August 22, 2021 | How To Explain A Gap In Your CV? Professional Development, Personal Development, or Wasted Time?

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A Gap In Your CV: Professional Development, Personal Development, or Wasted Time?

Many of us take a gap year at some point in our lives – to look for new experiences, to broaden our horizon, to meet new people, to experience a long honeymoon. Or, to just rest after a draining project. Or, to finish old projects and look for new jobs in order to find new career options  for a period of time. Or, to take time to heal from some illness. A gap in your CV is nothing unusual, and certainly not a reason to feel ashamed!

However, when it comes to job interviews, one needs to be careful talking about a gap year. If your CV contains a gap lasting for longer than 6 months, the recruiter will likely ask you about it. In some countries, like the US, the gap in your career path will draw attention even if it was as short as 2-3 months!

A Gap In Your CV: Is It a Real Problem?

So, is the gap in your CV a problem for real? Well, in some circumstances, it might be. The recruiter doesn’t know you at all, and a gap might suggest to them that you are lazy, entitled, and unfocused type (often referred to as a “snowflake“), or that you have issues with finding jobs in general. Recruiters are hired to eliminate all the potential trouble makers, and a gap in your CV is one of the loudest alarm bells to them. Therefore, depending on how you frame your answer, this question could make or break your whole interview! So, how to ace a job interview? 

On the good side of things, according to Business Insider, gaps in a CV are not as much of a problem to employers as they used to be in the past. Namely, today, employers are more welcoming to candidates with a gap in their CV as long as this gap is well explained, possibly as early in the process as possible (e.g., in the letter). In other words, it doesn’t pay off to try to ignore the elephant in the room.

It is all about openness, integrity (as mentioned in our recent article “Integrity: Why Is It Important For Your Professional Development and Why Do Employers Seek Integrity?”) and building trust. Employers want to know about the reasons for the pivotal decisions in your career to better predict your future behavior and reaction to problems, that’s all.

And, believe it or not, regardless of what you were doing in your gap year, you have plenty of constructive things to say here. It is all about self-reflection and preparing before the actual interview! If you would like to receive more training related to preparing for job interviews and landing great jobs, you are most welcome to join us at our intensive online career transition workshops! Please find all the information and registration links HERE.

What NOT To Answer To The Question, “Why Do You Have a Gap in Your CV?”

First to say, in principle, there are 3 things you shouldn’t be talking about when asked, “Why do you have a gap year in your CV?”

1. Excusing yourself and talking about why you don’t have a job at the moment.

Many job hunters excuse themselves. Namely, they make excuses about why they didn’t find a job just yet, quite as if it was a reason to feel guilty. Focusing on what you didn’t do rather than on what you did is always a bad idea! It just reinforces the recruiter to think about the gap in your CV as a problem rather than a positive thing.

Don’t ever be sorry for your career gap at a job interview! There is the time conservation law – while others were working, you were occupied with other things and growing in another way, whether it was caring for your family, starting your own business, writing a book, or just resting, rediscovering yourself, and planning your future and career development strategy. 

Besides, career breaks are the new norm. According to a global survey of 22,995 workers and 4,017 hiring managers conducted by Censuswide on behalf of LinkedIn (January 2022), the majority of professionals active today took a break at least once in their careers. Moreover, A recent report by ManpowerGroup reveals that 84% of Millennials plan significant career breaks for the future. Therefore, as a person with a career break you are a member of the overwhelming majority – and the recruiter should appreciate your honesty sharing your professional story!

2. “I was looking for opportunities (to read: ‘a job’) for a long time now, but I could not find anything suitable.”

It is a bluntly honest response to the question, yet, it doesn’t leave the recruiter with the best impression as it suggests that you are not competitive enough in the job market. Recruiters are sensitive to the same cognitive errors as anybody else while interacting with other people.

One common cognitive error you might be familiar with is the scarcity effect. Namely, we tend to chase after people who are naturally busy and occupied with themselves rather than those who are needy and seek attention. Informing the recruiter that you made a lot of effort to find another job might sound to you like you treat your career seriously. To the recruiter, however, it might sound like you are simply not competitive enough in the job market. Or, alternatively, you are picky or undecided. 

3. “I was traveling and looking for my way in life.”

As much as traveling around the world is justified when you are twenty, it is not necessarily the case when you are 35 or 40. The recruiter might be thinking, “There was way more and enough time to figure out who you are in the past – why do you still need time for it right now?” It just doesn’t make the best impression. It would make more sense if you relocate for an internship or to try another, exotic profession in another part of the world. But, traveling for the sake of traveling at 30+ sounds more like running away from life and responsibility than anything else.

 

So, what to respond to the question? First of all, you need to remember that a career break doesn’t need to be your handicap at the interview. When pitched properly, it can become one of your selling points.

Special Case #1: When Finishing Projects in Free Time Is a Standard.

In some working environments such as academia, it is, unfortunately, a standard, and an expected attitude, to finish projects after the funding dries out. Should you mention finishing projects in your free time? Yes – for as long as you frame it properly! 

For instance, if you say, “I didn’t manage to finish my project in time, therefore, I spent another few months on it,” it won’t sound any good to the employer. It will basically suggest to them that you don’t deliver in time. However, if you say instead, “Unfortunately, the funding for my project dried out. However, I love the topic and I felt responsible for the project and the team, therefore, I decided to stay and finish it in my own time,” that’s the whole new story!

You should know that today, employers have a lot of problems with loyalty, namely, with the  employees who drop projects before the project launch just because they spot a better opportunity in the job market for themselves. So, if they hear that you never jump the ship and that you are a person who successfully brings the projects to the end no matter what, they will consider it a strong advantage of yours!

Special Case #2: Were You Physically Ill?

If a disease prevented you from working, you should definitely mention it! There are two main types of illnesses that affect productivity and the ability to work: physical and mental illnesses. The point is: in general, physical illnesses are not contagious and if the employer can feel relatively certain that the illness will not come back, they won’t have any problem with it.

Besides, a physical illness is also a logical reason that well explains why you were away from work. The recruiter will feel safer about employing you when they know what happened in this mysterious time when you were away from the job market.

You can also use this occasion to share a heartwarming story of you missing your profession while being sick. (if it’s true, of course! :)) Employers love to hear that, as stories of successful comebacks always motivate other employees to appreciate what they have in their professional lives.

Warning: The situation is different when it comes to mental illnesses. Of course, it is not a shame to feel down, especially in the hard and uncertain times that we have now in the job market. Everyone can get a burnout. It is actually one of the most popular origin stories of companies in the first place – a corporate employee getting a burnout and deciding to go their own way is a classic scenario! But please look at the situation from the hiring manager’s perspective.

Mind that the hiring manager doesn’t know you as a person. They have to make an important, binary decision solely based on the first impression of you. Even if they find you a competent professional with a vibrant personality, they might extrapolate the fact that you got a long-lasting burnout and project it onto the future.

They don’t know why you happened to suffer from burnout in the first place! They have no idea if you had a particularly hard situation back then, or rather, you cannot cope with stress in general and break under any smallest challenge. Therefore, they will be afraid of the possibility that your low mood comes back. For more, mood tends to be contagious in teams closely working together. Therefore, employers can also fear that a burned-out an unhappy employee can spread the mood to everyone around them. Hiring such a person is, therefore, a risky business for them. 

Of course, today, we hear a lot about global mental health problems in the media. Employers are not blind; they are aware of the problem and notice decreased productivity and lowered mood among their employees. Therefore, to a certain extent, they will be understanding of the fact that you felt unwell for a period of time. If you reveal your mental state, you definitely hear words of understanding and support from the hiring manager. However, regardless of how sympathetic they behave, between two candidates they will always choose the high-energy one. This is the reality.

For all the aforementioned reasons, it is better to keep your mental-health related problems to yourself at the interview, just to keep safe.

And now, what to say if none of the above happened within your gap year? Well, you have a ton of options! To list just a few:

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #1: Professional Development and Increasing Professional Qualifications.

Today, careers are not as linear anymore as they used to be in the past. More and more professionals decide to change not only jobs but also professions during their professional lives. And often, quite a few times! (as nicely explained for example in Emilie Wapnick’s best-selling book “How To Be Everything?”). Obviously, changing career paths naturally causes incubation time and delays between subsequent jobs – and employers understand that!

The field research by ResumeGo revealed that applicants with gaps in their CV are, on average, 45% percent less likely to get invited to an interview than others. The difference was especially pronounced for professionals with a gap lasting for more than three years. According to this study, the employers were the most welcoming to the candidates who named extra education as the main reason for the gap in their CV.

Therefore, the first thing you should think of is courses that you took during the gap – especially if you are going for jobs in one of the competitive sectors of the job market such as AI or biotechnology, where innovation happens every day and the landscape of cutting-edge technologies in the market changes year by year. The recruiter will enjoy to hear that despite your career gap, you keep in the loop and

Of course, some of the courses that you completed within this time might have been more relevant for your professional life than others. Coding courses, self-development courses, foreign language courses – they all matter for your long-term professional development, hence, they are worth mentioning. Yes, Coursera courses count too!

Of course, it is better to name courses that allow you to produce some viable output such as a GitHub folder. But in any case, courses are evidence that you are proactive and care about your personal and professional development.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #2: Building a Professional Network.

Have you attended any conferences, meetups, hackathons, or any other professional gatherings during your gap year? Well, in that case, you should mention it! Building a professional network is also a clear evidence to the recruiter that you always go forward. And, that you understand that today, business is built on trust, bonds, and relations.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #3: Working on Your Productivity.

Have you tried any methods for increasing your productivity, such as Pomodoro or other techniques? Well, it’s also good to mention! Although increasing your productivity shouldn’t be the main scope of your response to the question, it will be seen as a positive trait if you mention your practices. The point is: better to talk about what you did – even if these are small improvements to your professional qualifications – than focus on all the things that you didn’t do.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #4: Creating Content.

Were you creating any type of content in your gap year? Did you write a blog or create video content such as YouTube movies? Or perhaps, you were occupied with journaling? What recruiters need right now is creativity, focus, and communication skills.

In times of short text messages and emoticons, most professionals are less and less capable of creating focused content and vocalizing their thoughts and emotions properly. If you are able to write and/or speak in a structured and engaging way, it will be interpreted as your professional strength by the recruiter. Plus, of course, taking your own initiatives and creating content out of sheer interest is a sign of genuine interest in a subject matter, energy, and proactivity. 

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #5: Voluntary Work.

Did you volunteer to organize any event, or participate in any non-profit initiative? Even weekly meetings of some local Hackerspace group, a local business club, or any other local initiative are good to mention. After all, it is evidence that you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, that you are sociable and a good networker! And, that you always keep yourself in a loop. Of course, online events count!

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #6: Running Your Own Business.

Did you perhaps made an attempt to launch your own business or a freelance practice during your gap year? Many professionals skip mentions about their business in case it didn’t work out. This is a mistake! The recruiter would rather hear that you made an attempt to become an independent professional, yet for some reasons you failed, rather than that you travelled around the world and made beautiful photos of yourself in the capitals of 18 countries. In business, failure is not really a failure – apathy is.

Plus, employers know best how hard launching the business might be. They will definitely value a candidate who had enough courage to try. And, they will want to put your entrepreneurial spirit into play in their own business!

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #7: Learning About Economy.

According to the common stereotype, employers prefer to hire employees who are dependent, insecure, and in debt. Where’s in reality, they enjoy employees who are relaxed, happy, driven by their personal mission rather than the necessity to make quick bucks, conscious about how the economy works, and interesting to talk to in general terms.

Plus, people naturally lean towards money-aware individuals! Therefore, if during your gap year, you spent some time learning about the economy, making investments, and building a financial cushion, you might simply say it. Just frame your response in a way that suggests to the recruiter that you think about your professional development and professional future seriously. That you are someone who builds financial safety to function better as a professional and to make more responsible decisions. You will see that the recruiter will highly enjoy your response and will feel encouraged to keep you around!

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How To Explain A Gap in Your CV? Conclusions.

Regardless of your employment status, there are plenty of activities that you might mention when asked “How did you spend your gap year?” Remember to focus on all the investments in yourself that you’ve made within this time, and all the new knowledge, contacts, and habits that you’ve acquired. Most job hunters start excusing themselves when asked this question, so if you take this progressive approach, you will certainly stand out!

If you are active in a highly competitive job market in which a gap in a CV might be a huge red light, you can also try to prevent this problem. When you lose your job or decide to take a break, you can start another initiative on your own just to cover this gap and have good arguments later on.

For instance, if you live in a country where starting a business is not associated with any steady costs, such as The Netherlands (where registering a sole proprietorship only costs 50 EUR paid on the day of the registration), you could register a company the next day after you finish your contract. Then you make a simple website for the business, call yourself a “freelance consultant” and you are good.

Alternatively, you could also start a blog, a YouTube channel, or any other initiative that might potentially turn into a business. If the starting date is right at the time then your contract expires, it effectively means that you have no gap in your CV. No one can blame you for being entrepreneurial and trying to get independent as a professional!

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Are you thinking of changing your career path? Would like to get an intensive training oriented at discovering your identity as a professional in the job market, and learning effective strategies for landing great jobs? Please join us at our intensive online career transition workshops! We will help you choose the right career path, help you land your new job, and teach you self-navigation strategies that will guarantee your success in professional development, and stay with you for a lifetime! Please find all the information about the workshops and registration links HERE.

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, August 22nd). How To Explain A a Gap In Your CV At The Job Interview? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/a-gap-in-your-cv-how-to-explain-yourself-at-the-interview/

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