29 Jul 2020

Guide:How to explain gaps in employment - Sample answers for all situations

Having a gap in your CV is completely normal so don’t feel unsure of yourself. Employers deal with similar situations to yours all the time. The solution for any gap on your CV is to show the hiring manager that you’re enthusiastic about the job and you’re ready to get back into the workplace.

Before we get started - If you’re currently unemployed: YOU MUST be proactive. 

When you apply for a new job or attend an interview it’s best if you demonstrate to your future employer that you are remaining productive, proactive and engaged while being out of work.

This may include:

• Linking in or staying in touch with former colleagues

• Networking on LinkedIn

• Engaging with content on LinkedIn to boost profile visibility

• Participating and engaging with social media community groups related to your field

• Staying up to date with the latest trends in your industry (signed up to newsletters, attending events, etc.)

• Doing some freelance work

• Volunteering

• Attending a course to upskill or any other type of professional training 

Part 1 - How to explain gaps during the interview process

If a gap in your employment comes up during a conversation with the interviewer follow these 4 key points to answer the question: 

1. EXPLAIN GAP: Keep it short and sweet. Explain the situation clearly but briefly. Make it clear to the interviewer that the situation that caused the gap has ended or is no longer a factor. This is to alleviate any concerns the hiring manager may have.

2. HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE: Include examples in your answer of any achievements or evidence that you were a strong performer during your previous role.

3. BRING THE CONVERSATION BACK TO THE JOB: Once the situation has been explained reiterate your interest in the position you’re applying for and explain what makes you the right person for the job.

4. ASK A QUESTION: A great way to move the conversation forward is to ask a question about the role and talk about how it relates to your own career goals. 

If this sounds like a lot to cover - don’t worry!

We have provided sample answers below that cover the most common reasons for a gap in employment. Each answer will include elements of the 4 key points above. 

Some scenarios will include guidelines to help you construct your answer. 

Sample answers: 

1. Searching for a job but I haven't had any luck so far

Notes: Give details about your job search journey and show the interviewer how you have remained proactive at all times – this could include:

• Networking on LinkedIn regularly

• Connecting in with recruiters to explore all opportunities

• Getting expert advice on your CV and cover letter

• Speaking to career consultants/attending online course

Let the employer know:

•  That the time away has given you an opportunity to step back and really think about what you want from your new position and new company.

•  Why do you think this job is the perfect opportunity to return to the workforce, and that you are looking for the right job for you, not just any job.

(EXPLAIN GAP) “After my contract ended at my last role I immediately began searching for a new job.”

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE) “Although I contributed to landing a number of high value ticket clients, my employer opted not to renew my contract.”

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE) “In addition to my job search, I began contributing articles to Entrepreneurs Ireland - a networking LinkedIn group I joined to ensure I was kept up to date on trends in my industry.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB, EXPLAIN WHY THIS ROLE IS PERFECT FOR YOU TO GET BACK INTO THE WORKFORCE) “I was very particular with my job search. I wanted to find a role that enabled me to advance my career, build upon my skillset, and ultimately, allowed me the opportunity to make a real difference. I’ve spoken to a number of leading recruiters in the industry, networked extensively, and completed a number of interviews, but I am yet to find the right fit.”

“When I came across this job it was a no brainer for me to apply. The opportunity to work in a company with such a stellar reputation for innovation was something I could not pass on given my background as a digital content analyst.”

2. Fired/Let go

This answer will be a slightly different format to normal as being let go involves evaluating the issues at hand, and showing the employer how you have grown from the experience. 

(EXPLAIN GAP)

“After a major reorganisation in the company, there was a merging of contrasting ideas, along with changes in how the business was going to be run. With a lot of changes happening within a very short period of time, the new management had different expectations for my job that did not relate to my own skillset. Not long after, the company chose to hire someone with more sales experience and I was let go.”

(WHAT YOU LEARNED, AND HOW YOU HAVE TAKEN ACTION AS A RESULT) “The entire situation taught me that my core strength is in customer service - so I decided to double down. While I immediately began applying for jobs, I enrolled in an online customer service management course that lasted 3 months. I learned the key elements of unique experiences to increase customer satisfaction which I can discuss later.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB AND WHY IT’S THE PERFECT ROLE FOR YOU) “Being let go was a wonderful learning experience and I feel now I am ready to put it behind me and strive forward in my career with a new perspective. I know with my newfound knowledge I can be a major asset to your company in the role of Customer Service Supervisor.”

3. Laid off

(EXPLAIN GAP) “Four months ago I was laid off after the company restructured.”

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE)  “It was a shock to the system, as I had only been given a number of new responsibilities, which included new business development projects.”

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE) “I decided to complete a part-time diploma in business management to ensure my skills remained sharp while I was out of work.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “During my participation in this course, I continued searching for jobs relentlessly - focusing on retail management in order to continue advancing my career. I did have a handful of interviews but I still haven’t found the right fit. The opportunity to mentor and manage teams directly is something I love to do.”

(ASK A QUESTION) “I saw these duties included in the job specification – could you give me an idea about how these responsibilities fit into this role?”

OR

(EXPLAIN GAP) “After a number of budget cuts at my previous company, my role was made redundant.”

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE) “Although it ended abruptly, I am very proud of what I achieved in my previous position as an assistant accountant.” 

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE) “Since my departure, I have used my time to really think about what I want from my next job. During that period I remained proactive by keeping up to date with the latest developments in the industry. I have been participating and networking in accounting community groups on LinkedIn as well as being signed up to a number of industry newsletters.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “When I came across this job I applied immediately as I’m very keen to work at a company where I can build upon my existing skill set, lead a team and help drive the business forward.”

4. Caring for a family member

(EXPLAIN GAP) “I had to resign from my previous job to care for an elderly family member, which I have done for the last 6 months.”

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE) “Although my time was cut short at my old job, I managed to lead several successful finance projects which I can detail later.”

(SHOW THEM THAT GAP IS NO LONGER AN ISSUE) “Only recently, my family and I came together and hired a full time caregiver so I no longer have to be present, and I am available now for full time work.”

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE) “To ensure I stayed active during my time off, I became a member of Eire Accountants Daily Digest - a private group that explores the latest financial & accounting trends in Ireland.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “I am now more determined than ever to get back into the workforce to pursue my career objectives with an industry leading company.”

5. Took time off to look after my children

Note: Make it clear to the interviewer that you took time off to prioritise your family. 

(EXPLAIN GAP) “This year I became a dad and I made a decision to put my family first to raise my son. This is why I left my previous role.”

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE) “Although I was a top performer and continually hit my sales targets for 2 years in a row at the company, I felt it was the right move to halt my career goals so I could support my wife and child.” 

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE) “While both my partner and I’s hands were full, I joined an online community of stay at home parents that work in sales remotely. This allowed me to continue networking during my time off, and keep up to date with the latest trends in the industry.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “I’m now in a position to re-enter the workforce and I’m so excited to start my next biggest career challenge, which is the reason why I applied for this role.”

6. Medical Issue

(EXPLAIN GAP) “Unfortunately, I had a medical condition during my time in my previous position, and I felt unable to continue working at 100%. I have since recovered (or I now have my condition under control.)

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE) “I had excelled in my role as a customer service advisor, and received stellar performance appraisals throughout my three years at the company, so it was tough when I was forced to step down from my role.”

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE) “While I was off work on medical leave, I enrolled in a number of UDEMY courses to keep my communication and people skills sharp. The courses involved networking with other members on Zoom, and I enjoyed the experience immensely.”

(SHOW THE EMPLOYER THAT THE MEDICAL ISSUE IS NOT A FACTOR & BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “Thankfully, I am now back to full health and I’m ready to take on this job. It’s a position that matches with my existing skills, which gives me the opportunity to add value to your company.”

7. Personal Reasons

(EXPLAIN GAP) “I decided to take some time off work to focus on myself. It was a time that allowed me to take a step back and reevaluate what I want for my future career.”

(EXPLAIN HOW YOU REMAINED ACTIVE & HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE) “After some deliberation, I made the choice to enroll in a Lean & Six Sigma course at Dublin City University as I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in process improvement, which ties in with my previous managerial experience.”

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “I am now refreshed, refocused, and incredibly excited about the new opportunities that lie ahead of me, including the chance to work at your company in the position of Warehouse Manager.” 

(ASK A QUESTION) “Could you give me an idea about what processes your company is looking to improve upon?”

8. I took time off to upskill/educate myself

Notes: Give some justification as to why you took time off work to study – either to gain a qualification or improve on a specific set of skills.

Let the interviewer know that you never want to stop learning - and you are dedicated to personal development, which is why the job you’re applying for fits perfectly with your skillset.

(EXPLAIN GAP) “I realised in my position of financial assistant, that I had a skills gap.” 

(SHOW YOU REMAINED PROACTIVE) “I made the decision to pursue a diploma in financial accounting in a bid to future proof my own career through upskilling.”

(HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS/VALUE & BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “Since gaining my diploma I have been looking for a new job where I can use my newly acquired skills. That’s why I applied for the role of financial analyst as I believe I can add real value and expertise to your organisation.”

9. Travelling 

Note: If you went travelling, the emphasis during your answer should be on your pursuit of personal development and gaining entirely new perspectives.

(EXPLAIN GAP) “I took some time out of work and went travelling to Taiwan. My goal was to expose myself to different cultures and gain new perspectives to further my own self development.”

(WHAT YOU LEARNED - SHOW VALUE) “Along my travels, I learned many valuable life lessons that have allowed me to recalibrate what I want for my future career. I continued my education during my travels by committing to an online communications course on UDEMY for a duration of 9 weeks. The course showed me that I am now more ready than ever to progress to the next stage of my career as a Communications Specialist.” 

(BRING IT BACK TO THE JOB) “That’s why I was particularly drawn to this position as the opportunity to further develop my skills while being given the freedom to manage my own projects is one I could just not turn down.

Part 2 - How to explain gaps in your CV

Scale back on your work experience

Including work history from over 15 years is not necessary. This will help with clearing any older gaps in your CV.

Dates of employment

It’s common to only include the years of employment and to avoid including the months. 

Explaining a gap

If you’re currently unemployed you can explain the gap of employment within your cover letter. We have some sample answers below that will help you craft a great answer.

Remain honest and optimistic

Be honest about your employment gap but there’s no need to go into great detail. In some situations, you may need to be discrete, but trying to lie will only put more focus on your gap. 

Remember to positively reframe your answers when engaging with employers. “I can't seem to find work” can easily become “I decided to take time out to reevaluate my career objectives and put all my time and focus on pursuing a job in the industry that I’m most passionate about.”

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