Will gaps in my work history put off prospective employers? How do I explain my career break?
Job seekers often seek help with questions like these.
Read this article to discover how to handle career gaps for a more confident job search.
Check out the career tools page for a worksheet to begin developing your strategy immediately.
Work history gaps and career breaks are more and more common.
But that doesn’t mean that prospective employers won’t have questions or doubts.
If you’re looking for a new job, here are three questions your need to be ready to answer.
Employers’ Question 1 about your work history:
What’s the real story of the career gap?
Whatever the reason for the gap in your work history, you need to be ready to explain it. This is true whether your career break or work history gap was voluntary or not.
Was your experience of leaving your last job a negative one? If so, it’s particularly important to pay attention to how you talk about what happened.
It’s not just what you say. It’s also how you say it.
If you were laid off, have you been advised to “move on” or “just get over it?” But if you were fired or laid off unexpectedly, it takes time to process these experiences.
Your confidence may have taken a hit. Research studies have shown that laid-off employees who paid attention to their emotional responses found new positions more quickly.
Think about what support you need and what steps you can take to get it. Find a trusted mentor or coach to help. If you take the time to develop a strategy you will be better positioned for job search success.
Employers’ Question 2 about job seekers with a career break:
What does this person’s work history tell me and their qualities?
If you have a gap in your work history, employers will scrutinize your career transitions and decisions even more closely. They will wonder about your personal qualities.
Underlying questions include:
- Will this person really be committed to this job and this organization?
- Can they be relied on?
- Are they self-motivated?
- Will they able to motivate and work well with others?
How prepared are you to address these issues?
What evidence can you provide? As a job seeker, it is important to consider your career story as a whole. Are you ready to guide prospective employers through your career path to date?
Fewer people have a linear career nowadays. But whatever your path, you need to be ready to tell a cohesive career story. Do your explanations both make sense and demonstrate that you are a good fit for the role?
Employers’ Question 3:
Is this job candidate out of touch?
Knowledge changes quickly. Employers will be asking whether your expertise and ways of working are out of date.
Relevant questions include:
- How much will it cost to train you?
- What about your grasp of technology?
- What new ideas can you bring to the company?
As a job seeker, you can pre-empt some of these concerns. Show that you haven’t been just “sitting around”. Be prepared to talk about the ways you have kept your expertise up to date and stayed in touch with changes in your field.
What have you done that’s relevant to the job you are applying for? If it hasn’t been possible for you to stay updated, consider steps to take now. Don’t let even the perception of outdated skills derail your job search success.
Despite less job security and more frequent career changes, employers still worry when candidates have gaps in their work history. This leads to frustration for job seekers.
Visit this career tools page for a worksheet that you can complete to increase clarity about how to handle your career gaps and position yourself for a more confident job search.
You can’t change your work history, but you can explain the gaps.
Better awareness of employers’ likely concerns is the first step towards laying the foundation for a more confident job search.
Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 8, no. 1
About the Author
Jennifer Bradley, Ph.D. helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and publishes articles on career development and career transition.