There are a lot of reasons why people get nervous about interviews and their resumes. They might feel like they don’t have enough experience. They could be worried about a lie or exaggeration that they included. Or, the big one, they are concerned about having an employment gap. In my experience, a fear of having an employment gap is the primary reason why people don’t tell the truth about their careers on their resume or in interviews.
Somehow, we have this idea that we should leave high school or college, and then have a completely uninterrupted work history until we go to the grave! In fact, that does not happen for most people. There are often periods where you will be unemployed, taking care of your family, or taking some personal time off. Whatever the reason, a year or more in your work history is considered to be a gap.
So why do people get so scared? They are worried that this employment gap will make them look bad. But, as someone who has written countless resumes and has been a professional recruiter, I’m here to tell you that it’s far more complicated than that!
YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN BEING WORRIED
When I used to do public speaking for job networking groups, I would sometimes ask my audience how many people had a period longer than a year when they were not working. Most of the audience would raise their hands, and there would be an audible gasp in the room. I would say “Surprise! Look around. Employment gaps are much more common than you might expect.”
YOU DON’T KNOW THE PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE OF THE INTERVIEWER
You will never know the personal experience of the interviewer with their own gaps. You might be uneasy that you are returning to the workforce after taking several years to raise your children. But the interviewer might actually be envious of you because she had to put her baby into daycare at three months. She will never share that with you, so don’t make assumptions.
WHAT IS A CAREER SABBATICAL?
A sabbatical is a period of time when you are not on your intended career path. The years themselves can be important to include on your resume such as 2015 – 2017. You can call that time a “professional sabbatical,” a “personal sabbatical,” an “academic sabbatical,” or a “family sabbatical.”
DON’T CHANGE THE EMPLOYMENT DATES BEFORE and AFTER YOUR SABBATICAL
It may be enticing to change the dates of employment around your sabbatical to make it disappear. Don’t do this! It is much better to acknowledge the gap than try and hide it. It is usually acceptable to only include years of employment without the months to give a little leeway in the timeline.
TELL THE TRUTH – BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL EVERYTHING
You are not obligated to share all the details of your personal life with an interviewer. Maybe you had some health problems that are now resolved. Perhaps you were having a hard time finding a new job. You may have needed a timeout in your life. Everyone has their own reasons and their own boundaries with sharing personal experiences.
In the case of my “employment gap,” I would say, “I took some time to take care of my mother. She had Alzheimer’s and needed more help as time went on. She has since passed on, but I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to be there for her.”
That is all I would say. It would be hard for someone to be judgmental about that.
If the gap was because you were unsuccessfully looking for work, were in jail, or had another situation that makes you uncomfortable, then coaching might be helpful. I believe that people lie because they simply don’t know how to talk about their career decisions. But there is always a way to strategize and figure out how to discuss these matters in a way that will not reflect negatively on you or your experience.