|Posted by Krista Mitchell on November 3, 2011 at 5:50 PM|
Maybe you took time out from your career to raise children. Maybe you resigned your last job to commit yourself full-time to your college studies. Perhaps you have been ill or caring for an ill parent who no longer needs your help. Whatever the reason, you’re now ready to throw yourself back into the working world but are not sure how to address the gap in your work history. If there is a gap, you must be prepared to discuss the reason with potential employers. They will definitely be wondering, and the lack of an explanation could get you screened out of the hiring process before you ever have a chance to meet a live person with the company. For this reason, I recommend that if the gap is more than a year, you should include a brief explanation in your cover letter. The explanation you provide depends on the circumstances.
If you took time off to further your education, say so, and include how the employer stands to benefit from that. Discuss how courses you have taken relate directly to the job description for the open position. Mention internships and volunteer work you have done during that time as well.
If you were laid off by your previous employer and have been seeking employment without success due to the economic climate, your explanation is that simple. If you were fired from your last job and searching for employment ever since, I recommend that you say you have been unemployed during the specified time period due to the economic climate without mentioning being fired. If in an interview they then ask what caused your separation from your previous employer, you should have a separate explanation for that. Be positive and steer clear of speaking ill of former employers even if the truth is they were a bunch of nit-picking discriminators. For example, you may say you and your manager had a difference of opinions and made a mutual decision for you to move on. You might add anything positive you have learned from the experience. Then shift the focus back to your skills and how the employer could benefit from your expertise.
If you took time off to begin a family or care for a sick family member, you may simply state that fact and follow up by saying either that your children are older now or that the situation of your family member has been resolved. However, you need not disclose your status as a parent if you do not wish to do so, and it is illegal in the U.S. for employers to ask about children unless you bring it up. (There are still employers who ask though.) If you don’t want the employer to know you have kids, you may tell the employer you were caring for family who no longer needs you full-time. You don’t have to go into great detail, and a brief silence after your statement in an interview is perfectly all right. Don’t feel as if you need to fill the silence by explaining further, though they may be hoping you will.
If however, you were temporarily disabled or were incarcerated, you will have to approach the subject more delicately. In these situations, you will need to decide how comfortable you are with what level of disclosure. Total disclosure with all the gory details is neither necessary nor recommended. You want to be as brief as possible and move the focus of the interview back to your potential value to the company.
If you were ill or recovering from a devastating accident, you may say that your illness has been resolved if that is the case. If you have a chronic condition and want the employer to know up front (which I don’t recommend), explain how it bears no relation to the open position or how you plan to manage it.
If you were incarcerated, you need to prove to the employer why they should believe that you are no longer the same person who was arrested. Do not make excuses, and do take responsibility for your actions. Mention any degrees earned since then, drug rehabilitation programs completed, and volunteer work. Bring letters of recommendation from professors or substance abuse counselors or your probation officer. If you lie and the employer finds out later, you can be terminated.
Think of what would make you feel comfortable hiring you if you were the manager, and tailor your explanation to present your current life circumstances in the best light possible from an employer’s perspective. You need to explain any gaps in your work history as early as possible in the application process, and you need to tell employers with confidence that you are now eager to commit yourself fully to the workforce. Otherwise, you risk being screened out over applicants with seamless work histories. In the interview, steer the conversation back as quickly as possible to what the employer will gain by hiring you.