Mind the career gap: how to tell your story in an interview

Gaps on your CV are understandable, and are more and more common in a post-pandemic, global workplace. But they are sometimes still seen as red flags to potential employers. Here’s how we’d recommend framing your employment gap in a interview situation.

There are many reasons your CV might have gaps. These vary depending on who you are and what you do, as do the different ways of explaining your employment gaps to Hiring Managers.

You might have gaps on your resume like:

  • laid off due to organizational changes
  • being a stay-at-home parent or caregiver
  • recovering your health on a medical leave
  • furthering your education or training
  • gaining certifications or licensing.

During pandemic times, gaps were often unavoidable. With more and more gaps in resumes, the negative perception of employment gaps is something Hiring Managers and Recruiters need to address to broaden their candidate pools and find the right person for a role.

Stigma around career gaps is one that acutely affects women in the workplace, who still frequently take on more caring responsibilities at home than their male counterparts. In a LinkedIn survey of 22,995 workers carried out in January 2022, 60% of participants said they believe the stigma still exists.

Sadly, not addressing a career gap, or not addressing it well, is one of the most frequent mistakes on resumes according to Adzuna’s 2021 survey.

Much like anything you talk about in an interview, or put into your CV, success is all about telling your story well. So we’ve collated a few top tips for broaching your career gap with your potential employer.

1. Prepare to talk about the career gap

During your interview, your prospective employer will likely ask about the gaps in your CV. Especially if they’re recent.

Prepare a response ahead of time to explain any gaps in your CV. You can write these out, bullet point them, or practice them with a friend or colleague. Preparing something allows you to keep calm and collected when the question comes up – and you have the opportunity to make your gap a benefit in the eyes of a Hiring Manager.

Burn out and lay offs do happen – and everyone including your interviewer should understand that. How you approach your recovery and what you learn in the process is what matters. This is what makes you a resilient and self-aware prospective employee!

Even if you feel slightly awkward answering questions about your career break, explaining gives you ownership over your own story. Leaving it to your interviewer’s imagination leaves you open to their assumptions.

We have lots more tips about how to prepare and ace an interview.

2. Be honest and authentic

Whatever the reasons for you having an employment gap – the way you frame it in an interview with a prospective employer is an opportunity to showcase your values and your learnings:

  • Honesty about burn out or being laid off demonstrates courage and integrity.
  • Turning a gap into an opportunity – freelancing, consulting – shows innovation and problem-solving.
  • Trying something totally new – shows adaptability and drive.
  • Taking time to rest and recharge shows self-knowledge and resilience.

It’s now possible to publish a career gap on your LinkedIn profile, along with the reason for it, which also helps you to proactively tell your own career story to prospective employers. The company says this is to better reflect the career journeys of its users and normalize career breaks. Read more about this new feature in Camilla Han-He’s blog post on March 1.

We’d recommend being honest and upfront about your career gaps. By briefly acknowledging the gaps early on, you’ll be able to focus on presenting your employability skills and expertise. You control the narrative, so you can proactively counter any doubts or concerns they might voice.

3. Think about your gap as a positive

Identify the skills and experiences you’ve obtained during a career break. These don’t necessarily have to be professional, although aligning any of the skills you mention back to the job spec your applying for or the company you’re interviewing with is recommended! This allows you to show who you are and what you can do in a way that’s much more interesting than a couple of lines about your hobbies hidden away on your resume!

Interesting people are interested in lots of things, and their resumes may well reflect that! Depending on the industry, breadth of knowledge and intersubjectivity are celebrated in the modern workforce. It’s how disruptive or innovative ideas happen. Connecting dots across fields of expertise can lead to leaps forward for whole industries. The T-shaped learner model is one of the more topical terms for this.

Before heading to your interview, outline for yourself how your time away helped your grow. Focus on transferable skills you’ve acquired, or how your outlook changed in a way that changed your approach to work or life. These are tangible learnings that you can share to demonstrate who you are and what you bring to a role.

Remember you aren’t alone in having career gaps and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about! Particularly after the last few years of uncertainty during COVID-19 pandemic, employers should be understanding of how experiences and career journeys might differ.

4. Stay in the loop while you’re away

Even if you’ve been out of the game for a while, before interviewing, get up to speed with what’s happening in your given industry.

You don’t need to stay on top of rolling news if you don’t feel able to. Instead, isolate some key movers and shakers from when you were working in the industry. Follow them and read their recommendations. Set yourself a manageable amount of time to spend each week reading up. In the process of researching, you will find accounts you actively want to follow, and when it’s enjoyable to keep up it makes staying in the loop all the easier.

Try to read around trending topics. Even if you don’t have an opinion of a new conversation yet, you can read opposing sides enough to show Hiring Managers you’re interested in what’s trending at the moment.

Being able to list and explain your thoughts about recent industry developments will curb any doubts your interviewer might have about the gap in your resume.

You don’t need to become an expert again overnight. Prepare a few insights that genuinely interest you. You can steer the conversation towards topic areas you’re comfortable with at the end of the interview, when they ask if you have any additional thoughts or questions.

5. Define for yourself who you are and what you want

When working on your CV, concentrate your efforts on communicating key credentials, skills and experiences with the role you’re applying for in mind. This gives a clear picture of what you can do, regardless of where you’ve been. We have more expert advice about how to write a CV that gets you hired!

It also gives your employer an easy way to check your suitability for the role and for the team. The focus should be on what you can bring. You are a potential solution to a problem they’re having. So as long as you’re able to present yourself as reliable and consistent, it’s your skillset more than your employment history that should interest a Hiring Manager.

While answering questions about any period of unemployment can be uncomfortable, know that you’re not alone. Finding confidence in the skills you’ve gained during your career break can help you prepare and perform in interview scenarios. Don’t let gaps in your CV detract from your qualifications and damage your employability.

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To shape your future with Salt, a leading digital recruitment agency, send your CV to enquiry@welovesalt.com or use our search to find jobs. You can also keep in the loop by following us on LinkedIn Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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