How to explain gaps in employment: Advice for job applicants
Are you actively looking for a job after being out of work for a while? Or perhaps you’re trying to figure out how to explain previous gaps in employment on your resume. In either scenario, you might be hesitant to broach the topic with prospective employers. While it’s natural to feel some anxiety about how your work history may be perceived, having periods of unemployment doesn’t have to be an automatic red flag for hiring managers.
Gaps in resumes are much more common than people think. These scenarios can happen for a variety of reasons, like raising young children, going back to school or relocating for a spouse’s new job. Another scenario that has become increasingly common recently is being laid off as a result of COVID-19.
We enlisted Katy Curameng, director of career planning and development at University of Massachusetts Global (UMass Global), to help provide advice for individuals with employment gaps. If your goal is to be more confident and comfortable discussing your time out of the workforce, consider the following insight on addressing your professional hiatus.
Finding a job after getting laid off due to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be unprecedented in many ways, including its effects on the economy and job market. While some people were able to make the switch to remote work, many found themselves laid off, furloughed or reduced to part-time schedules.
Curameng has worked closely with many students whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. She shares that their most common concern is how employment gaps will be perceived and the impact it might have on their future professional opportunities.
Her assessment is backed up by a recent LinkedIn survey of 2,000 U.S. adults who became unemployed between March and October 2020. It found that 84 percent believe there is a stigma associated with being out of work, and 67 percent believe that stigma is affecting their ability to find a new job. But this assumption isn’t necessarily true.
“Losing your job due to COVID-19 is understandable, and most employers won’t see that as an issue,” Curameng assures. In fact, another LinkedIn poll of hiring managers revealed that 96 percent would hire a candidate who was laid off due to the pandemic.
Regardless of your reason for having an extended period of time between jobs, you can use the tips below when applying and interviewing for new opportunities.
Should you put gaps in employment on your resume?
If you’re serious about job hunting, you’re likely already scouring the internet on a regular basis and tailoring your resume and cover letter for each position. But you might be wondering if it is better to address your current unemployment status or previous employment gap in your application or wait until the interview stage.
“If you are currently employed and the gap was a few years ago, there is no need to address the gap unless the employer specifically asks or if it was an extended amount of time,” Curameng advises.
If your period of unemployment is directly related to an actionable event that makes you a more qualified applicant, consider including this as part of your cover letter. This could include taking time off to earn your doctorate or partake in a volunteer opportunity.
Also take into consideration that some gaps are explainable by the nature of the job or industry. If you are a freelance worker, there will likely be time elapsed between jobs, and the employer will understand this.
3 tips for talking about employment gaps during a job interview
So your application was well received, and you’ve been handpicked for an in-person or virtual interview. Congrats on making the cut! With a little thought and preparation, you can talk confidently about your employment gap.
1. Be honest about the reason for your resume gap
Recruiters aren’t necessarily concerned about the lapse itself; they’re more interested in what the gap represents. “From the employer’s perspective, they want assurance that whatever the reason was for the gap, it won’t keep you from being successful at their organization,” Curameng explains. “The most important thing is to not lie or deceive the employer during any part of the job application or hiring process.”
On the flip side, she also warns against going too far in addressing these gaps. You could hurt yourself by oversharing — or worse, being overly critical or apologetic when talking about your experience.
2. Be brief and then move on
It’s normal to feel anxious during interviews, but if you’re a person who tends to ramble when you’re nervous, you might want to invest some extra practice time on this topic. It’s in your best interest to simply give an honest and concise answer and refocus the conversation back onto the skills and experience you bring to the table. If they want more information, they’ll follow up with another question.
Challenges are unavoidable, and life happens — the employer wants to know that you have the skills to overcome them.
Curameng adds that it's important remember that being (or having been) unemployed is a normal thing that happens to many people at some point during their career.
3. Come prepared to talk about what you learned during your break
“Tell me about this time period in between jobs.” An interviewer may likely say something similar to this, so practice a short, 20–30 second answer to the question. The last thing you want is to be caught off guard by a routine inquiry.
Try talking about something you learned during your time in between jobs. Did you gain a new skill or develop deeper knowledge about a specific topic? Explain how that experience makes you a more qualified candidate for that employer or position.
Curameng also points out that what you learned doesn’t have to be a “hard” or technical skill to be meaningful. Perhaps you had a significant change in perspective or lived an experience that helped you develop more empathy. Soft skills and personal developments like these also translate into the workplace, so find ways to tie them into the position for which you’re applying.
Get the career service support you need to land your dream job
Hopefully after reading these tips, you are better equipped to sound calm and confident next time you have to explain gaps in employment to a prospective employer. UMass Global takes students’ professional development seriously and provides personalized support from trained staff in the Career Development Center department.
For more great advice, check out the career support articles on our blog.
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