Mind the Gap: How to Explain a Period of Unemployment on a Resume

(DGIwire) – It can be one of the most awkward moments of a job interview: the candidate struggles to explain to the interviewer why there is a period of months—perhaps years—between two or more positions. Whether the reason for the gap involved taking care of a child or something else, it is important to face it head-on. A recent article in Fast Company shared helpful insights on this topic for employers and employees alike.

One of the most serious reasons for a resume gap is being fired due to performance issues. “In these cases, it is important to use simple and concrete terms that don’t involve hostility, defensiveness or negative feelings,” says Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal, founder and president of Atrium, a staffing and contingent workforce solutions firm. “Be prepared to talk about it. If an interviewer senses reluctance or avoidance in answering questions about gaps, it creates distrust and distance, which will work against the candidate. That doesn’t mean the candidate needs to go into every detail, either.”

In any event, it is crucial to be upfront about any gaps. The worst thing a candidate can do, notes Fast Company, is to create doubt in the mind of an employer or hiring manager. Gaps in resumes are not as uncommon as some might think, and there are any number of plausible reasons for a job loss that have nothing to do with negative performance. The reason for the gap can also be addressed in the body of a resume, usually in as little as five to 10 words.

But don’t neglect to mention a gap. One of the biggest mistakes candidates can make is to be untruthful in an interview or on a resume. Any bit of information that someone has tweaked in their job history could potentially be found somewhere. It is better that this information come from the candidate themselves rather than risking having the employer stumble upon it—which could spell the end of any credibility that candidate might have built up.

Indeed, it can be useful to accentuate the positive where resume gaps are concerned. If a candidate used any of the “down time” during a gap to volunteer, attend new training, learn new skills or conduct research, it is important to spotlight these activities to the interviewer. These can demonstrate, for example, how the candidate managed to keep their skills current during the time not working in an office.

Perhaps most importantly, notes Fast Company, it is important not to stress too much about a resume gap. It is a fact that not every job works out—and that’s okay. Any candidate is doing themselves a favor if they enumerate the reasons why they think a job wasn’t a good fit and what they learned from the experience.

“Honesty, openness and providing an objective account of the gap is always the best policy for any candidate seeking a new position,” Cenni-Leventhal adds. “This communicates to the interviewer both a sense of seriousness and realistic thinking.”