When interviewers ask about career gaps & movement, what are they really trying to find out? Does the interviewer really care that you were laid off, or that you had to leave your job due to special circumstances?
Honestly, in my opinion, no. As an interviewer, I definitely think these are important questions to ask, but it’s not the label that concerns me — it’s the reason why. Interviewer = investigator. It’s my job to be curious about why you were laid off, to inquire about why you decided to take a year and a half off after college, or to better understand why you quit your job.
I recognize that this isn’t the case for all recruiters, as some really do care about these items quite a lot. However, personally, I give my interviewees the benefit of the doubt by dubbing my phone screenings judgment-free zones. If an interviewer comes off as snide or judgmental, that should probably tell you that you don’t want to work for the company anyways. The best atmospheres to learn and grow in are friendly and collaborative, not disapproving and condemning.
So, if you know your resume is quirky and has some interesting movement, look for interviewers that are curious about learning what sparked your decision-making process. Chances are, each career move happened for a reason. That being said, it will also be important to know how to explain your thought process behind each transition. To effectively do so, you will need to be calm, prepared, honest, and proactive. Eloquently articulating your career decisions is just as important as the on-paper reasons they occurred.
Here are my tips to help you explain career gaps & movement during the interview process.
1. Be Calm
Having to explain career gaps & movement is scary. I get it. However, it’s likely that your interviewer is going to ask about them no matter what. Personally, knowing something is inevitable allows me to calm down and transition from fear mode to attack & problem-solving mode. If inevitability does not help you calm your nerves like it does for me, create a calming ritual that you partake in prior to every interview.
Tip: Your ritual should consist of the things that make you the happiest. If it’s eating chocolate chip cookies and drinking a cup of tea while walking through potential interview questions, great — do all of these things.
2. Be Prepared
Now that we’ve accepted an interviewer is going to ask you about your career gaps & movement no matter what, pop a squat, take a step back, and write down your reasons for each transition on a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be a novel — just a couple of bullet points that will remind you why each move or gap occurred. After you jot down these points, rehearse with yourself. I’m serious! Take the time to speak out loud and explain to yourself why you moved from one job to the next/why you were out of work for an extended period of time. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel chatting about it when another person asks.
Tip: Chat with a friend or family member about your career history. Having an actual conversation with someone close to you will make it 100x easier to talk about it with a stranger.
3. Be Honest
Please don’t lie to recruiters. They’ve chatted with enough people to have a sixth sense that tells them when candidates are not being truthful. Personally, I’d rather hire someone that is authentic, truthful, and accountable for a mistake they made than a candidate that comes off as deceptive.
Tip: If an interviewer asks you a difficult question about your career history, do not feel compelled to answer immediately. I promise you, pausing after someone asks you a question feels a lot longer than it actually is. If you feel uncomfortable pausing, let the interviewer know you want to think through your answer prior to articulating it out loud. Pausing to reflect and determine the best way to honestly answer is better than blurting out a rushed, half-truthful snippet of information.
4. Be Proactive
When a recruiter asks you to walk them through your career growth, take action by telling them what your gaps/movement says about you as an employee. This is so important because if you do not address this, it leaves recruiters to their own assumptions. So, please, let the recruiter know that you took a year off after college because you were traveling to Australia. Tell the recruiter why you made this decision, tell them what you learned from it, and then tell them how you are going to apply this experience to a job at their organization. They will definitely be impressed!
Tip: When being proactive, make sure you aren’t being long-winded. Phone interviews are short, and from my experience, interviewers become frustrated when candidates dominate the conversation. Yes, it is important to explain what happened and why, but be clear and concise and don’t talk for more than five minutes at a time.
Do you have any more tips/tricks for explaining career gaps & movement?
Janell is an HR professional from Chicago, Illinois. She is a coffee shop enthusiast who is passionate about using exclamation points in work emails, finding Chicago’s best taco, and helping professionals revamp their resumes. Check out her blog, janellology.com, or her Instagram, @janelloohh, for additional content!
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