How to explain gaps in your work history

Employment gaps

UNEMPLOYMENT HAPPENS, AND IT’S A STICKY SUBJECT IN INTERVIEWS. FOLLOW OUR TIPS TO HELP YOU ANSWER ONE OF THE HARDEST QUESTIONS.

There are a number of reasons you may have a gap in your work history – perhaps you relocated, got laid off or took time to travel or raise a family. Whatever your situation, it's often tricky to explain that employment gap to prospective employers. Here are three tips to help you prepare a perfect answer to a difficult question.

1. Get comfortable with your pitch
When an employer looks at your cover letter or resume, what story does it tell? Does it align with how you describe yourself in an interview? People often make the mistake of over-focusing on that gap in employment, drawing more attention to it than the employer would have. Instead, focus on the positive by showcasing what you've accomplished and what you can bring to the table. Not sure what to say? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my top three strengths?
  • What skills have I gained from past experiences?
  • How could I help this organization improve and grow?

2. Think about how you made it work for you
What were you doing during your time off that improved your skills or expertise? Did you take on freelance gigs, volunteer, further your education or participate in professional organizations? These endeavors are great items to list on your resume or discuss in an interview. Even if they seem irrelevant, they still demonstrate your drive and commitment to professional growth, and prove you haven't just been slouching on the couch for months. Practice strategically highlighting them by considering the following:

  • How have I (or could I) productively filled my time away from a full-time job?
  • What transferrable skills have I gained from these experiences that would benefit me in my next role?

3. Stay honest and open (but be diplomatic)
This probably goes without saying, but you should never exaggerate, hide or lie about any information in the job-search process. And you should never speak badly of a former employer or boss, either. Be upfront when asked about your employment gap but answer with eloquence. Employers want to hear you've treated your time off as a period of self-reflection. Again, focus on the positive:

  • What did you learn about the industry during your downtime? What about yourself?
  • What did it teach you about your goals and priorities? How do those relate to the position you're after?

By taking time to consider these questions and reframe your personal pitch, you'll be well on your way to feeling more comfortable and confident explaining your gap during your job search.

A version of this article was originally published on Career Contessa, an online platform facilitating honest conversations by real women about work and life—to help you achieve fulfillment and balance in both.