Mind the gap

February 2021

Most people have got career gaps, meaning the dates on their CV
don’t quite add up. Here Karen Young outlines how you can explain
them at interview.

It’s not unusual to have gaps in your career. Periods of study, childcare, travel, jobhunting or redundancy among others are all common reasons to take a break in employment.

With life expectancies generally increasing, many will find themselves with little option but to continue working for longer. This is likely to bring about a greater number of non-linear career journeys and thus more gaps in employment.

Although the legitimacy of career gaps has become far more recognised by employers, you will likely still be required to address this on your CV and in an interview. So how can you do this in a way which helps promote you?

Five common career gaps

Although there are many reasons for having a career break, here are some of the most common ones, with advice about how to professionally and confidently discuss them if asked in an interview.

1: Time off due to illness

Remember, you’re not required to provide specific details of the illness. Instead, if you were able to invest in your career during your time off, this is a great opportunity to talk about it. Did you, for example, learn any new skills, keep up with industry news or volunteer in your community?

Demonstrate that you are ready to return to work and put an emphasis on why you think you are a good fit for the role in question.

You could say something like: “I left my last job due to a recurring medical condition which prevented me from working. I took some time off to recover and during this time I was able to learn more about the industry. Now, I’m back to full health and ready to take on this role. It builds on my existing skills and reflects my values and interests.”

2: Being made redundant

Redundancy is always a business decision and not something to be ashamed of. Many people have experienced this, particularly in recent times as a result of the pandemic.

Briefly explain the context around your redundancy – for example, due to budget cuts or restructuring. Then move on to examples of strong performance or achievements in your last role.

Also explain how you have used your time away from the workplace and how this puts you in a strong position to undertake the role you’re applying to.

3: Travel

It can work in your favour to focus on the reason/s why you decided to go travelling, emphasising your desire for growth, interest in other cultures and quest for gaining new perspectives.

Make it clear that you’re ready and excited about returning to work and what in particular you find interesting about this position.

For example: “I took some time off to travel, where I learnt about different cultures, gained exposure to new perspectives and learnt some life lessons. I’m now ready to focus on the next stage of my career. This role really stood out to me because of the opportunity to work with different teams, be creative and represent a market leader in an exciting industry.”

4: Job hunting

Looking for a new job takes time, particularly in challenging economic climates like the one we’re in currently. You might have heard that job hunting is a full-time job in itself, which employers appreciate now more than ever.

Explain how you have been proactively looking for a new job and how the process has gone so far. Make it clear that you are savvy when it comes to industry trends and areas of demand.

Potential employers will also want to know that you want this particular role, not just any role – so emphasising your enthusiasm will be key.

5: Caring commitments

Childcare or another caring commitment is one of the most common reasons for taking a break in your career. Be confident talking about how you paused your career to prioritise your family and look after your children, partner or elderly parent for example.

Impress employers by focusing on why you feel ready to go back to work and what you’re excited about. Here’s what an example answer might look like: “Earlier this year I became a father and needed to prioritise my family. I’m now ready to re-enter the workplace and excited to take on a new challenge to continue my professional and personal growth.”

Remember that there is no shame in having gaps in your career. Discuss these honestly and confidently, providing concrete examples of how you have used your time out of work effectively and why you’re excited about the position you’re applying for.

• Karen Young, Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance