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Do Gaps in Employment Really Matter?

There are many misconceptions about gaps in careers. You might think that gaps on a resume are red flags signaling that a candidate is unreliable or unqualified. However, the reality is that employment gaps are pretty common and often don’t indicate anything negative about a potential hire. Instead, bringing a level of understanding and curiosity to the table, along with strategies for assessing and interviewing candidates with employment gaps, can help you determine if they’re a good fit for your organization.

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Understanding why gaps in a career happen

We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling through resumes of potential candidate; everything looks great until you see it: an employment gap. And while an employment gap can be cause for pause, it’s essential to understand that they happen for a variety of reasons.

Maybe it’s a break to raise a family or care for a sick loved one. It could have been time spent traveling or exploring new hobbies after a major life change. Perhaps the job seeker was laid off or had to take an extended leave of absence. Maybe they realized that their previous career path wasn’t right for them, but they required time off to gain new skills to prepare for the transition.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to avoid writing off candidates because of gaps in their career. After all, an employment gap doesn’t necessarily mean that a candidate isn’t qualified for the job. In fact, many employers are now actively seeking out candidates with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Periods away from the workforce can signal precisely that, a well-rounded individual with various skills and experiences.

Approach gaps in employment with a curious mindset

If you’re looking at a resume with employment gaps and feel unsure, rather than immediately moving on, try approaching the candidate with a curious mindset.

Start by looking at the overall picture. What’s the candidate’s work history like? Do they have a steady work history with long stints at each job, or do they frequently move around? Employment gaps might be more of an issue if it’s the the latter.

You can also look at the dates surrounding the employment gap. Was it recently? Or did it happen a few years ago, and the candidate has since been employed continuously ever since? If it was recent, find out what happened. For example, the candidate might have taken some time off to deal with a personal issue. If they’re actively seeking employment again, it likely means that they’re ready to jump back into the workforce.

Finally, inquire about what the candidate did during their time away from the workforce. Did they take classes, get certified in something new or start their own business? Learning about what a candidate did during their time away can give you insight into their work ethic, drive and determination.

Address employment gaps strategically

If you’re strongly considering a candidate with resume gaps in employment, you should move them to the next phase of your hiring process. This will allow you to learn more about them and their qualifications rather than making a snap judgment based on their resume or cover letter.

During the interview process, be sure to ask questions that will help you get a better understanding of their skills and qualifications. You can also use this time to inquire about their employment gaps and learn what happened and what the candidate did during that time. This is where strategic questioning will come in handy.

Tips for handling employment gaps

When you’re reviewing resumes, you can review their professional experience and achievements to better assess their qualifications. When you sponsor a job on Indeed, our matching technology can narrow down the resumes based on your job’s criteria. Indeed will continue to learn from your preferences to deliver quality candidates tailored to your unique job criteria. Once you find the right candidates, you can invite them to apply, or let us send customized invites for you.

But what if the candidate has an employment gap? Asking the right questions during the interview process can help you determine if a candidate with employment gaps is a good fit for your organization regardless of breaks in their work history.

Because employment gaps sometimes have negative connotations, job seekers may be reluctant or defensive when discussing this topic. That’s why point-blank questions like, “Can you explain this gap in your employment?” should generally be avoided.

Instead, allow your candidate to demonstrate how they’ve been keeping their skills sharp, pursuing new avenues of learning or taking care of other responsibilities during their time away from the workforce. These questions are less confrontational and provide more opportunities for candidates to present themselves in the best possible light.

Here are some examples of strategic questions that you can ask to deepen your understanding of a candidate.

What did you learn during your time away from the workforce?

This is a great question to get a sense of what the candidate was doing during that time and what skills or knowledge they might have gained. It also gives you the opportunity to ask follow-up questions when appropriate. For example, you can inquire about how those experiences have helped them professionally or personally.

What made you want to return to the workforce?

Responses to this prompt can help you assess a candidate’s commitment level. For example, returning to the workforce after a long break is likely because they’re ready and willing to commit to a new position. On the other hand, if they frequently take breaks or have had several gaps in their career, that might be something to consider when making your hiring decision.

What have you been doing to stay up-to-date in the industry?

This question can help you gauge a candidate’s dedication to their career. If they’ve been actively keeping up with industry trends and developments, that’s a good sign. Likewise, specific certifications and skill sets must be kept up-to-date for job eligibility and proper performance in certain roles. For example, the IT world is forever changing, and candidates must stay current with specific certifications to be qualified and stand out. If a candidate has been taking steps to maintain their qualifications, that’s a plus. On the other hand, if a candidate has let those certifications lapse, that’s something that you’ll want to take into consideration. They may need more time or support to get up to speed.

What projects have you been working on?

You might use this question to interview candidates who have started their own businesses or taken on freelance work during their time away from the workforce. It can help you assess their business acumen, skills and drive. It can also give you some insight into what the candidate is passionate about and what kinds of projects they’re drawn to. Not all candidates are driven by money. Sometimes, an individual may have taken on a project solely for the love of the work or to make a difference in their community. Volunteer work, personal development and creative endeavors are valid projects that reveal things about a candidate’s character.

Would you have done anything differently?

This question can help you assess a candidate’s ability to reflect on their choices and learn from their mistakes. It might be a good question to ask if they have volunteered information like, “I made the mistake of starting my own business,” or “Things didn’t work out.” You want to know if they can take responsibility for their choices and learn from them. This question allows the candidate to share any steps that they might have taken to remedy the situation. It also shows that you’re interested in hearing about their experiences, both positive and negative. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to know that a candidate is willing to learn from them.

Build a strong workplace with inclusive practices

As an employer, it’s essential to build a strong workplace by promoting inclusiveness and diversity. When looking at resumes, don’t immediately write off candidates who have employment gaps; instead, use these techniques and practices to better assess their qualifications and whether they’re a good fit for your organization. By being understanding and aware of the different reasons why employment gaps happen, you can create a more inclusive workplace and tap into a larger pool of quality candidates.

Wrapping up

While an employment gap on a resume can be cause for hesitation, it’s important to remember that these issues happen for a variety of reasons—many of which have nothing to do with a person’s qualifications or work ethic. With that in mind, try approaching candidates who have employment gaps openly, and use the questions above to better understand their situation.

Instead of focusing on the employment gap, try to look at the bigger picture and gather more information about the candidate.

  • How have they spent their time?
  • What skills and experience do they bring to the table?
  • Have they done any freelance work or volunteering?
  • Is this candidate a good fit for the job?
  • Do they have the skills and experience you’re looking for?

If so, an employment gap shouldn’t stand in the way of giving someone a chance. You can build a solid and inclusive workplace by taking the time to assess each candidate honestly.

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