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Interview Prep Tips

How to explain a gap in your resume

We’ve all been there

How to explain a gap in your resume is a skill that everyone should know. 59% of Americans will take a break from the workforce at some point in their careers – either voluntarily or involuntarily.

When you’re back to interviewing for a job and you have a gap in your resume, odds are the hiring manager will want to know why.

This question should not give you any anxiety or diminish your chances of landing the job. In this article we’ll discuss why employers freak out over gaps in resumes, what you should always keep in mind and example answers according to your circumstances.

By the way, if you want to practice for your interview Voomer is a great tool where you’ll get instant, AI-powered feedback on your answers for free!

Why employers hate resume gaps

Picture yourself as the employer for a moment. You’ll certainly have limited resources to source, screen, select, hire and train a new employee, so what do you do?

Play it safe. Playing it safe is the name of the game for hiring mangers, because the last thing they want to do is waste time on someone that won’t work out.

They don’t know if that gap in your resume is due to some understandable personal reason or because you were in prison for murder!

It is your job to explain any gaps in your resume in a way that enhances your job application – we’ll show you how.

What applies to everyone

Regardless of the reasons you have for a gap in your resume, you have to do the following:

  • Own the gap in your resume – When properly explained, a gap in your resume will actually improve your chances of getting hired! Don’t blame others for your problems, always frame things as under control (see examples below).
  • Tell the truth – Don’t hide any gaps in your resume, the truth will eventually come out when the employers ask for references.
  • Remember you aren’t alone – 59% of Americans have some sort of gap in their resume. Chances are most of the top applicants to a role will have to explain a gap in their resume!
  • Use the STAR method to organize your answer to the interviewer’s challenge.  The STAR method keeps you on track and makes the interviewer’s life easy when listening to the answer.

Let’s look at some reasons for temporarily leaving the workforce and how you should position your answer to enhance your chances of getting hired.

You tried, but couldn’t find a job

We are surrounded by success stories – how you should always earn more, get promoted every so often and “keep up with the Joneses”.

The truth is that most people will involuntarily leave their jobs at some point – either because they were fired for a reason specific to them or through a major corporate re-organization (or bankruptcy!).

Unless you are exceedingly lucky, odds are you spent a few weeks or months unemployed – potentially even a year or more.

Depending on your specific circumstances, the following framings will help you answer confidently:

  • You are looking for a company where you have a great cultural match
  • Have a very clear idea of what you want next for your career and the right opportunity hasn’t materialized yet (until now of course!)
  • You feel like your skill set has surpassed your past job description and are looking for a job with more responsibilities (which takes more time!). Just keep in mind you’ll have to back this claim up!

You needed a break

The “daily grind” can wear any of us down. Sometimes you just need a break to rebalance and recover from a particularly bad spell at work and that is perfectly understandable.

Let’s look at example ways to frame a gap in your resume simply because you were on a break:

  • You wanted to re-assess whether your career to date was on the right track (perhaps you thought of changing roles). Doing so while caught up in the midst of the intense day-to-day of a job is not always feasible
  • Your previous employer crossed a line you could not accept. Unfortunately, while not necessarily breaching labor laws, workplace toxicity is still widespread within many companies. Showing you have principles and don’t deal with unacceptable behavior shows your interviewer you are a stand up person
  • Talk about the things you’ve learnt on your break. Just because you were on a break doesn’t mean you didn’t grow
  • Ensure you tell your interviewer how you were happy with the break and you are now ready to jump back into the workforce – and won’t need another break

You had to take care of your family

Family emergencies happen all the time and most people will prioritize their loved ones over a job.

This is how you should explain a gap in your resume due to family issues:

  • This issue rarely needs a deep explanation. Employers understand personal issues might come up where you need to drop everything
  • The main thing you need to communicate is that the issue that drove your employment gap is now either resolved or there are arrangements in place so that you can re-join the workforce

You had a health issue

Similar to the above point health emergencies happen all the time and most people will prioritize their health over a job.

This is how you should explain a gap in your resume due to health issues:

  • This issue rarely needs a deep explanation. Employers understand health issues might come up where you need to drop everything
  • The main thing you need to communicate is that the issue that drove your employment gap is now either resolved or there are arrangements in place so that you can re-join the workforce

You went back to school

This is probably the easiest resume gap to explain. Finishing or continuing your education is generally viewed positively by hiring managers, simply because that shows you have long term planning.

  • Explain that you went back to school to accomplish a particular goal (either fill skill gaps, switch to a career that appeals more to you, unlock a potential promotion, etc)
  • If you didn’t leave the workforce to join a “regular” school but a training course (either online or in-person), the same rationale applies
  • Focus on how you plan to use the new skills you acquired

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You were freelancing

Freelancers have resume gaps all the time due to the nature of their work.

The best way to deal with this is to explicitly state that freelancing involves times of barley any work and times that you have so much work you need to turn inquiries away!

You can also avoid this issue entirely by adding a blanket entry in your resume where you mention you were freelancing.

Your next steps

When the interviewer challenges you on the gaps in your resume – confidently own the gap.

  • Be truthful about the gap.
  • Sound like a person in demand that knows what they want.
  • Come across as a person on a mission.
  • The past is the past, you want to talk about the future.

If your interviewer understands that your employment gap was reasonable and that the odds of that happening again are minimal, you’ll probably do just fine on the interview!

To give yourself that extra confidence boost, head over to Voomer.

You can practice for free on questions for thousands of companies and get instant, AI-powered feedback on your answers so you can quickly improve and land that dream job!

By Patrick Lemouche

Patrick Lemouche is co-founder of Voomer.

A former hiring manager, he is extremely interested in the opportunities created by the intersection of video and hiring.

He is a P&G alumni with an international career that has spanned multiple countries.