So you’re feeling pretty good because you’ve got yourself a job interview! You feel you’re off to a good start having made a really solid first impression, and your advanced preparation has paid off in the first 4 questions they’ve put to you. Just as you feel your confidence growing, one of the interviewers furrows his brow and asks you about a gap in your résumé; those years that seemingly can’t be filled in with work, volunteering or education.
Like any other planning and preparation you do ahead of a job interview, you also need to anticipate as best you can, where you might be exposed or weak. When you look at your résumé with an objective eye, you’ll be able to spot such issues, and a gap will stand out. Remember that you’re likely to be interviewed by people who are experienced interviewers; who dissect resumes on a regular basis, looking for both the strengths someone will bring to the position and potential liabilities.
To best respond to questions about a gap on your résumé, you need to first understand why this is such an issue for some employers. A gap on a résumé could show a variety of potential issues; and by issues, I mean problems. Any number of things could be the reason; a mental health breakdown which required you to quit your job, taking time off to have children and raise a family, being fired and unable to land another position, relocating from one area to another requiring you to quit a job and set up yourself all over again. There could also be time off to go back to school and school didn’t work out. In this latter case, the applicant may not have put school on the résumé because they dropped out of the 3, 4 or 5 year program after 2 years and decided not to put the incomplete schooling on the résumé. The same could be for omitting to include several short-term jobs; positions that didn’t work out and aren’t relevant to the job you’re after now.
Understand that while you know yourself extremely well, the people you’re seated before in a job interview may no absolutely nothing about you other than what they might get from looking you up on social media. When an organization is considering making an investment via hiring you, they want to know as best they can what exactly they are going to receive in return. They know at the moment you’re at your best, both in clothing choices, posture, grooming and of course the way you talk and the content of your answers. It is in the end, a performance of sorts. Questions that probe are designed to get beyond this polished image and get an idea of the real you.
Now if you’ve been off to have a child or two, saying so will be definitely honest, but it will possibly raise new concerns about your absenteeism to care for sick children, attend school functions, and limit the amount of focus you have on your job even – if you’re the type of parent who is going to be having your child check-in with you several times a day when they have a question, get home from school, go to a friend’s house, or even just to chat. Such concerns accelerate if you happen to be a single parent, for now you have no one to share required trips to the school and all those distracting phone calls. It’s not that companies dislike children and are prejudiced against employees that have them but rather, they have a business to run and the business requires employees who are focused on doing their job and consistently present to do it.
If your children are now school-aged and you’ve got a reliable childcare provider – and a back up provider, say so. Address their potential concerns and prove you’re fully aware of the commitment the job before you demands and you’re up for it.
If you took time off to care for someone and that person no longer requires care, say so. Maybe they are now in a long-term care facility being cared for, they’ve passed on, or you’ve got other people providing the care freeing you up to work. Again, you’re attempting to prove that the reason you weren’t working is no longer an issue, and you’re in a place to focus fully on yourself and committing to work.
Now, it could be that you’ve taken more time off from work than you had originally planned. In the case of say, being terminated, needing to rebuild your shattered ego and find some new line of work because your former job was too stressful or you just weren’t very good at whatever it was. While this may be the case, best not to share absolutely everything!
Consider explaining that you took time to look at what direction you wanted the next phase of your work life to look like. Perhaps you gave yourself the gift of time to reassess your strengths and interests and instead of just taking any old job which you weren’t invested in to fill a gap, you researched where you’d be most happy and where your skills and experience would serve you best. In the end, what you learned and discovered is both the job you’re applying to and seated before the person in front of you.
Anticipate the question, prepare your answer.