So far the job interview has gone well, you think to yourself. You sit there waiting for the next question, when the interviewer takes your CV in hand, licks his thumb, and starts flipping through it. You start fidgeting nervously, waiting for the question you know is coming. Then suddenly the interviewer stops, frowns, and looks up at you. As his lips start forming the words, you already know what he is going to ask: “Can you tell me why you weren’t working from 2011 to 2012?”  

Everyone knows that a gap in your CV can really damage your chances of securing a job. But what you might not know is that if you explain it correctly, a gap in your employment record can actually work to your advantage.

Why a gap in your CV is considered a bad thing

An employer won’t automatically assume you are a bad worker just because there happens to be a gap in your CV. But an unexplained gap in your CV does represent a potential risk in employing you. It might suggest that you:

–        Went through a patch of personal instability which might affect your work in future.

–        Were unemployable for some undisclosed reason.

–        Were suddenly dismissed from a job (which is never a good thing).

–        Are not driven – or even that you are lazy.  

Essentially, an employer might worry that there is a negative reason for the gap in your CV. Their worst fear is hiring you now, only to discover later on that there was a very good reason why no one else wanted to employ you. So how do you not only put your potential employer at ease, but also win them over?  

How to explain a gap in your CV correctly

Your interviewer will inevitably ask you about any gaps you have in your employment record. How, or with what reason, you answer this question will tell them more about you – and whether you are the right candidate for the job. This essentially means that you now have a special opportunity to turn the situation to your advantage.

Did you take a break from work for some reason?

If you were taking a break from work, tell the interviewer why you did this and what you were doing. Were you: travelling, completing your studies, recovering from an accident, or taking care of a sick relative?

This will put them at ease, provided that the reason you give is a good one. But you can also add how your break benefited you in terms of the position you are applying for:

Tell them what else you were doing during this time.

Highlight anything proactive you did during your time off. For example:

–        “While I was taking care of my mother, I enrolled for a part-time distance learning course.”

–        “As I travelled through Southern Africa, I volunteered at a number of charity organisations.”

You can also add particular insights you gained during this time.

For example:

–        “While completing my studies, I realised that I work very well under pressure!”

–        “Being sick in bed for so long made me hungry to get back to work and do something great with my career.”

Were you struggling to find work?

What if you weren’t travelling, or studying, or sick? What if you simply couldn’t get a job?

Firstly, employers understand the struggles and reality of unemployment. They know this is often something beyond your control, and won’t necessarily hold it against you.

What employers are, however, interested in knowing is how you dealt with, or are dealing with, the obstacles of unemployment. This will show them what type of person you are, and what type of employee you will be.

Never spin a sob story.

You are at a job interview, not a charity organisation. So turn your long-term unemployment story into a tale of perseverance and determination. Don’t focus on the problem, but rather on how you are overcoming, or have overcome, adversity.

Emphasise pro-active behaviour.

Once again, make sure to highlight any proactive steps you took to improve your chances of securing employment. Did you take a part-time course during this time? Did you try getting odd jobs? Did you help out in your community? Did you take this time to help around the house a little bit more?

You want to show your prospective employer that you weren’t out of work because you were lazy and sitting on the couch watching TV.

Mention any significant obstacles you overcame.

You can also mention what obstacles you faced in finding work, and how you overcame them – or at least tried to overcome them. Focus on the results of your activities during this time (remember: this is not a sob story, but one of determination and perseverance!).   

Assure them that you are work-ready.

You want your interviewer to know that a spot of unemployment didn’t set your career back – or cause you to lose any of your skills or expertise. You can tell them you:

–        Made sure to keep your professional skills sharp at home.

–        Took a refresher course to make sure you kept up-to-date with industry advancements.

–        Kept up-to-date with industry news by reading trade publications.

Employers will ask about gaps on your CV

Always remember the following things

Whether you were unemployed, or taking a break from working, you should always remember these things:

Be honest in explaining the gaps.

Don’t lie or try to manipulate the truth. It is much easier to see through these than you might think. Though the truth might not sound as good as a lie would, most employers will give you credit for being forthcoming and having integrity.

Remember that the interviewer’s job is not to ‘find you out’ or penalise you, but simply to get to know you better and make sure you are the right candidate for the job. So be honest.

Don’t blab on and on.

Despite all the advice given in this article – you actually don’t want to focus that much on the gaps in your CV. Deal with the question as best you can, and move on to the next point:

Keep the focus on the future.

You want to quickly steer the conversation away from your problematic past, and towards the job at hand and why you are suited for it. You want your interviewer to see you as future-oriented and excited to build a career at their company.

The best plan is always prevention

At the end of the day, the best tip anyone can give you for explaining gaps in your CV is to be prepared! How are you going to tell your interviewer you took a short course during your time of unemployment, if you didn’t have the foresight to enrol for one? Ryan Healy, co-founder of Brazen Careerist, gives the following advice in Forbes business magazine for people taking a break from work or finding themselves unemployed: “volunteer, blog, freelance, or take online educational courses.”

So if you are experiencing a job drought, or if you are taking time off from work – do some volunteer work or take a distance learning course and make sure you have something with which to persuade future interviewers that you are the right candidate for the job.

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