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Explaining Employment Gaps

If you’ve a career of any length, there may very well be a time where you will have an employment gap. It can be for any reason from a long job hunt to sickness to raising family to incarceration. There are two things that are important. How you spent your time not working and how you explain the missing time. Let’s start with the most common reason for a gap: lay off.

Everyone has the possibility of being laid off at some point and sometimes, especially during difficult economic times, it’ll take a while to find a new job. Of course, you will be spending time looking for a new job, but you can also spend time keeping up with industry trends, increasing your skills, learning new skills, or working on weaknesses. All of which you can bring up during the interview. Your response to a gap in this case should leave you in the most positive light; no griping about how you couldn’t get an interview or any responses to your resume. An example of what you could say is the following.

“I was part of a lay off at my last job. While I have been job searching, I have been working on finding the right fit in which I have the opportunity for additional skill growth and a chance to mentor. In the meantime, I have kept up with industry trends and learned a new programming language that is becoming increasingly popular.”

The response is positive, doesn’t mention the fact that maybe you haven’t had any “bites” on your applications, and that you’ve been using your time wisely.

A similar approach can be used if you were fired. Be honest about the firing but know that you will need to prove that the reason you were fired is no longer an issue. Consider the following:

“I was let go from my last position as I wasn’t able to manage the budget effectively. I took some time to reflect upon this and what I could do to ensure this doesn’t happen again. I took a workshop called Budgeting for Managers and now have a good grasp of where I was going wrong and how to manage a budget properly.”

Again the response was positive, and it also talked about what you did to improve. Note that there is no negativity about the previous employer. Yes, maybe the firing was bitter, and you feel you did nothing wrong. However, by not taking some responsibility, you will not impress a potential employer who will feel you learned nothing from the experience.

Next we’ll talk about some personal reasons you may have a gap in employment. First of all, don’t just state personal reasons. It’ll make it seem like you have something to hide. That doesn’t mean you need to detail your life story. Just be ready to discuss it.

Two of the most common personal reasons you may have a gap are raising a family or caring for an ailing parent. Employers know that life happens and sometimes you need to step away, but if you have something to show them for that time, it’ll help put any concerns they may have to rest. For example,

“I took some time off to care for my ill mother/raise my child. Although I was gone from the workplace, I did create and maintain the website for the local SPCA pro bono to ensure I kept my hand in. Now that my mother is in the care of my sister/my daughter is in pre-school, I’m ready and eager to return to the workplace.”

Note that this example doesn’t linger on the reason for the absence but focuses on what you did to keep your career going in spite of not being actively in the workforce.

Maybe the personal reason was because you yourself were sick. Here you need to ensure the employer that you are better and ready and able to return to work.

“I had to take some time off due to illness. While it was a difficult time, I did do some freelance work when I was able to keep my skills sharp. I’m happy to now say that I am all better and ready to return to the workforce.”

This next one is a tough one: incarceration. Now hopefully you were able to spend some time there working and/or furthering your education. You certainly can fill the gap with any work done while in prison. Work is work. And you still gained skills. Still there is often no way to disguise the fact that you served time. Two big tips: Don’t lie; take responsibility. If you are less than honest or make excuses for your imprisonment, the employer will think you have not learned anything and are likely to offend again, possibly while in their employ. This will not help you re-enter the workforce and doing so is hard enough for you without the dishonesty and excuses. Think about the following response:

“I did spend some time in prison. As you can imagine, I had a lot of time to reflect upon my actions that brought me into that situation. I also was able to develop a plan to not return to that same situation. Part of this plan was to get an entry level job in this industry where I can build upon my skills and become a productive member of society.”

This type of answer shows that you have put some thought into your situation and what you want to do to improve. Talk about your plan, any work or education you engaged in while in prison, and discuss any organization you may be working with that specializes in the assistance of re-entry of the formerly incarcerated. The more you seem to be on solid ground the more confidence the employer will have in your success.

So these are some common reasons you may have a gap in your employment. Do you have a different reason and are unsure of how to address it? Make an appointment with your local career center, and we’ll help!

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