How To Explain Employment Gaps in an Interview
Updated April 7, 2023
If you have a gap in your employment history, the first thing to know is that you're not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of people have been unemployed at some point in their working-age lives.
In this article, we explore guidelines for how to explain gaps in your employment history during an interview.
What is an employment gap?
Employment gaps are periods during your professional career in which you did not have formal employment, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Anything more than six months should be considered an employment gap. Employment gaps on a resume can be a cause for concern if you don't explain the reason for your gap in employment and the experience you gained during that time.
Some reasons you may have a gap in employment include that you:
Cared for a sick family member
Stayed home to care for your child or children
Had health or medical issues
Pursued further education or professional training
Traveled or moved to a new location
Were laid off or fired
Actively searched for a new job but didn't find the right fit
How to explain employment gaps
There are a few easy-to-follow guidelines for how to explain employment gaps during an interview:
1. Be prepared to talk about it
Having a gap on your resume won’t necessarily prevent you from moving successfully through the interview process. But potential employers will expect an explanation. Take the time beforehand to work out how you can address the gap in a way that projects confidence and positivity.
2. Be honest
You want to be truthful without going into unnecessary detail. A basic template for your answer could be: “I [reason you were not employed]. During that time, [what you did during the gap]. Returning to work was top of mind during that period and I’m ready to do that now.”
Here are some reasons you may have an employment gap and examples of how you might fill in that template based on your situation:
If you left the workforce to be a caretaker
“I spent some time as the primary caretaker in my family. During that time, I was able to be there for my family but always knew I wanted to return to work. I’m ready to do that now.”
If you were laid off
“My former employer underwent a restructuring that resulted in my position being eliminated. To be honest, it was a difficult time. But I left with the confidence that I had developed important skills there and built strong relationships with my managers and colleagues. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to apply those experiences in my next job.”
If you were fired
“The company and I had different expectations. In reflecting on that experience, I realize there are some things I could have done differently. I learned a great deal, and I’m excited about the opportunity to bring that maturity to my next job.”
If you took time off for personal reasons
“I was able to take some time off work to focus on myself. It was a time that prepared me to take on new challenges. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities that lie ahead, such as this position.”
3. Fill the gap
While you don’t need to go into detail about what caused your employment gap, you should give specifics on how you spent that time.
Mention anything you read to keep up on the industry, how you stayed in touch with colleagues, or what you’ve done to prepare for your re-entry. Also bring up any freelance work, volunteer or community positions you’ve held, classes or events you’ve attended, or any other way you’ve advanced your professional skills. The goal is to convey that you’ve been engaged even if you haven’t been formally employed.
4. Keep it brief and exit if you need to
Many people take time off for one reason or another. Sometimes, these reasons are personal and something you prefer to keep private.
Once you’ve addressed the gap and explained what you did during that time, steer the conversation back to your desire and ability to do the job you’re interviewing for. You can do this by asking a question of your interviewer once you’ve answered their question.
If the conversation continues in a direction you're not comfortable with, you have the option of saying: “I’d prefer not to go into more detail. I am very interested in sharing details of my work experience, however.” From there, you can supply another anecdote from your work history that makes you qualified for the position.
You may consider ending the interview at any time by saying, “I’m not comfortable with where our conversation is headed so this may not be the right fit. Thank you for your time.”
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