How to Explain a Career Gap

Career breaks on a resume or CV are not uncommon and can occur for any number of reasons, with illness, maternity/paternity leave and redundancy by far the most common. Explaining these types of gaps in your employment history to a potential employer is straightforward. If they took place 10 years ago, the likelihood is that you don’t need to include them. If it is more recent, then the best approach is to be open and honest about it – don’t try to hide it.

However, what if you decided to take a career break or sabbatical for other reasons, to go travelling for instance? Believe it or not, this is not uncommon. In fact, one national online publication highlights that ‘mature’ gap years are on the increase, with 42 being the average age of someone choosing to do so, and, according to a report published by the Post Office in 2015, over a quarter of all over 55 year olds were considering taking one. This is a reverse trend of what is happening with student gap years, where the number of students picking up their back packs is in a decline as they opt instead to focus on gaining valuable work experience in a tougher market. We have also seen an increase in this trend through the support we provide to individuals impacted by redundancy, with more people opting to take time out to travel, reflect and refresh before securing their next role.

Whatever the reason for your ‘career break’ the same approach should be adopted to explain other gaps in your employment history – be open, honest and confident about it, and importantly, don’t feel you have to justify it. After all, taking a break mid-career can have a number of benefits for both the individual and future employer. It can help to re-energize and re-focus you, providing new perspectives and approaches to your role through the experiences you have gained, which will ultimately benefit any future employer.

In all reality, discussing your career break will only form a very short part of any interview – if any at all, as the interviewer will be concentrating more on your abilities to do the role and how you will fit in. That said, it’s still prudent to prepare for any potential questions, making sure you provide a concise and focused statement.

A useful approach is to think of it as telling your story – not a blow by blow account of what you did, regardless of how interesting it may be. It may be useful to think of it as preparing a business case; building your response around the following questions which will provide you with a robust structure and prevent deviation into too much detail:

• Why you decided to take time out for your career?
• What did you want to achieve from it?
• What did you gain/learn from it?
• How has taking a career break changed you as a person and how will it benefit your future employers?
The key is to demonstrate that what you did during your time out added value. You will undoubtedly be able to draw on a range of experiences to demonstrate how you have grown – so make sure you highlight these. For example, if you took time out to travel for culture you will have a better understanding of how to best engage and work with international customers or team members. Likewise, any difficult situation you encountered would have developed your resilience and your problem solving skills – which are always highly sought after.

Career breaks on your resume shouldn’t be feared. With a bit of reflection and preparation, explaining a break in your employment can actually help you to uncover new skills that you may not realize you had. And remember, employers are more interested in your ability to do the role you are being interviewed for, so don’t overthink things.
Bev White