it.” Every experience you’ve had makes you who you are, so make sure you’re giving the interviewer the full, awesome picture of yourself.
2. Honesty is key. Never ever lie about why you aren’t or weren’t working. Not only will it make you nervous during the interview, but it will also definitely disqualify you if your interviewer finds out. “Be honest!” urges MWWPR Director of Talent Acquisition Christina Stokes. “I usually recommend developing a short, compelling statement about why there is a break in employment that you can take into your interview.” Kind of like an elevator pitch, but for your resume gap! “Whether you were managing your household, having difficulty finding a new position or traveling, I think it’s important to be straightforward,” she says. “Also, regardless of why the break is there, I also find it helpful to see that someone was still involved in their craft in some way, shape or form while out of the workforce, through consulting, freelance writing, volunteer work or something similar.”
3. Address it before the interview, if you can. If you can give a reason for your break in work before you even get into your employer-to-be’s office for an interview, you’ll be one step ahead. “Any experienced recruiter will ask why the candidate took time off, and if you’re not prepared to answer the question, it could impact your interview,” explains Ariana Moon, a senior recruiter for Greenhouse. “The best way to avoid awkward questions and answers is to provide the employer with as much context as possible before the interview. You can address the gap in your resume by listing what you did during that time — whether it was to take a sabbatical, pursue a hobby or even take a course unrelated to your career. This transparency shows that you are not a one-dimensional person but someone with real interests who is open to learning. If you’re really concerned about what the potential employer will think, briefly talk about it in your cover letter, and position that downtime as a positive period of growth.”
4. Put a positive spin on it. Even if you left your last job under less-than-ideal circumstances, try to project that you found a constructive way to use your time during your employment gap and have learned something from not working. Also, it’s definitely a good idea to keep the conversation light when you’re talking about any former employer, regardless of how wronged you may feel by them. “Explain the gap with confidence, and be positive no matter what the situation,” advises Joe Weinlick, Beyond’s senior vice president of marketing. “If you were laid off, it is easy to be negative about your former employer. Fight that urge, and instead explain how it provided an opportunity for you to refocus on your career, and that this job is exactly what you want to be doing.”
5. If you’re really worried, reorganize your resume. “When in doubt, reorganize!” says Frank Dadah, managing director of the Accounting, Finance & Administrative Contract Staffing division at talent acquisition firm WinterWyman. “If you’re convinced your resume gap will kill any interview opportunities, forgo the traditional method of drafting your resume and feature your achievements first. You can list your key experience from all of your jobs together. Include statements like, ‘Managed a team of six people. Oversaw $1 million account. Served as team liaison to the CEO.’ You can then list the dates and companies later in the document,” he suggests. Playing up your strengths is always a good idea. “By organizing your resume this way, you move the focus from dates to accomplishments during the interview.”
Have you ever had to explain a resume gap? How did you handle it? Tell us your best tip @BritandCo!
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