What can I say if asked about gaps in my resume?
August 9, 2011 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I have some significant (like a year) gaps in my (not that spectacular to begin with) resume. What do I say about this in an interview, if asked?

Unfortunately, I wasn't doing anything especially fruitful during those times, like volunteering or studying or traveling or folding 1000 paper cranes...honestly, I was mostly hanging out at home reading random stuff on the internet, maybe cooking or exercising a little, but nothing cumulative or significant that I can think of to talk about in an interview.

I'm very worried about what to say if someone asks me about this in an interview - perhaps because I have a guilty conscience knowing that I wasted time (and also haven't put that much effort into job hunting.) I feel like on some level it shouldn't matter, because I'm extremely reliable and hard-working when I do have a job, but "I sat on my ass for a year, and for those 8 months a while back..." doesn't look good. (Random notes: gaps are never due to being fired, generally I've left jobs after sticking around for a while--and I'm in my late 20s.)

What can say that would be basically true, doesn't make me look horrible, and will allow an interview to move on to another topic?
posted by clever anonymous username to Work & Money (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
"I was looking for a better position."

In today's employment climate, there are a lot of people with gaps in their resumes. Once you get past the ridiculous "We only hire people who already have jobs" screening, it's easy enough to explain away.
posted by Etrigan at 2:41 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you cover the gaps by using only years for the dates in your job history?

For example, if your jobs/dates were:
*Bookstore clerk, May 2004-February 2006
*Library worker, February 2007-April 2008
*Non-profit office manager, July 2009-January 2011

You could truthfully list them as:
*Bookstore clerk, 2004-2006
*Library worker, 2007-2008
*Non-profit office manager, 2009-2011

People may assume there are gaps, but honestly I don't think they'll care as the above does account for all your time. As a hiring manager, I only started to wonder if there was an obvious gap of two years or longer.
posted by shiny blue object at 2:44 PM on August 9, 2011

Well, firstly, let them ask about it -- don't volunteer the information.

But if they do ask and you fancy trying honesty, how about: "I chose not to work because there were no suitable positions and financially I didn't need to"

I believe for a lot of (if not most) people, if they were as lucky as you to have someone support them financially, would also take 'gaps' between jobs. After all, for a lot of people work is just a means to survival and to allow them to do what they want two days out of seven. Why do you think so many people play the lottery every week.
posted by davidjohnfox at 2:51 PM on August 9, 2011

Response by poster: "I chose not to work" (or "I was looking for the right job" and the like) answers why I wasn't working, but it doesn't answer what I WAS doing with my time while I wasn't working.

Also, some of the gaps are from before the economy got so bad.
posted by clever anonymous username at 3:01 PM on August 9, 2011

They won't ask you.
There are too many other more important things to ask in an interview.

Said another way: if they do ask you then it's probably not a job you're gonna want to be at.

Your best preperation: be comfortable with it. If possible: enjoy it.
posted by Murray M at 3:02 PM on August 9, 2011

My resume is and has been bizarre (3 months training to drive oxen in NJ in 1999? check. That one was hard to get past for a while). Anyway, I use the years method that shiny blue object mentions. Has saved me and I've never really been called on it.

I'd rather have several one year gaps on my resume then being fired once...just saying. Worse things have happened.

I also feel like you might cop the attitude...what's it to you? I'm applying for this job in good faith, I want it and I'm going to work for it. What I was doing when for whatever reasons I didn't have to work in the past is not necessarily that relevant.

I mean, it is relevant, in a way. Because historically I have not stayed at jobs for super long periods of time. But I think I've always done pretty high quality work, more than what was expected and tried to improve things. So while I didn't give the stability an employer might have liked, I gave quality.

Not that you would say this all in your interview, but I think you could think it to yourself, so you don't feel like you need to apologize.
posted by sully75 at 3:02 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lie and claim you were doing caregiving for an ill relative?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:13 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My resume is on the spotty side in general, and I once had a phone interview that somehow devolved awkwardly into pressing questions about what clubs and sports I'd participated in in high school (none, my school didn't have any.)

I was 24 at the time and the job wasn't related to clubs or sports or kids, so I don't have a lot of faith that no one will ask how I've been spending my time.
posted by clever anonymous username at 3:16 PM on August 9, 2011

It's easy to assume that a resume you've read and rewritten over and over will be studied just as closely by potential employers. The fact is, resumes (even the good ones) are by definition boring and all much of a muchness. Generally, they will be skim-read, and sorted into 'interview' and 'don't interview' piles in a cack-handed, arbitrary manner. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that the essential skill they briefly mention at the end of a paragraph of text in a job description will be noticed: usually, it won't. Similarly, it's natural to fear that relatively short (and a year is, these days, relatively short) gaps in employment will be exposed by diligent recruiters going down the page cross-referencing dates. Very rarely will anyone bother. Put your employment dates as years, as advised above, or expand the dates by some months either way, then relax, and put your best into your interviews.
posted by cincinnatus c at 3:21 PM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

You can say you've been lucky to have had the opportunity to take a few sabbaticals along the way -- for personal study, some family matters, and, honestly, some good honest soul-searching about the career path that you want to pursue, which is why you are particularly excited to be considered for the X role at Company Y, since it really fits with A and B and C that you know are skills you have and/or are eager to gain, yada yada.

Answer the question non-defensively, but then pivot on it to use your answer time to YOUR benefit, which is to help reinforce why you're a great fit for this job and have s much to contribute to their enterprise.

They'd much rather talk about that than your personal life anyway.
posted by mauvest at 3:55 PM on August 9, 2011

You can say that you were attending to personal matters. That sounds overly formal and almost brusque typed out like that, but it absolutely doesn't have to come off that way depending on your delivery (friendly, open, matter-of-fact).
posted by Ashley801 at 4:14 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seriously, nobody cares. Lots of people take breaks, and if it was more affordable and more widely accepted in our culture, many more people would do so. It is pretty much never a red flag for me in my hiring decisions, especially if the candidate is otherwise appealing.
posted by judith at 6:24 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are in the US, I don't think you will be pressed for answers about this time, because there are too many possible answers that could lead the interview into possibly-illegal follow-up questions. For example:
- I was raising children.
- I was recovering from an illness.
- I was on a religious retreat/missionary work.

I think the clubs and sports question was probably to find out if you are competitive, or a team-player, or such.

If you are asked, you could go with the simple answer followed by an immediate redirect. Like this: "I spent that year doing non-work related activities. However, in 2009 I really enjoyed and excelled in the PertinentTask and my main job responsibilities were...." Don't even take a breath between the two sentences. Point at your resume on their desk as you say the year, to further bring their attention to the job you are discussing next.
posted by Houstonian at 7:10 PM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I was working on a number of personal projects" or "jam it up your ass it's none of your business I'm here to tell you work history not personal history" are the only real two possible responses here.
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:39 PM on August 9, 2011

It could be the interviewer is looking for a response that will spur more conversation. Something like "I watched a lot of baseball and practiced my bread baking skills-- it was so nice to have a break to work on XYZ" shows the interviewer that you're "well rounded" or a good small talker or whatever.
posted by travertina at 7:43 AM on August 10, 2011

I've hired quite a few people over the years, usually engineers. I think that dates on resumes are pretty important and trying to obscure them will for me at least lead to a pass on the resume. Fundamentally the chronological history of what a candidate has done tells you a lot about their character and what you can reasonably expect them to do in the future. There are two things I look for on resumes (beyond the obvious).

1) A series of short tenures at jobs. These can mean a couple of things. The candidate doesn't like to stick around and job hops or the candidate does well in an interview but then doesn't perform and leaves/gets laid-off.

2) Gaps between jobs. Because if point 1 is true, then no gaps could mean the first issue (job hopper) and gaps could mean the second.

I personally usually pass on resumes with the first issue - I really don't want a hire that's not going to stick around for a few years. Even if I have no clue of the reasons, I'll assume that past performance is the best indication of what will happen. If the candidate has a few runs of reasonable time, but has gaps (and assuming they claim the skills I'm looking for), then I'll make a point of asking what happened during the gaps. Why? because it will usually reveal something of the candidates character.

So now your sitting across from me and I'm asking about the gaps and about why/how you left the job, what are good vs bad things to say. First, I'm going to want to know how the gaps came about.

Getting laid off is OK, if lots of other people got laid off at the same time. Best excuse is the "the company closed" or "my whole department was nuked". If it was a 5% across the board lay off, and you were included then I'll assume that you were in the bottom 5%. Worst case is just you were laid-off. I have no problem if somebody has a gap while they were searching for work after a lay off, when the lay-off wasn't a reflection on them.

If a candidate voluntarily quit a job, without another job to go to, I'd question them pretty closely on the circumstances. To me it would indicate that they were possibly unstable or poor at dealing with stress. The only response to a bad situation being "I quit!". Probably the best reasons are, "the job/company changed into something different from what I was originally hired for" or "family reasons" such as "my spouse changed jobs and we had to move". Don't ever say "my boss was an asshole/I was bored/the job was too hard, so I quit".

So your problem is that when you had gaps you feel you didn't use them very productively. Frankly I think honesty is the best policy. Unless you're a pretty good liar, its really hard to get through a series of questions without getting caught out to some extent and any hint of dishonesty in a job interview is probably the end of it. So I would advise being honest. You could say, "I really didn't know what I wanted to do with myself beck then", the world is full of 20 somethings that haven't a clue what to do with themselves. You could say, "I wish I could say I used that time productively, but honestly I didn't and I regret that now". For me one of the key character traits I'm looking for is honesty. Statements from a candidate that reflect badly on themselves are actually a big positive, because it says they're honest even when there may be a cost to themselves.

The further back the gaps are the less important they become. You can't change history, but you can make it less relevant by building a more recent and more positive record. Good luck with the job hunting.
posted by Long Way To Go at 11:08 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

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