Challenging Interview Questions: Explaining Gaps in Your Resume
When the economy went south in 2008, many well-qualified people found themselves out of work. Some were able to land another position within a few months, while others struggled to find work for a much longer period — or never really made it back into the workforce. Other people have opted to leave their jobs for family or educational reasons, and now want to return to the working world. No matter which situation applies, the effect is the same: significant gaps in the work history section of their resumes.
Thanks to the economy, many employers understand that qualified applicants might not have a seamless employment history, but they will still ask questions about the times that you were out of work. While in the past such a gap might have taken you out of the running for a great job, the way you answer questions about your gaps now could place you at the top of the list.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
First and foremost, when asked about anything on your resume, be honest and upfront. Avoid elaborate excuses or lies; eventually, your untruths will be discovered and if you got the job, you might be facing another employment history gap.
When asked about gaps, tell the interviewer that you were laid off for economic reasons — and deflect further questioning by going into detail about how you filled your time while you were out of work. If you were fired be diplomatic but honest in your response, and explain what you learned from the experience and how you’ve corrected the issues that lead to your dismissal. For example “I was let go because I lacked some communication skills, but since then I’ve begun working toward an online masters degree in human resources and corrected those deficiencies.”
Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
The fact that you have not worked in a traditional setting for several months — or even years — does not have to be detrimental to your ability to land a job. If you can show that you used your period of unemployment effectively, such as developing your skills and experience, you’ll impress the interviewer.
When discussing your gap, point out what you did in the meantime. “When my previous employer consolidated their operations and closed the local office, I was laid off; however, since then, I have devoted my time to developing my skills and talents by volunteering and working as a consultant. I’ve also started working on a masters degree; management is always changing and I’ve stayed on top of those changes through my coursework.” Such a response indicates that you didn’t spend several months watching soaps and eating ice cream, but instead kept your skills fresh while staying on top of developments in the industry.
Avoid the Question Altogether
The best way to avoid having your employment history hurt you in an interview? Avoid the question of gaps altogether. If your period of unemployment was short — just a few weeks or months — use only the years to show how long you were with the company; for example, if you worked at one company from June of 2003 to April of 2004, and then started a new job in August of 2004, simply put 2003-2004 and then 2004 to present.
If you’re still unemployed, list the ways that you have used your time since leaving your last position. If you’ve done freelance or consulting work, indicate that by listing “consultant” and the dates, and provide a short description of the work that you have done and for whom. If you’ve been in school, put your degree dates on the resume and mention in your cover letter that you’ve been seeking an advanced degree.
Turning your periods of unemployment into a positive attribute takes a little finesse, but preparing your answers before the interview will prevent you from stumbling over questions about gaps in your resume. Design your resume to highlight your skills and achievements, stay on top of the developments in your field and prepare a response that shows your enthusiasm and capabilities, and soon your time in the employment line will come to an end.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: After working in human resources for half a decade, Mary Jane Russo earned her Master’s in Human Resources. She now manages a career counseling and job placement service, focusing on displaced and returning workers.