How to handle difficult questions about gaps in your CV

Gaps

If you’ve had around 6 jobs throughout your career and took just a couple of gaps, each shorter than 2-3 months, than the chances are HR won’t bother to ask you about them.

However, if you’ve had 3 or more periods without working, some longer than 3 months, then you’ll need to prepare for one, if not all of the following questions:

  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What’s the reason behind changing job so many times?
  • There’s a 5-month gap between job A and job B, what were you doing during this period?
  • Why was this particular gap so long?

Employers always want you to hit the ground running

With an already volatile job market, the ability for candidates to pick things up quickly and start executing their day to day responsibilities is highly valued. If this isn’t an entry level positions, employers will look for these qualities and be naturally weary of candidates that have had long and frequent off periods during their career.

Typical concerns include:

  • Are there any hidden reasons why this candidate has a short tenure at each job?
  • What type of mindset does this candidate have given all these job changes?
  • What is his/her ability to pick this job up quickly?
  • Would the risk of hiring this person be high?

Common reasons, and how to best explain them

Demonstrating that you have a “good working attitude” and the ability “to get stuck in” is extremely important. During your break periods, you should demonstrate that you were proactive and busy.

Show that you were constantly working (on something)

Freelance & Projects

Personal projects, whether it’s in the pursuit of a new skill, or a new business, are a great way to demonstrate productivity and growth, although it’s sometimes difficult to present this type of work on your CV as it can be so diverse. Simply adding “Consultant on Project X” for the duration of the gap is usually sufficient and gives you a chance to showcase some of your achievements in a broader context.

For example:

  • A Job Title, A Company, 2017-04 to 2018-02
  • ZZ Job Title(e.g Consultant、Project), AA Company, 2016-11-2017-03
  • B Job Title, B Company, 2015-04 to 2016-12
  • C Job Title, C Company, 2014-03 to 2015-01

You’ll need to prepare a concrete answer that demonstrates either the project scope, related skills, achievements or related parties of your particular endeavor. The idea is to eliminate any concerns your new potential employer might have over the relevance of this this gap work to your new role.

Extra Studies & Voluntary Work

Personal growth, self-advancement and charity work are perfectly acceptable reasons for taking a professional break. Most companies will see these as a positive, even more conservative companies will value these characteristics in a person if they’re looking for some internal reform.

Explanations that don’t involve working

Lost your job

This is usually the most common reason for gaps, yet some people tend to be extremely embarrassed about being made redundant or losing their job. If your departure wasn’t amicable, remember never to insult your past employer or management during an interview, this isn’t about them. Instead, focus on elaborating your achievements in these past jobs.

For example, companies very often reduce their headcount for budgetary reasons and sometimes employ a “last in first out” policy. Regardless of the reason, you should be proud of your tenure and offer an ex-boss as a reference to allay any concerns.

Travel

Remember not to just talk about how wonderful and fun your trips were, but instead focus on explaining how travelling helped your personal development.

For example, while you have worked in your previous company for years and have references to prove you were a capable employee, you wanted to focus on developing yourself and learning to understand and adapt to different cultures. Including people of different ages, backgrounds and nationalities. After travelling you feel like you have achieved that, and it’s time to get back to work and start contributing again.

Health Issues

If you’re having an interview, chances are that you’ve recovered from the illness that preventing you from working in the first place. Illness, be it physical or mental is extremely common but usually a sensitive topic. Focus your explanation around your recovery and how you overcame your particular health issue, and then switch back to talking about your ability and skills.

For example, if you went through a difficult relationship or divorce and suffered from depression afterwards, you can mention that taking a break was the quickest way to overcome this period, and after it all you’re tougher, well recovered and ready to get back to work at any time.

Taking care of family

Generally speaking, an interviewer would deem this a perfectly acceptable reason for taking time off, but you should still emphasize your readiness to get back into the workplace.

For example: “After careful consideration, I put my children/spouse/parents first. Although I had to take care of my family, I continued to stay up to date with industry trends and developments in my sector, as well the competitive landscape. Now that my family issues have been resolved, I’m ready to get to work and very excited to start leveraging my strengths again”

It’s important to remember you should be showcasing what you can do in an interview instead of apologizing for your CV gaps. Emphasize your interest in the role and direct the interviewer’s attention back to how your abilities match the position you’re going for.

Naomi Chan

Career Coach and professional career hacker at Team Vanna

6 min read

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