It's common for hiring managers to ask about any resume gaps to understand what you were doing during that time and how it may impact your ability to take on the role.
The key is to be able to explain your career gap positively. With some preparation and a thoughtful explanation, you can assure hiring managers that you have continued developing relevant skillsets and experiences even during your time out of formal employment.
So, if you’re wondering how to best handle that dreaded interview question, "Can you explain the gap in your resume?" Read on for tips, sample answers, and key talking points to help you explain any resume gaps smoothly and confidently.
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Know Why the Gap Question Comes Up
Before crafting your answer, it’s helpful to understand why hiring managers ask about employment gaps in the first place. Most of their concerns are related to some common factors.
- Concerns About Skills Being Outdated
They want to gauge if you have sharpened your industry knowledge and job skills. Extended gaps could mean your abilities are rusty.
- Questions About Continued Motivation
They want to assess your commitment to restarting your career and reassure themselves you will stick with the job long-term.
- Checking for Red Flags
They want to rule out any issues, like termination or other problems that caused you to leave the workforce.
- Assessing Fit With Company Values
They want to understand how you spend your time off and see if it aligns with company culture. For example, travel or family care may resonate.
Keeping these motivations in mind will help you shape your answer appropriately.
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Be Honest About the Reason for the Gap
When explaining your career gap, start by briefly and directly stating why you took time off.
For example, you can say:
- "After my previous position, I took one year off to care for my children full-time."
- "I left my last job to be with and support family members dealing with health issues."
- "I took six months off to travel and recharge after ten years in the corporate world."
Keep it simple and focus on the highlights. You can elaborate if asked follow-up questions.
Avoid sounding defensive or bitter. Your focus is on emphasizing why you are ready and qualified now.
It is worth noting that career breaks are becoming increasingly common, especially among younger generations. For instance, McKinsey & Company highlights that up to 47 percent of under-25s have taken a career gap of six months or more, viewing such time off as a positive step in their career journey.
Emphasize Skills and Growth During Time Off
After summarizing why you took a break, highlight any skills you developed, knowledge you updated, or ways you stayed active in your industry, such as:
- Taking relevant online courses and certifications
- Attending conferences and seminars
- Volunteering or consulting in related areas
- Completing projects and freelance work
- Reading industry books, publications, blogs, and more
For example, you can say:
"During my career break, I made sure to maintain and expand my project management skills. I took an intensive PMP certification course and completed some freelance work managing software development projects. These helped me stay up-to-date on the latest PM best practices."
Focus on skills applicable to the role you are applying for and quantify your accomplishments and learnings as much as possible.
Address Any Objections Proactively
Once you have explained your gap positively, get ahead of any remaining concerns a hiring manager may have.
If you think they may question your skills being outdated, you can say:
"I know that after leaving the workforce, there may be some new best practices. However, I learn quickly and have the core software development skills and engineering fundamentals to get up to speed."
If you sense they wonder about your continued interest and commitment, assure them, for example:
"I remain very passionate about user experience design and am committed to restarting my career. I look forward to utilizing my skills full-time again."
Tackling objections directly reassures hiring managers and makes you look self-aware.
Share Why You Can Succeed in This Role
After your gap, connect the dots for the interviewer on why you would excel in this position. Explain how your time off ties into being an even stronger candidate.
You can say for instance:
"My technology skills are complemented by the soft skills in adaptability and empathy I developed during my time off. I am excited to bring this blend of capabilities to the associate product manager role."
Paint a picture of how your varied background is an advantage to contribute fresh thinking to their team.
An employment gap is common and does not have to be a barrier to restarting your career. With some preparation and a thoughtful explanation, you can show hiring managers your time off has allowed you to develop relevant skills and experiences.
- Understand why the gap question comes up and what motivates it
- Honestly, but briefly explain the reason for the gap
- Emphasize skills, knowledge, and activities during time off
- Proactively address objections head-on
- Make clear why you can succeed in the role, given your background
Craft your answer focusing on the value you bring versus just rehashing the gap itself. With a compelling, forward-looking response, you can turn your break from formal employment into a selling point rather than a liability.
7 Key Sections to Address
Here are seven recommended sections to cover for a complete and compelling answer about your resume gap:
1. Reason For the Gap
Briefly summarize why you took time off from traditional employment. For example, caring for family, traveling, pursuing a passion project, etc.
2. Skills Developed During the Gap
Highlight relevant hard and soft skills you developed during your break. These build your case as a qualified candidate.
3. Staying Updated in the Industry
Detail any efforts to stay abreast of industry advancements during your employment gap. This reassures you are current.
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4. Other Professional Development
Share any learning, courses, conferences, volunteering, or freelance work you undertook. These show initiative.
5. The Transition Back to Work
Explain when and why you decided that it was time to return to the workforce. This conveys motivation.
6. Fit With the Role
Make clear why your combination of experiences makes you the ideal person for this job in particular.
7. Looking Ahead Positively
End emphasizing your passion for the work and excitement to apply your varied background. The focus is forward.
Expanding on these areas provides a 360-degree perspective on your career break and readiness to return to work.