"So, what were you doing from October 2014 to March 2015?"
It's a dreaded question in a job interview, having to explain a major employment gap on a resume. I have two gaps on my own resume - one spanning about four months at the end of 2013, and the other nearly six months between Fall 2014 and Spring 2015. In both cases, I ended my own employment with the companies I departed. The first was the result of a move from Arizona to Oregon, and the second was simply for the sake of sanity.
In both cases, as I dove back into the Land of Job Applications and Interviews, I was faced with a few concerns:
-What if they think my reason for being unemployed is lame? What if I look like a slacker?
-What if they aren't understanding of a personal situation?
-What if they cast my resume aside without even asking for the full story?
Some employment gaps are out of our control - a family emergency, or caring for a relative over a long period of time. Being laid off and struggling to find something new. Others might be a matter of choice: Starting a family. Taking a year off to travel Europe. It's okay to not work all the time, and it's okay to have unconventional reasons for it.
The key in explaining any employment gap is to be honest. No one wants to hire a liar, and if a potential employer does a little fact-checking and discovers that you've misled them, you can probably kiss that opportunity goodbye.
In the case of my 2014-2015 employment gap, I left behind two different jobs in the food/retail industry. I had no new prospects, and no plan. All I knew was that the environment and culture of those jobs was eating away at my mental and physical well-being, and it was time for a change. I decided to make the leap, and it would be nearly six months before I landed my next job. I took some time to myself, to recover, regroup, and re-center. Once it was time to job hunt, I discovered that it was harder than I'd expected it to be, but I kept going until I found what I needed.
As I get older, I'm learning there is no shame in admitting you need time to yourself, time to re-evaluate your life, time to heal the all-too-common wounds that stem from working a job where you feel overworked, undervalued, and disillusioned. I used to think I had to gush about my previous employers in an interview so I would look devoted and loyal. Now I'm realizing that it's okay to admit that a particular company or position might not have been the right fit, or that my values and needs didn't align with what was being offered to me. I'm learning that it's okay to say "That position didn't challenge me or fit with my long-term goals, but I'm looking forward to new opportunities in a new field that I'm passionate about, and where I believe I can thrive and contribute to the company's success."
Explaining employment gaps also provides an opportunity to share any stories of personal and professional growth you might have experienced during your time off. Maybe you took some classes, or attended seminars, or worked with a career counselor who helped you uncover your true passions. Anything you might have learned about yourself during that time is something you can share with an interviewer who wants to hear your achievements and ambitions.
When it comes to explaining a gap in employment, be conscientious of what a potential employer is looking for, but also don't hesitate to share the truth. What you did in those four months, or year, or five years, is part of your life experience, your story. Any employer who calls you for an interview is looking to get to know you. Don't be afraid to give them that.
Amanda Baczek is an aspiring graphic designer and current arranger of words (sometimes good ones.) She finds fiction writing to be the greatest antidote to reality, but has a passion for connecting with the outside world through all forms of the written word. A recovering worst-case scenario expert, she's learning to be okay with change and uncertainty, and hopes to help others discover the joy and freedom in listening to their creative heartbeat and following their craziest dreams.