It's happened to most of us: You weren't collecting a paycheck for awhile because, well, you weren't working, for one reason or another. And as you list your work experience in typical "reverse chronological" order on your resume, there's this time gap that a potential employer will ask you about if you're called in for an interview.
But don't go into the interview unprepared; be ready to explain the gap. Even if the interviewer is not bothered by the gap but wants to see how you answer the question, you need to answer in such a way that it will not derail your chances at landing the job, and maybe even enhance them.
There are two primary reasons why there might be a gap in your employment track record:
- You stayed out of the workforce by choice, or
- You were let go from a job and didn't get another one for awhile.
Now, how might you answer if an interviewer calls you on this gap? Here are explanations for both situations:
You stayed out of the workforce by choice:
Typically, this kind of gap involves something personal in nature. Without going into painstaking detail, explain the reason. For instance, you may have taken care of a sick relative, had a medical issue, or taken an extended vacation. By law, U.S. employers cannot ask you about your personal life, but if you volunteer the information and it alarms the employer, it might make them wary of hiring you (though they would never admit that as the reason for denying you the job). Explain the gap factually, but briefly. Hold back the urge to volunteer details best left private – anything that might create an impression in the interviewer's mind that you are unsuitable for the job. Then, explain what you learned from the experience if it will help improve your chances at landing the job. For instance: During that time, I developed practical skills for dealing with difficult people, which paid off in my next job as a customer service representative in a high-volume call center at ABC Company.
You were let go from a job:
You had taken a job you were qualified for and approached it with great enthusiasm, only to be let go after three months because of a personality clash with your boss. Listing the tenure may be enough of a red flag for the hiring manager, and maybe three months wasn't a sufficient amount of time to note any accomplishments on the job. Regardless, explain it with just the facts and focus on what you did accomplish – if anything – and how the experience prepared you for the job you're being interviewed for. If you were laid off as part of a business decision to cut expenses, turn that into a positive by explaining how the layoff caused you to rethink your career goals and how your skills and background will be a good fit for the job you're being interviewed for. (Note: If you omit a previous job on your resume and a new or would-be employer asks you to fill out an application, it's best to err on the side of full disclosure and include that job on the application. And, mention it to the hiring manager before you sign an offer since some employers – should they investigate the gap – might equate an omission with lying about your background.)
Of course, every situation is different. But if you follow these general guidelines, you can change that resume gap from a potential hindrance to a help.
Everyone has a resume gap at some point. A potential employer's chief concern is that hiring you won't turn out to be a mistake. Help them along by showing that you were productive during your downtime, learned new skills, and are now 100% ready to go.
Do you have a resume gap that you had to explain or have found hard to explain? Share your experiences with us.
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