Answering questions about employment gaps during a job interview can be challenging.
The good news is that it does not have the same negative connotation as it did years ago when people were expected to stay in the same job for 20 or 30 years. Now, with more people going freelance, having side hustles, and exploring the gig economy, there is much less stigma around pockets of unemployment.
So let’s talk about those pockets of unemployment. Those “gaps” in a resume or in your work history.
The best way to unpack this interview question is by differentiating between what you can control and what you cannot control.
What can you control?
The content of your answer.
The narrative you weave together.
The way you articulate your answer.
How you connect the dots between all the things you did and skills you learned.
How you word the gap and the time spent on “gap” activities.
The confidence you exude when conversing with the hiring manager.
What can’t you control?
The hiring manager’s world view.
The outcome of the interview.
Generational gap bias.
Any type of bias.
So, the point is, we can only do what we can do. If we can show up and give the interview 100%, then that’s the best that we can do. You’ve put the irons in the fire and now it’s a waiting game.
You don’t have control over how the interviewer will perceive the employment gap. However, can encourage them to see it from a different perspective by making a solid argument for how you benefited from the employment gap and why you are more desirable now than you were before that gap.
If you were laid-off, then don’t be ashamed to be honest about that. But it’s not the main focus, in your story. It’s more about how you bounced back and how you treated the “failure” as a teachable moment.
If you quit your job to try something new or have a chance of pace, then you can say that. Maybe you were keen on switching industries or changing fields. Then you could say something like: “I consciously decided to take a year off. I needed a change of direction. I was pursuing X and I wanted to investigate other avenues.”
Remember: you are in control of your story. You get to decide on the narrative you want to tell. For this reason, spend some time carefully thinking about the activities that filled your day during your employment gap. Audit your schedule and pay close attention to where your time actually goes.
You can absolutely have different narratives for different roles you are considering. As long as each of the narratives are honest and authentic, you can share whatever narrative best fits the job description.
Skills, skills, skills.
Especially during the unemployment phase, developing new skills is your best friend. Focus on skill acquisition because acquiring skills help you become more desirable for companies and make you more employable. And if you want to go the be-your-own-boss route, then they will come in handy as an entrepreneur who needs to wear multiple hats. So be on the lookout for ways to learn new personal and professional skills.
You can only control what you can control. Recognize that there might be a generational bias, which is something you cannot do much about except articulate your narrative in a confident manner.
What’s within your control are the following:
- How you call/characterize/label that time off
- How confident and poised you are explaining the gap
- Weaving your narrative: why you did it, how you did it and what you achieved from it
At the end of the day, you have to be you and candid and as long as you’ve put the irons in the fire, you’ve done your best. Recognize that it’s not all in your hands, but you do have control over what you say and how you act.