The Best and Worst Ways to Explain a Career Break

by Guest Author, Brianne Hogan

Finding a job is tough these days, especially given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic and recession, and, you know, life. A survey published earlier this year revealed that 68% of workers have experienced a gap in their employment, with 39% citing family responsibilities as the most common reason. Among the workers surveyed, 60% believe the gap has made it more difficult to find a job.

However, career and business coach Curtis Morley, Founder and CEO of The Entrepreneur’s Paradox, says employers view career gaps from a range of perspectives.

“Sometimes gaps are viewed as red flags, while other future employers understand that life happens,” he says. “I’ve hired people with career gaps who have been exemplary employees.”

How you explain the gap is as important as the gap itself, says Morley. There’s a right way to address it, and there’s a wrong way.

The best ways to address a career gap

Skill enhancement

When it comes to explaining your career gap, Morley says it’s key to be up-to-date on your skills, trends in your field, technical know-how, and relevant industry knowledge.

“This demonstrates you were proactive, and had a commitment to continuing education,” he explains. “List any courses, degrees, certificates or training you participated in while in the gap. Pursue things like certifications, workshops, or courses to enhance your skills and show your dedication to professional growth.”

If prompted during an interview, he suggests saying the following: “During my time between companies, I actively pursued additional training and education in [insert your skill/subject here] to enhance my capabilities in [your specific ability]. I was able to stay current with industry trends and expand my expertise.” You can also include that in your cover letter.

Sabbatical for personal development

Showing a balanced approach to life and a commitment to personal growth can translate to a more well-rounded and adaptable employee, says Morley. He cites a number of large companies, including Adobe, Bank of America, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Charles Schwab, Cliff Bar, General Mills, Hubspot, Intel, Microsoft, Nike, Patagonia, Paypal, PWC, Purina, REI, S.C. Johnson, Shopify, Timberland, VMWare, Whole Foods, Cliff Bar and Zillow as all having sabbatical plans for their employees, “[so they] will understand and possibly respect the decision.”

In a job interview or cover letter, he suggests the following script: “I chose to take a sabbatical to focus on personal development. My time away included volunteer work, personal and family development, and pursuing hobbies and activities to enhance my view of the world and create a balanced and enriched life. I’ve been able to see things in a new more global perspective and shift my paradigms on some important topics. This experience has provided me with a renewed sense of purpose.”

Freelancing or consulting work

According to Morley, taking on any freelancing or consulting illustrates “you are willing to stay engaged in your field, even during the gap. It demonstrates self-motivation, adaptability, and a commitment to continuous learning.”

When asked about it, he recommends saying the following: “During my career gap, I engaged in freelancing work to maintain professional skills and contribute to various projects in my field. I learned a great deal about managing projects and the complete flow of a business.”

Caregiving responsibilities

Life happens and sometimes we need to be there for our families. Morley says this isn’t something to dismiss. Instead, it “demonstrates strong personal values, loyalty, compassion, and adaptability. It also highlights transferable skills gained from the caregiving role.”

In your job interview or cover letter, you might want to tell the recruiter: “I took a break to fulfill some responsibilities of caring for a family member who needed me. It gave me a chance to learn some very real life lessons in empathy, emotional intelligence, love, and resilience.”

The worst ways to explain a career gap

Blaming others

“This is the fastest way to end an interview,” Morley says. “Don’t place blame on your former boss, co-workers, or company. Taking responsibility for the gap is professional. Blaming is churlish and will not bode well for you. Employers will take what you say and project into the future what you will say about them when you no longer work there. Focus on your own growth and choices.”

No explanation

You might think about avoiding mentioning it, but Morley says don’t assume the employer will miss the gap in the resume. “They most likely won’t. This is one thing recruiters and employers specifically look for in the higher process. Leaving it without an explanation creates doubt that can create enough doubt to disqualify you for the position.”

Vague explanation

Offering vague explanations won’t help either. “Trying to deflect or confuse the issue will most likely create suspicion and uncertainty,” Morley explains. “Employers may question your honesty and suitability for the role. Be clear, concise, and upfront so there are no questions left in the employer’s mind.”

Too much explanation

We can swing to the other end of the spectrum as well by over-sharing, usually when we’re nervous or embarrassed. But Morley stresses to share what’s relevant and important for your employer to know. “Leave the irrelevant and unimportant out,” he says. “Employers most likely will want to know why the gap was there but not the details of your yoga retreat in India. Over-explaining and irrelevant details about the gap can make employers uncomfortable and may not contribute positively to your application process or interview.”

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About the author: Brianne Hogan is a writer, editor, author, actor, podcast host. She has bylines in over 60 publications including the BBC, Men’s Health, Buzzfeed, Elle, the Washington Post. You can find her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/briannehogan/

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