Congrats! You’ve scored an interview for your dream job. You’re sure you’re a good fit but there’s one question you’re dreading:
How do you explain this gap in your employment?
Oh boy, there it is. The pink elephant in the room.
What makes this question challenging is that the answer is typically personal or uncomfortable. Wouldn't it be great if you could just reply “Umm, it’s none of your business?”
Unfortunately, that’s generally not a great response, if you want the job.
Today, we’re going to discuss what you can say instead. And in doing so, you’ll turn a potentially awkward question into a moment to shine!
Sound good? Great. Let’s get into it.
Okay, so the interviewer wants to know what that employment gap is all about.
Let’s start by understanding why they are asking that question.
The interviewer’s goal is to assess if you are a fit for the company. Among other things, they are looking for resourceful, hardworking employees.
Now they don’t necessarily expect you to be continuously employed throughout your career. Everyone takes breaks. But they do want evidence that even during your breaks, you’ve made good use of your time.
If someone is productive during their personal time, that demonstrates they have a strong sense of intrinsic motivation and personal drive. That often signals a productive employee.
So that’s what they’re looking for. Evidence that you like to put your mind to work, whether or not you’re being paid to do it. They want to be sure that you didn’t “go soft” or become “rusty” during your time off.
And that leads us to our strategies for forming a compelling response. Our goal with this response is to demonstrate that, even when we weren’t employed, we were making the most of our time in a way that increases our value as an employee.
Let’s break our response into two possible categories:
(1) Professional Development
Your first option is to demonstrate how you used your gap in employment to develop yourself on a professional level.
With this approach, you would want to point to specific skills you developed that make you more qualified for the job. This could be in the form of online classes for a programming language, or spreadsheet software like Excel, or a deep dive into email marketing.
Be as specific as possible. Describe what resources you used, how you scheduled your day to maximize productivity, and any certificates you earned. Walk them through the key takeaways from your learning process and be sure to mention any final projects or portfolios that you produced during that period of time.
Ideally, you can direct them to a website or URL that features whatever it is you accomplished so that there is visible evidence of your hard work.
Your objective here is to point out the ways that you sought to hone your craft and make yourself a more effective knowledge worker. It’s about connecting the dots between the subset of skills that will enable you to perform at higher levels.
(2) Personal Growth
Your second option is to frame your gap in employment as an opportunity to develop yourself on a personal level.
This may feel a bit “squishier” than professional development, but the fact is that a healthy and refreshed employee is much more productive than a drained, burnt-out one.
So prove to them that your time off was not only salubrious but also invigorating and one of meaningful personal discovery.
You can share books, podcasts, YouTube channels, and other resources that have helped you improve specific aspects of your wellness and mental resilience.
Perhaps you achieved an impressive fitness goal, such as a long-distance run, or a new belt in a martial art, which would demonstrate commitment and perseverance.
Or maybe you lived for a year in a distant, unfamiliar country, where you learned a new language and exposed yourself to a radically different culture. This would highlight your resourcefulness, adaptability, and willingness to take risks.
Similar to a discussion of your professional development, you want to point to specific, deliberate decisions you made to reinforce an aspect of your personal development. Describe in detail how you were challenged and how you benefited from the experience.
The great part in discussing personal growth is that it reveals intriguing dimensions about who you are as a person. It shows you are more than just a productivity robot. This helps establish a deeper rapport with the interviewer and helps demonstrate your “personality fit” at the company.
So there you have it: two compelling ways to answer the dreaded question about your employment gap.
To recap, you can frame your time off as either a period of professional growth, or one of personal growth. Or even both!
The key is to be honest and specific. Show that you spent your time productively and strategically. Demonstrate what you learned from the experience and point to any accomplishments you achieved during that period.
At the end of the day, your objective is to prove that you are more valuable now, after your employment gap, than when you were last employed.
If you feel like you don’t have a compelling answer for either of these categories, no problem. Your task is to sit down and think about how you can create a growth experience for yourself. Plan it out in writing, get your friends and family to weigh in on it, and then go and get it done!
When the time comes, this question will be an opportunity for you to demonstrate a wide range of compelling personal and professional qualities that will impress the hiring manager and significantly improve your odds of landing the job.
So now that I've shared our thoughts, I’d love to hear how you would answer this question. How might you make the most of your time off? How would you turn this into an opportunity to show your strengths?
Share that with me and the Explearning community in the comments down below.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.
Happy Explearning ⚡