How to explain employment gaps in an interview

Frame gaps in your CV in terms of personal or professional development. Here's how
by Bethan Rees


In a job interview, your CV may be scrutinised down to the dates of employment, and if there's an unexplained gap, the hiring manager may want to delve deeper. You may have taken time off work due to sickness or to look after your family, but you need to be prepared for this. Here are some ways to manage this interaction.

Honesty is the best policy

If you are dealing with a gap in your CV, it's important that whatever the reason is, you're honest with your potential employer. "You don't have to go into everything in detail (some situations may benefit from discretion), but leaving it out completely or lying about the reason will only make the gaps stand out further," writes Michael Cheary in an article for recruiter Reed. "Hiring managers do this for a living. Acknowledging and explaining a gap won't harm your chances of employment. Lying about a gap will."

An article for The Muse by Elizabeth Alterman references The essential HR handbook by Sharon Armstrong. Armstrong is quoted as saying, "don't hide it, explain it", and "jobs come and go, but being known for being truthful – and conversely, deceitful – can last a lifetime". 

Reasons and explanations

Marc Burrage, managing director of recruitment firm Hays Poland, has written on its website about the common reasons for employment gaps and how to tackle these in a job interview.

If you have taken time out of work to go travelling, you should focus on the reasons why you went travelling, what you learnt from the experience, and explain why you're now ready to return to work. Burrage gives an example answer for this: "I took six months out to expose myself to different cultures and gain new perspectives by travelling to Thailand and Vietnam. Not only did I achieve both of these things during my time travelling, but I also learned many invaluable life lessons. I'm now ready to focus squarely on the next stage of my career as a digital marketing executive."

Cheary agrees with this approach and gives an example of what not to say: "I spent six months travelling because I wasn't ready to settle down. I don't remember most of it."

If you had to take time off work due to family issues, you don't need to go into details of this, such as your caring responsibilities or a family member's illness. Keep it general and emphasise that you are ready to re-enter the workforce. Cheary gives an example of this type of response: "I've spent the last year caring for a sick relative. Their health has now recovered and I'm ready to re-enter the workforce."

If you had to take time off because you were in ill health, again, you don't need to go into full details on this, but you do need to show that you are able and ready to return to work. Burrage gives an example answer: "I felt unable to continue in my previous position due to a recurring medical condition. However, I have now returned to full health and feel ready to take on this role. It's a position that draws upon my existing skills, fits my values and gives me the opportunity to add real value every day."

If you were made redundant in a role, be honest about this. Briefly explain that your previous role was made redundant and why this was. This is not an opportunity to bad-mouth your ex-employer, though.

Cheary suggests saying something along the lines of, "my previous employer was forced to make a series of budget cuts. They had a 'first-in, last-out' policy and, unfortunately, as I was relatively new to the company, I was made redundant. However, I'm proud of what I achieved during my time there, something which can be reinforced by my previous manager, who is also one of my provided referees." Make sure you keep this positive and keep the conversation moving on and focus on the job you're interviewing for.

Taking time out to look after children is a common reason for employment gaps. Burrage suggests explaining that you took time out to prioritise your family and children, why you're now ready to go back to work, and what you're looking forward to in the role.

"Remember that there's no shame in having gaps in your CV. Gaps in your career aren't something you should hide from an interviewer, or feel you have to skirt around," Burrage writes. "When you're asked about any gaps on your CV by an interviewer, answer honestly and confidently, providing concrete examples of how you've proactively used your time outside of the workplace, and importantly, why you're so excited about the position you're applying for," he concludes.

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Published: 11 Sep 2020
  • Soft Skills
  • Recruitment
  • Career advice
  • job-hunting

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