How To Explain a Career Gap in an Interview (With Examples)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated August 26, 2022
Published September 29, 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
If you took extended time off from your career, you might have a gap in your employment history. This is normal, as there are many reasons someone may take time away from their career, such as becoming a new parent or pursuing a personal passion. Learning how to explain a gap in your resume to potential employers can help you find a new job. In this article, we explain what a career gap is, discuss common reasons for having one, give you steps to explain career gaps during an interview and offer tips and examples to do so.
Related: How To Ace Your Next Job Interview
What is a career gap?
A career gap, or employment gap, is a period during your career where you were unemployed. This period can range from a few months to several years and may occur for several reasons, either voluntarily or involuntarily. If prospective employers see a gap in your resume, they may ask you why the gap exists and what you were doing during that time.
Reasons for a career gap
There are several reasons you may have an employment gap, both voluntary and involuntary. When explaining these gaps to prospective employers, you want to offer a good reason for them, such as:
becoming a stay-at-home parent or caregiver
looking for a new job
being laid off because of organizational changes
furthering your education
taking time off for a medical reason
relocating from one area to another
spending time on personal development
gaining certifications or licensing
How to explain gaps in your resume
If you have an upcoming interview with a prospective employer, they may ask you about the gaps in your resume. To explain these gaps, follow these guidelines:
1. Be prepared to talk about it
To be prepared for the interview and sound confident throughout it, prepare an answer beforehand for why you have gaps in your resume. Not every employer asks, but if they do, prepare a response that briefly explains the gap and highlights a positive reason for it. Doing so helps you thoroughly prepare for your interview so you can focus on discussing your skills and qualifications.
Related: Interview Preparation Tips
2. Be honest
The most important thing about explaining career gaps is that you're honest. Employers understand that people sometimes need to take time away from their careers, so be truthful. Find a way to discuss the gap honestly without going into unnecessary detail.
For example, a basic template for your answer could be: "I [reason you were not employed]. During that time, I [what you did during the gap]. Returning to work was one of my main priorities, and I'm ready to do so now." If you left the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent, you could fill in the template like this: "I had a baby four years ago and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. During that time, I was able to spend precious time with my family, but I always knew I wanted to return to work. Now that my daughter is older, I'm ready to do that."
3. Fill the gap
Even if you have a gap in your resume where you weren't pursuing a professional career, you were still learning and developing in different ways. Explain to prospective employers what you were doing at that time and how it benefitted you. For example, if you were pursuing a new degree or additional certification, mention that and explain how what you learned made you a stronger worker.
Mention how you kept up with industry trends and news, such as talking to colleagues or attending seminars or courses. Consider any freelance work, volunteer positions you've held, or any other way you've advanced your professional skills. Your goal is to show prospective employers how you've used your time off wisely. Highlight any transferrable skills you developed when you were not working.
4. Keep it brief
While it's important to be honest about your employment gap, you may not want to discuss it in detail due to personal reasons. As soon as you address the gap and explain what you did during that time, steer the conversation away by discussing your skills and qualifications. One way to do this is by encouraging the interviewer to ask you another question. For example, you can say, "I am very interested in sharing further details of my work experience."
If the conversation continues to go in a direction you aren't comfortable with, tell the interviewer that you'd prefer not to go into further detail. It's best to provide a brief explanation, but if your reasons are personal, you don't have to offer this information.
Tips for minimizing gaps in your career history
Employers may not notice your employment gaps if you prepare a well-written resume or cover letter. Here are some tips you can consider for minimizing gaps in your employment history:
Determine which jobs to include
Limiting your resume to one page to ensure prospective employers can skim it means you don't need to include all of your work experience. This benefits those with years of relevant experience, as you won't need to include employment gaps that occurred early in your career. Choose the most relevant and recent roles to include in your resume so you can determine if there are any career gaps you need to explain or whether you can omit them.
Omit the months of your employment
If you have small gaps of less than a year in your employment history, you can format these differently by omitting the month from the dates of each role you held. For example, instead of writing that you were a cashier from May 2018 to March 2020, simply write 2018 to 2020. Prospective employers may still ask for more specific dates to assess your experience, but this can improve your chances of receiving an invitation to interview if the rest of your resume explains why you're an excellent candidate.
Use a different resume format
While traditional resumes emphasize your work history by listing each role you held chronologically, there are other formats that won't highlight your career gaps as much. For example, a skills-based resume allows you to focus on your relevant skills and achievements rather than your experience. You still include an employment section, but it's toward the end of your resume as it's not the focus, allowing you to minimize career gaps.
Related: How To Write a Skills-Based Resume
Examples of ways to explain career gaps in an interview
If you need to explain a gap in your employment history during an interview, there are different ways you can do so. Depending on your situation, you may consider the following answers:
If you left the workforce to care for a family member
Whether you had a baby, needed to care for an ill family member, or had another family emergency that changed your professional circumstances, you could provide a brief explanation like this one:
"When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to leave my job to stay home and take care of him full-time. It was a tough decision because I've always been so career-oriented, so I'm ready to come back and fully commit to it again."
If you were laid off
If you lost your job for external reasons outside of your control, you could explain it with an answer such as:
"The company I worked for previously was acquired by a larger company. This caused a need for restructuring that resulted in my position being eliminated. I understand their decision and appreciate the opportunity they gave me to learn valuable skills. I'm looking forward to applying those skills to my next role."
If you were pursuing higher education
"I loved my previous role as a customer service representative but decided I wanted to pursue a leadership role. To prepare for this role, I returned to school and got a bachelor's degree in sales. I'm excited to use my new knowledge and skills to advance my career."
If you were fired
"My previous employer and I had different expectations. After reflecting on my experience there, I realized that there are some things I could have done differently, such as strengthening our communication. I have learned a great deal since then, and I'm excited to apply this knowledge in a new role."
If you took time off for personal reasons
"I was able to take some time off to focus on my well-being and personal development. This time away made me more self-aware and confident, preparing me to take on new challenges. I'm incredibly excited about the opportunities ahead, such as this position."
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