How to explain an employment gap during a job interview

Businessmen standing on wall looking down

There can be several reasons why someone might take a break from work. Perhaps it was by choice –   maybe you were raising a child, traveling, taking care of a sick relative, or decided to return to study. In other instances, it may have been enforced if you were made redundant or had to take time off for an illness.

Whatever the circumstances, explaining a career gap on your resume can be daunting, and it can often feel as though you’ll be a less desirable candidate as a result. However, there is nothing wrong with taking time off work for anyone, and it’s also not uncommon. If handled correctly, there’s no need for a career gap to hinder your application success.

Here are some ways you can explain a career gap during a job interview and still put your best foot forward.


Prepare yourself

When readying yourself for a job interview, it’s always a good idea to assume the interviewer will ask about you time off. And if you anticipate the question, you can be prepared with a response.

Give some time to consider your career gap and which points might be worth speaking about. Did you pick up any valuable skills while you weren’t working? Did the experience make you discover something about your desired career path?

It’s also important to consider what actually warrants a “career gap”. While honesty is always the best policy, it might not necessarily be worth mentioning if the Hiring Manager doesn’t explicitly bring it up. If they don’t question a three, six or even 12-month break, then it isn’t necessarily something you’re obligated to divulge.

In saying this, if your gap was the result of an incident or situation that may leave lingering questions about your suitability for the role if discovered later, then it is wise to address this – even if not prompted.


Be honest

As stated above, honesty is always the best policy, so if asked about your gap you should certainly give a brief explanation. During the entire process of conducting a job search, maintaining your integrity and professionalism is paramount, particularly if applying for roles within a small and tight-knit industry.

Jobs come and go, but being known as truthful—and conversely, deceitful—can significantly impact on your professional opportunities and personal brand.


Explain, but don’t go into too much detail

If specifically asked about your career gap, there’s no need to go into too much detail unless more is requested from the interviewer.

For example, if you left a job and decided to refocus your career, there’s no need to be explicit about the situation. Instead, simply state what happened and explain briefly that it gave you the opportunity to reflect on the type of role and/or company you wanted to work for, and then emphasise that you are ready and enthusiastic about transitioning back into the workforce.

If you were fired or made redundant, this is by no means an opportunity to bad-mouth your former employer. This will only paint you in a negative light and hinder your chances of being hired.


Be confident in your response

It’s important to remember that just because you weren’t in a traditional work setting, doesn’t mean you didn’t gain valuable experience during your career gap. Volunteer or community work, travelling and taking time off to undertake training, courses or pursue studies in different areas of interest, can all make you a better candidate.

While you don’t want to talk too much about these experiences, think about some of the skills you might have learnt during this time which might make you more able to perform in this role. It’s important to remember too, that even though you are being assessed on your professional skills and experience, having the right attitude and being enthusiastic is also an important aspect of being an ideal candidate. What you’ve chosen to do with your time off can say a lot about the kind of person you are and how you might fit into an organisation.

If you’re currently looking for a job, take a look at our career resources and Ultimate Interview Guide.

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