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How to Explain Unemployment Gaps

How to Explain Unemployment Gaps
18 Aug 2022

Written by Emma Roddy, Senior Consultant

Travelling, family needs or ill health - there are many reasons why someone might take a career break. Whatever the reason, it’s important to know how to reference it on your CV and how to speak about it in an interview. This can help to reassure your potential employer by providing your reasons for the break or to showcase the activities you participated in whilst not working.

In this article, I will explain how you can discuss your unemployment with a prospective employer and talk you through ways to highlight this on your CV.

 

What is classed as a career gap?

A career gap is defined as a significant period of time out of work or between jobs.

People might choose to take a break from work to go travelling or raise a family. Alternatively, it could be forced and out of someone’s control, for example redundancy.

 

Why is a gap in employment a problem?

There is no set rule as to how much time you can take out of work and it’s completely dependent on your situation and reasons for unemployment.

As you can imagine, some career gaps tend to look better than others. For example, taking time off to care for a family member or redundancy are unavoidable situations and unlikely to be viewed negatively by an employer. However, if you took time off to travel or relax, then it’s important to explain the situation to avoid any assumptions of laziness or instability.

There’s research to suggest that being unemployed for less than three months won’t impact your job application - in fact, it can be a bonus if it means you’re immediately available for work.

However, with an employment gap of longer than nine months you can expect to see significantly less interview requests, which reinforces the importance of explaining your break on your CV.

 

The main reasons for an employment gap

If there was a specific reason for your employment gap, then it’s always advisable to explain the circumstances to help justify your lapse of work. Some common reasons for a career break are:

  1. Sickness
  2. Starting a family
  3. Travelling / volunteering
  4. Redundancy

Remember - you should always be honest and transparent about your situation and your employment timeline as these need to match any references provided by your past employers.

Some situations might call for a bit of discretion or privacy and you don’t always need to go into a huge amount of detail, but it can often look better if you’re open and forthcoming where appropriate.

 

How to explain a career gap on your CV

What you choose to include on your CV is dependent on a number of factors, such as the length of your career history, the duration of your unemployment and the reason behind it.

If your employment history fits nicely onto two pages, then you’re likely to include the dates for each job, which would mean that any career gaps will be evident. If this is the case, then you’re unlikely to have space to include additional information about your break. Instead, I would suggest elaborating in your cover letter and don’t forget to include why you’re ready and interested in the position you’re applying for.

As I’ve said before - honesty is the best policy.

It might not always be necessary to go into detail about the situation but never lie or elaborate on the duration of any employment because it wouldn’t be difficult for your potential employer to uncover the truth. Always frame your career break in a positive light and focus on the skills you’ve learnt and how this could benefit you in the role.

 

How to explain a career gap in an interview

Sickness

Caring for a sick relative may require you to take a prolonged amount of time off work. This is almost always unavoidable and hard to judge how long you will need.

An employer should be understanding and shouldn’t pressure you to go into any great detail as it could be private or upsetting for you, but if you can provide basic information to explain your situation that will help.

Say something like: ‘Due to a sustained period of ill-health, I was required to take [insert time period] off work to care for my mother. However, she is now better and I am ready to return to work and focus on my career.’

 

Starting a family

You might often choose to take time away from work to care for their children, which can be one of the most challenging jobs going.

As a parent, you will gain a number of skills that can be transferred into the working world, such as problem solving, resourcefulness and multi-tasking. Or perhaps you took the time to develop professionally in other areas via online courses or training. I would always recommend weaving in the skills that you learnt during parenthood into the interview to demonstrate how you’ve personally grown.

Say something like: ‘I took [inset time period] away from work in order to care for my children. Despite the challenges of parenthood, I found the time to enrol on an online Excel training course and am now well versed in advanced formulas. My children are now in full-time education and I am ready and prepared to return to work and focus on my career.’

 

Travelling / Volunteering

Similarly, if you’ve taken some time to travel and explore the world, then there will be skills you can draw on from your experiences. Maybe you learnt a language, volunteered or picked up a new skill.

It’s always good to frame your travels in a positive way. Try to avoid referring to it like a holiday and instead speak about it in a more refined way, for example, wanting to experience new perspectives and immersing yourself in new cultures.

Say something like: ‘I spent [insert time period] travelling because I wanted to experience different cultures and learn more about other parts of the world. During my time, I volunteered as a teaching assistant and now feel more confident and driven to succeed in my career.’

 

Redundancy

If you happen to find yourself being made redundant, then don’t be afraid or ashamed to talk about it in your interview. I would always recommend explaining the reasons behind the redundancy, for example, if it was due to a particular business decision or if there were multiple redundancies.

It’s important to focus on your achievements in the role, like you would with any other employment. Try not to sound downbeat or resentful about the situation and before you attend the interview ensure you’re in the right mindset and view it as a new opportunity.

Say something like: ‘Due to Covid19, myself and 20 of my colleagues were made redundant and I have been out of work for [insert time period] now. I am very proud of what I achieved whilst at the business, including [use examples] and am looking for a business where I can build on my existing skills and continue making positive changes.’

 

How to answer career gap questions

If you’ve had a career gap for whatever reason, then you need to be prepared to answer any questions on it in an interview or over the phone.

TOP TIP: Rehearsing your response will help you to sound confident but make sure it doesn’t sound scripted or robotic.

It’s always important to do your research on the company so you can adapt your response to fit in with the role requirements and the core business values. You need to be able to talk about the skills you’ve learnt during your time away and how these would be beneficial in the role.

Again, it’s important to frame any career gap in a positive light and not dwell on a situation. Even if you’re disgruntled about being made redundant, never criticise the company or make negative comments. Instead try to see it as an opportunity to progress your career with a different business.

 

How to start career after a long gap

You might have been out of work for a few months or a few years, but either way, the thought of returning to work can be daunting, so I’ve compiled some of my top tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Depending on the reasons for your career break, it might not be possible but if you can, I would recommend introducing more structure to your day ahead of your return to work. Start setting an alarm for the same time you would need to get up for work and if you’re searching for new roles then commit to this for a set period of time.

Having time away from work is the perfect opportunity to reflect on your previous experiences and what you really want from a career. If your circumstances have changed, then there’s a chance you might need more flexibility in your job. Write a list of everything you need from a role and practice how you will discuss these in your interview.

If you’ve had a considerable amount of time out of your field of work, then you might need the help of someone to get you back up to speed. Reach out to previous colleagues or connections on Linkedin and they should be able to share some useful information or articles.

If you’ve been out of work for some time, then there’s a chance this could affect your self-confidence particularly in relation to your ability to do the job. I’ve mentioned confidence throughout this article but it’s really important that you take some time to reflect on everything that’s happened during your career break and to look forward and understand what you want from your future.

To perform well in an interview, you need to be in the right headspace to sell yourself and convince the interviewer that you’re the best person for the role.

  1. Structure
  2. Time to think
  3. Getting up to speed
  4. Confidence

 

How recruitment agencies provide support to candidates with employment gaps

Myself and my colleagues at Four Recruitment have years of experience managing candidates with career breaks for all sorts of reasons. We understand that every individual is different and will always listen to your story to advise and support you in your job search.

We can help you reference your break on your CV and talk you through your interview answers to make sure you’re happy and confident before meeting your prospective employer.

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