How To Explain Employment Gaps During Interviews (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Mar. 9, 2021
Articles In Guide

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When recruiters take a look at your resume, one of the things they look at is the job positions that you have occupied in the past. These positions may indicate that you have some professional experience that is related to their job description.

Also, your academic qualifications, strengths, and skills matter. They will help the hiring managers to determine how competent you are for the job that you applied for.

But what you may not realize is that employment gaps in your resume also determine your chances of success during the hiring process. You must be well prepared for job interview questions that need you to explain those gaps. And you must know how to answer this during the interview.

To demonstrate that your employment gaps do not affect your ability to work, rehearse what to say. Your goal is to sell yourself as the best candidate even if you don’t have as much professional experience as you should have.

Tips on Explaining the Employment Gaps in Your Resume

Explaining the gaps in employment can be a stressful affair. But you must provide a good answer nonetheless. There are several strategies that you can use when answering the interviewers that are asking questions.

Below are tips on how you can go about dealing with all the awkward questions.

  • Mentally brace yourself to address the issue. Just because you have an employment gap doesn’t mean that your potential employer will hold that against you. Your interviewers may want to see how you communicate under pressure.

    If you’ve done a mock interview and practiced what to say beforehand, you will find it easier to express yourself. You could provide explanations that positively portray your absence from the job market. And you could make a good first impression that gets you that dream job.

  • Avoid lying about your situation. Under no circumstance should you lie about why you were unemployed for a while. Be honest. Even if you lost your previous jobs because you made some mistakes, don’t lie about it.

    Your potential employers may decide to do a background check on you. And the reason you were fired may be exposed. That would make you come across as a dishonest job candidate. You are unlikely to get a job that way.

    If you have private reasons for not wanting to share your employment gaps, explain that tactfully without going into great detail. Job-seekers are not obligated to share every aspect of their personal lives when interviewing for a job.

  • Talk about what you have been up to if it relates to your job. Chances are that you did something useful during your unemployment.

    You may have raised your child, taken care of a loved one that was sick, or done some freelance work. You could also have attended classes and furthered your education or volunteered for charitable endeavors.

    When interviewers ask you about the gaps in your resume, you can choose to share what you have been up to. And it would be smart of you to also talk about how you have learned and acquired skills from those skills. Then try to show how these life lessons make you qualified for your dream job.

  • Don’t say too much or too little. You need to know how much you should say concerning your employment. You must provide an answer. But at the same time, you should not feel to say something about what you were doing if you feel uncomfortable doing so.

    Once you provide a short explanation for your employment gaps, try to steer the conversation on your abilities, skills, and work experience.

Examples of Ways to Explain Employment Gaps In Professional Interviews

When being interviewed, you need to express yourself professionally. There are several ways you can explain yourself concerning employment gaps in your resume. Below are several examples you can use and adapt to your situation.

If you had quit your job but don’t want to explain much about a personal situation, here is what you can say:

Example Answer:

“I have gaps in my resume because I quit my job for personal reasons. My family needed me and I felt it was important to be there for them.”

You have a right to stop the interview at any time if you feel those asking you questions are too intrusive.

In such a case, you could state that you are uncomfortable with the direction of the questions. And you could cut the interview short if you change your mind and no longer want to continue.

Example Answer:

“I left the workforce for personal reasons and would prefer not going into detail about those reasons.”

And if you want to stop the interview afterward because the questions are too intrusive, you could add:

Example Answer:

“While I am grateful for this interview opportunity, I am uncomfortable with the questions. I think we may not be the right fit for each other. Thanks for your time.”

If you were laid off, you need to explain the situation without making your previous employer look bad even if you are still angry about the situation.

Example Answer:

“The organization that I worked for had to restructure. I was one of the employees that were laid off. It was a tough time. But I am grateful for all the skills that I acquired while working for my previous employer as well as the relationships that I formed with my former colleagues. I look forward to using those skills in my next job. I believe that I still have a lot to offer.”

If you made mistakes in your previous place of employment, you need to own them. It would not be wise to lie about why you lost your job. But you also need to be careful about how much you share concerning what you did.

You should think about getting ahead of the story by confessing your part of the mess. In any case, a background check or gossip traveling along the professional grapevine in your industry could unearth the issues.

So, when you confess, you end up controlling the narrative and will come across as accountable and honest.

Example Answer:

“I was fired from my previous job because I made mistakes and take full responsibility for them. I have since had time to reflect, work on myself, and make amends. During that time, I also took the opportunity to improve my work skills. If you give me this opportunity, I will prove that I have changed and become a much better employee that adds value to any organization that I work for.”

If you were fired but don’t feel that you made mistakes that you should take responsibility for, you can also explain that.

Example Answer:

“My previous employer and I parted ways because we had different expectations. In hindsight, I could have handled the situation better. But I have used the time off work to reflect and grow. I look forward to new job opportunities that will allow me to use those life lessons to become a much better employee.”

If you took the time off to work on your interests, feel free to share that too.

Example Answer:

“After working for several years for my former employer, I felt it was time for a break. I took time off to focus on my interests, family, and self-growth. But it is now time for me to rejoin the workforce and take on new challenges. This job is one such challenge. And I am excited at the opportunities that await me.”

Or you could talk about your travels and how they have improved your qualities and skills.

Example Answer:

“I spent the last two years traveling across the world. During my travels, I acquired cultural sensitivity skills. These have made me a more open-minded person that can relate well with people of different ethnicities. I have also acquired foreign language speaking skills that will enable me to communicate better with people. I believe this makes me a great fit for this job.”

So many Americans quit the workforce to take care of their loved ones that need them. This need may result from issues such as a special needs child, a parent suffering from dementia, or a spouse dealing with a long-term injury or permanent disability among other things.

Don’t feel ashamed of leaving the workforce to become a caretaker. If this is the situation for you, then share a little bit more about that. It actually reflects well on you.

Example Answer:

“I had to leave the workforce to take care of my spouse. It was important for me to be there for them. But I always knew I would return to work one day when the time is right. And now that my spouse has recovered, I feel ready to do so.”

Always think of ways to include the activities you have engaged in while unemployed in your conversation. By showing how those activities relate to your current job, you raise your chances of getting hired.

Example Answer:

“I worked as a part-time freelancer during that time. That has enabled me to understand what it takes to run a small business, market to attract clients, and manage my time efficiently. I look forward to contributing these skills to your organization if I am hired.”

If you volunteered you could say:

Example Answer:

“Even though I was not employed, I volunteered regularly. I taught personal finance to underprivileged couples. This allowed me to keep up with what is going on within my industry. And I improved my interpersonal skills too. I believe these activities have contributed positively to making me a much better employee. And I hope I have the opportunity to show you that.”

If you spent the time off work studying, you could add:

Example Answer:

“I have always wanted to improve my knowledge. Taking the time off work allowed me to pursue my studies further. I believe I am now in a better position to offer a higher level of expertise to my employers.”

Final Thoughts

Always engage in a job-search expecting to be asked questions about your employment gap during the interview process. While you don’t have to overshare, you cannot afford to stay silent either.

So, do your homework and prepare to tell the interviewers something about how you ended up with such gaps in your resumes. How well you explain yourself will not only show the caliber of your communication skills but also determine your success as a job candidate.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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