So you’ve been out of the job market due to redundancy. Or maybe you’ve taken a career break or been on extended maternity leave.
It’s all very legitimate but that’s not the way some employers and interviewers see it.
Here are 5 steps to help you handle conversations about your career gap and, in fact, turn the gap into a positive differentiator which helps you stand out from the crowd.
1. Don’t be defensive
You’re going to be asked about the gap so expect it. Stand tall, sit tall and don’t get anxious or shift around when the topic comes up.
If I see you get uncomfortable and then lose eye contact with me, as an interviewer I won’t quite believe what you’re telling me and so will probably begin asking more probing questions and make things slightly uncomfortable.
So be prepared, relax and just tell your story.
2. Tell a story
The internet is full of “how to” advice on answering questions about gaps on your CVs. These sometimes work, but usually they don’t because they don’t take into account 2 things:
a) Your own individual reasons for the gap
b) The needs of employer you’re sitting in front of
So instead of giving a “good answer” from the internet, you need to tell your own story and explain what happened and what you’ve been doing. And how that experience is going to benefit me as line manager or employer.
Tell me a story that is sincere, honest and doesn’t make you sound like a victim and I’ll like you. I’ll trust you. If I like you and trust you, I may convince my boss to meet with you despite his reservations.
Tell me a canned answer you found on the internet and I just won’t connect with you regardless of the answers. And if I don’t connect with you, I will never hire you.
3. Don’t BS
I’ve interviewed thousands of people – both face-to-face and via phone. Which means my BS radar is pretty strong! I can usually smell it very early on – and so can most experienced interviewers.
So by all means put your best foot forward and show yourself in a good light when telling your story. But don’t bull s***.
We now live in a hyper-connected world and soon enough I’ll know that you’ve been sitting at home for 6 months and not travelling around Australia (…yes, I know someone who said just that despite being sat in the UK for the whole period!)
4. Turn the gap into a differentiator
After leaving my full time job as a recruiter in 2003, I took some time out to figure out my next move as a consultant, coach (..or whatever I was going to call myself!)
During this fairly unstructured period, I read huge amounts about the recruitment market, career management and work place issues and consequently became much sharper and knowledgable.
I attended industry conferences, career fairs and generally became much better connected than before. I also spent more time with family and friends, became more healthy and relaxed. And consequently became far more focused and mentally strong when compared to my peers who were still in full time work.
All these attributes would be hugely beneficial to future employers and clients.
And that’s precisely the angle I used when meeting with firms to sell myself onto consulting projects. Some people, of course, disliked me and the gap. But others absolutely loved me because of the reasons outlined.
This marmite factor is exactly what you need to stand out (i.e. people to either love you or dislike you). So look at what you’ve done during your ‘gap period’ and identify what benefits this could bring to future employers.
Weave this into your story in a way that relates to the needs of the person in front of you and the employers you’re interviewing with and you’ll become very different from others and far more interesting.
5. Be willing to walk away
The above approach will be effective in many interviews.
But in others it won’t. And that’s okay.
Some people will never get over the fact that you’ve a gap in your career history and won’t hire you. Maybe they’ll want someone with more current experience. And that’s their prerogative.
But when this happens your mentality should be “Not a problem. Their loss, not mine” and move on with your self esteem in tact. Use the experience as good interview practice and move onto the next opportunity.
As organisations restructure on an ongoing basis and more of us adopt a freelance style of working , you’ll need your ‘gap story’ over and over again in the future.
So instead of shying away from it, stand up and be proud of your gap. And show people that they should hire you precisely because you’re the one with a gap on your CV or resume