There are a lot of things that employers don’t like, and work gaps are one of them.
Just to be clear, a work gap is a period of time where the candidate was “in between” jobs.
The work gap could have been the result of any number of things from resigning from ones’ job to fulfill a dream of travelling extensively or losing your job for whatever reason and not being able to find another opportunity right away.
Or, it could have been the result of a personal situation that forced you to quit your job, such as an illness, injury, divorce or some other matter that required your full attention.
If the work gap is a short duration, like a few months then it’s usually not a problem. But the longer the work gap, the more the employer will be concerned to the point that they might decide to not contact the candidate, particularly if they have a pool of other qualified candidates to pick from who don’t have work gaps.
If you are in the middle of a job search and lucky enough to snag the first interview despite a major work gap, then kudos to you!
But don’t get too comfortable – you will be expected to explain your work gap which is often the most difficult thing to do effectively. Many people don’t know what to say and how much to reveal, if anything.
So, how do you talk about a work gap that won’t get you get eliminated from the interview process?
Let’s start with what you DON’T do.
DON’T share too much information
Knowledge is power.
The more the interviewer knows about your personal situation, the more likely you’ll end up saying something that might make them exercise control and filter you OUT rather than filter you IN.
When you give away too many details about the events surrounding your work gap, you are increasing your chances of blowing the interview. You might be perceived as an over-sharer who talks too much and can’t set boundaries which probably won’t go over very well.
Even if the interviewer suspects that you are nervous and are suffering from verbal diarrhea, they might have a problem with the information you shared or the way that you communicated it.
Sharing a lot of details about what could have been an upsetting personal matter – like a death or divorce – could make you become too emotional during the interview and knock you off your game.
While some employers might be empathetic and not judge you for your vulnerability, others might take it as a sign of weakness or that you aren’t ready to get back to work. You need to practice restraint and project a confident and professional image.
The trick is to not give away too much information. It’s recommended to formulate a strong and believable answer that you can deliver succinctly and with ease.
DON’T say that you’d “rather not answer the question”
This is the complete antithesis of oversharing.
Not willing to answer the question makes you look evasive and “difficult” and is obviously not going to work.
It looks like you are hiding something that you don’t want the employer to know which will make them think it’s something that’s serious enough to get you disqualified.
This approach forces the employer to start questioning everything which probably won’t work in your favour.
If you are unwilling to address the work gap question, the employer will most likely assume the worst which is only human nature.
DON’T say “I took time off due to a personal issue”
While you don’t want to give a long answer, this response is still too vague and could be perceived as a whole host of negative things.
You don’t want the interviewer to start “awfulizing what the “issue” could be. It could cause them to become concerned and they might disqualify you.
DON’T say “I lost (or quit) my job and couldn’t find anything”
This response is also too vague. Plus, it sounds too negative.
While it’s not unusual for someone to have difficulty finding their next job, you want to frame your answer in a much more positive way.
Employers like people who demonstrate resiliency, persistence, and perseverance therefore, a better answer would be to share the key steps you took to find another opportunity despite the fact that it took a long time.
You could give some detail about key job search activities that you undertook as that will make you look resourceful and proactive. Things like getting your documents in order, engaging coach, networking, upgrading your skills, and applying to jobs will demonstrate your initiative.
And of course, you should deliver this information with energy and enthusiasm.
DO give an answer that has some detail but is not oversharing
You want to keep your answer as short as possible but at the same time provide enough information so that the interviewer sees that the reason for your work gap is understandable.
The point is to reassure the interviewer that whatever the situation was, you are willing, able, and committed to get back to work and you do not pose a hiring risk.
If there was a personal “issue” like a divorce, illness or something else, you need to let the interviewer know that the issue has been resolved and does not pose an obstacle to performing your duties if you were to get the job.
You can reinforce your answer by the interviewer know how eager you are to get back to work because you missed the structure, teamwork, challenges, and whatever else you feel would resonate in a positive way with the interviewer.
I highly recommend you retain the services of a career professional to help you with your job search. One wrong move can get you disqualified from the running. Feel free to contact me here.
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