The COVID-19 pandemic has already left more than 120 million people jobless in India. Unemployment is on the rise—the country’s unemployment rate reached a high of 24% in May, 2020—a significant jump from 7.7% just six months ago (in December 2019).
Yes, it's easier to explain the gap when half of the world was in the same rocky boat. But what if you were let go during a perfectly normal and booming economy and had to wait six months to get a decent interview? Or you took a sabbatical, a maternity leave, had to care for a relative, or were frustrated with the company and left without another offer in hand? What do you say to the hiring manager so they consider you the perfect hire in spite of the employment gap?
Is it really that bad to have an employment gap?
No, it isn’t.
It's true that we make our jobs the centre of our lives—everything else revolves around how well we perform at our jobs, the promotions and increments we get (or don’t), what our bosses think of us, and if we’ve got an in on the “inner circle.” But the trend is changing. People across the globe are learning how to balance their personal and professional lives. Some have even begun to consider breaks from work an essential rather than a privilege. Hence, if you’re worried about what others will think, don’t. Instead, focus on how you can stay updated with your industry during the break, learn new skills, and build a strong narrative explaining how the gap helped you discover something new about yourself.
5 ways you can rightly explain your employment gap:
1. Be productive during the gap
This is the juice—use all the free time you have to develop skills that will eventually help you perform better on the job. This might be easier said than done because not all of us take a sabbatical from work for fun. Some might be caring for a sick relative or might be unwell themselves. But if you look closely, each situation will teach you something that will be of use. You might learn how to make quick decisions under stressful situations or the art of negotiation.
Being productive during your employment gap is essential when you’re actively looking for another job. This happens in two situations—when you’ve left a job without another offer in hand or when you’ve been let go. Focus on learning new skills that are directly related to your job role or the profile you’re aiming for. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Hubspot have an ocean of courses ranging from writing and editing to mechanics and veterinary sciences.
We know what you’re thinking—how do you explain what you learnt when you went deep-sea diving, right? Look closely. Did you appreciate nature and decide to lead a greener life? The time when you panicked 100 feet underwater but trusted yourself to make it through to the end? Or the trick to get everyone to work as a team.
2. Be prepared to explain
Most recruiters mention this in the job description—be prepared to explain any gap longer than 3 months. This is not to weed out people or make applicants uncomfortable; they just want to understand if you’re the right fit for the organisation. Trust us when we say that any organisation that doesn’t ask about an employment gap or worse, rejects you for it out of hand, is not worth your time.
3. Be honest about the reason
Whatever will be will be, but don’t lie. One lie is all it takes to get yourself caught up in a web. Interviews can induce anxiety, and anxious people make mistakes. Imagine forgetting exactly what you said during that first conversation with the hiring manager and having to come up with excuses in later conversations when you’re on the verge of getting hired (or after you are hired!). A long gap in your resume is better than a liar stamp.
4. Show you're in-demand
Most of us make the mistake of taking the first job offered to us after a long break even if that means a pay cut, a mediocre role, or a longer commute. Mostly because we believe we won't get anything better than the offer in hand. Once the recruiter senses this, there is no way you can talk him into giving you that 40% raise.
Recruiters need to see you as a confident applicant who is taking time to find the right job—because you're in it for the long run. They need to know that you understand your value and aren't desperate for a job.
5. Don't sound apologetic
By now you agree that taking a break from work (or being laid off) isn't all that bad. Let your tone say the same. When explaining your employment gap, make it sound like you had everything under control and a fool-proof plan to land back on your feet. You don't need to feel or sound apologetic—you had your reasons and took that break. It's ok.
Resume Tip 1: Mention years and not months
This means you didn't work at a company from March 2017 to March 2018. You worked there from 2017 to 2018. See the difference? Even if you landed another job in November that year, your resume will show you were employed for the whole part of 2017 and 2018. Again, don't hide the truth. Be upfront and mention it to the recruiting manager.
Resume Tip 2: Explain long gaps in notes
If your employment gap exceeds 2-3 months, make sure to add a small note explaining it. You don't need to tell the whole story here. Just a line or two. Lines like "studied and practiced content marketing" or "cared for my mother during her illness" give recruiters the impression that you are confident and willing to explain.
An honest and well-prepared response to the dreaded “why the long gap” question is the only way you can ensure that an employment gap doesn’t hold you back in your career. Try these methods the next time you have to explain a gap and get that job you want.