5 Tips For Explaining Gaps In Your Employment History

Kourtney Whitehead, Senior Contributor

There’s a misconception that it’s a red flag to recruiters if they see breaks in employment on a résumé. Job seekers tend to assume that companies prefer candidates with work experience that seamlessly flows from one employer to the next; many people worry about how to explain common occurrences such as being laid off, quitting a bad job before having a new one, taking an extended family leave or experiencing a personal emergency that temporarily takes them out of the workforce.

However, recruiters are used to dealing with candidates in these situations and rarely is it a cause for concern. It isn’t the break in employment that hurts a candidate’s chances at landing their next job, it’s often how they choose to describe the situation that mistakenly creates a negative perception of their temperament or abilities.

If you find yourself conducting a job search while unemployed or needing to answer questions about a previous gap in your employment, here are five tips to help you comfortably discuss your time out of the workforce and cast it in the best possible light.

1. Assume that recruiters have good intentions

Asking about why you are currently looking for a new job or inquiring about a gap in the years on your résumé is a routine practice for recruiters. They aren’t trying to uncover hidden secrets; they are simply making sure they can answer any questions about your background that may be asked of them later.

Recruiters are selective and do want to find and assess the best talent for their company or client, but that doesn’t stop them from hoping you’ll turn out to be a good match. When you prove yourself to be a strong candidate it saves them time and relieves some of the pressure to keep searching. If a recruiter wants to have a screening call or video interview with you, assume that they are genuinely interested in your background and are hoping that you are a fit.

Remembering that recruiters have good intentions will help you remain calm and to be confident in your abilities, and therefore provide better answers throughout your interview.

2. Leverage familiar narratives

Most of the reasons that people find themselves unemployed are extremely common and can be explained quickly because recruiters and hiring managers are already familiar with the narrative.

Some examples of the kind of career disruptions employers run into again and again are: if you were laid off because it was (fill in the blank year when the economy was terrible or something bad happened in your industry), if a new CEO (or another senior leader) came in and replaced your entire team, or if your company was acquired, merged with another or went out of business. Employers also understand disruptions that are more personal, such as if you took time off to be a full-time parent, if you tried to launch a start-up but decided it wasn’t for you, if you or another family member had some medical concerns that needed to be addressed, or if your spouse’s career required a relocation.

These are the easiest explanations to give about an employment gap so if any of these situations apply to you, make sure you are simply presenting the recruiter with what is already a known and valid reason to be out of work. Don’t go into any additional detail about your departure or time off unless asked because there is a good chance that using one of these descriptions will be enough to satisfy their curiosity.

3. Be honest, but keep it light and positive

While everything you say in an interview needs to be genuine and accurate, it is not the place to share your most vulnerable stories. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t know you well enough yet to see your career journey and to appreciate what you have endured and learned.

Still, sometimes the truth about why you left a particular job is messy, or reveals a mistake on your part, and you may worry that it’s impossible to be honest and positive when discussing it.

Most people have a job transition (or two) that they are somewhat embarrassed by and wouldn’t want to tell the full, detailed story in an interview. Talented and competent people can find themselves without a job if they take a job they aren’t qualified for or if they find themselves caught up in office politics. Furthermore, there are many times when people have to make personal decisions that unfortunately have a negative impact on their career.

While you may be harboring anger, regret or shame about these episodes, it’s critical that you don’t let these negative emotions influence your interview responses. The key is to candidly present the facts without going too deep into the story or letting the discussion turn negative. Instead, try to refocus the discussion on what you learned or how you plan to use that knowledge in the future.  

4. Pivot to the present

Overall, you are looking to strike a balance between providing enough information to answer the question about why you are looking for a job (or why you left a particular employer) and using this response to pivot into a follow-up discussion about why you now want this job.

For example, if you couldn’t get along with the overbearing boss at your last job, a more positive way to position this is to say that you didn’t fit in with the competitive and bureaucratic culture. Then, pivot into a description about how this company’s focus on collaboration and giving employees the freedom to innovate is what interests you most about this job. If a previous employer was less than forthcoming about their financial problems and shut down without notice, use the story to explain what you learned about business strategy and financial planning from that experience and how you plan to use those skills in this job.

There’s no perfect answer but try your best to shift the focus off the reason you found yourself out of work and back onto the present opportunity.

5. Remember to connect

Impressions about how it would be to work with you are influenced by more than just the words you choose. The style in which you respond—things such as tone, body language, listening skills, how and when you choose to pause and how confident you appear—will all weigh into the overall feeling that the interviewer will take with them from the discussion.

The secret to nailing a job interview isn’t just about having a strong résumé or giving the best answers to hard questions. Often, the winning candidate for a job opening is the person that was better able to build rapport with the interviewer.

While you work to explain your background and address any employment gaps, don’t forget that your main goal is to make a personal connection and leave the person able to envision working with you. Try not to get so caught up in answering any one question correctly that you fail to make eye contact, smile and match the energy of your interviewer.

It’s important to prepare for discussions about your work history, but remember to take a deep breath, relax and know that questions about these employment gaps will not necessarily make or break a hiring decision.

Kourtney Whitehead is a career expert and author of Working Whole. You can learn more about her work at Simply Service.

Read the original article here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kourtneywhitehead/2020/05/11/5-tips-on-how-to-explain-gaps-in-your-employment-history/#37da92e07fb5