If you’re like almost every other job seeker with a few years of life experience, you’ve probably been through one or two chapters in which you were either unemployed for a while or employed in a position with a title that doesn’t reflect your career goals. During the years since your graduation from high school or college, you’ve held one or more working roles, and in between those roles, you may have spent time searching for work, caring for family, recovering from an illness, traveling, attending classes, holding a short-term position to pay the bills, or anything else that filled your days but won’t work well as an entry on your resume.
Some employers perceive these “gaps” as idle chapters that require an explanation. And even those who understand that a gap isn’t a crime may still be curious. How did you spend that time? The answer can help employers and recruiters learn a little bit more about you. Here are a few tips that let you explain just enough of your life story without sharing too much.
First, understand the goal.
A six-month period between one job and the next won’t put you in the hot seat or signal a character weakness (at least not for a responsible employer). But it might suggest that 1) you were looking for work and being turned away; or 2) you weren’t looking for work, despite your evident free time. Both can indicate you aren’t as ambitious or growth-focused as your application suggests. You’ll want to allay this concern and convince your employers that, in fact, you ARE focused on the long-term growth of your career, gap or no gap.
Never reveal your marital or family status to an employer until you’re onboard. If you took time off for your children, parents or an ill partner, keep that to yourself. Your family status is protected information, something your employers don’t need to know. (In fact, it’s illegal to ask).
Emphasize the positive.
Were you volunteering during this time? Describe your experience. Were you on a sabbatical or studying? Share! These are positive data points that can help you shine, even if they aren’t the primary reason you weren’t working during the period in question.
Move on quickly.
If an employer points to a six-month, two-year or ten-year chapter your resume doesn’t account for, have a short answer prepared, deliver it, and then move past the subject quickly. End your (very short) story by providing reassurance you haven’t missed a beat and your skills have not become rusty.
For more on how to frame your life story in a way that aligns with the needs of your potential employer, talk to the job search and interview experts at PSU.