Bridge the Gap
Almost everyone, at some point in their career, will experience a period of unemployment. For some, it’s an intentional thing – a break to upgrade education, parental leave, or some time out of work to care for a loved one. For others, it’s the last thing they ever would have wanted. Perhaps their company downsized or shut down and their job was affected. Or worse, they were fired.
Have you ever experienced this? Losing a job unexpectedly, whatever the circumstances, is in fact one of the most stressful experiences a person will ever have. Worst of all, at the exact moment you need to project competence and confidence, those very things have been shaken to their core. And the longer you’re on the hunt for your next job, the more you may find your self-confidence slipping.
In any job interview following a gap in employment, you’ll almost certainly be asked to talk about what happened. It may be in your first series of interviews following that gap, or – if the period was long enough – it may even be years later.
When an interviewer asks you about a gap in employment, really they’re asking two questions. The first question is, “What happened to the job you had before the gap?” The second is, “Why didn’t you get another job right away?” The answer to the first may be straightforward, particularly if it was intentional or unavoidable like the examples above.
But what if you quit your job, or were fired?
First, and most importantly … never lie. Ever. Not even a little bit. Answering this question truthfully may be the most difficult moment in any interview, but you’ve got to power through it. This is where practice really does help. Rehearsing your answer so that the words roll off your tongue without stumbling is your best strategy, but this takes preparation, time and practice.
If you quit your job, be upfront about the reasons why, but in such a way that doesn’t sound overly critical of the company or your boss. It’s never a good idea to spend a first date talking about how bad your ex was, and the same principle holds true in this case. You can get the message across in a more positive light, like, “I made the difficult decision to resign, as I had a conflict with one of the supervisors. I really tried to resolve that conflict, but I wasn’t successful and I thought the best thing for everyone was to find a better fit.”
If you were fired, it’s a bit trickier. Being fired doesn’t make you unemployable, but any recruiter is going to be listening for a few things. They want to hear that you acknowledge your part in the situation, and they want to hear that you’ve learned from the experience, that you’ve corrected whatever needed to be corrected.
The challenge answering the second question, about the length of an employment gap, usually increases in proportion to the length of the gap. Of course, if the break from your career was intentional, it’s a simple matter to explain. If, however, you were actively on the market for a lengthy period of time, be aware that the recruiter is asking themselves why. Does it mean you’re lazy, and weren’t really trying hard to find another job because you don’t want to work? Or could it mean you’re unqualified in a way that the recruiter hasn’t yet found out? Even if the recruiter doesn’t ask these questions out loud (they won’t), you’ve still got to answer them. Again, there are a couple of critical things the recruiter is listening for. How motivated were you, and how did you use your time?
If you’re unsure about your answers to these questions, or your ability to deliver them confidently, this is a great opportunity to ask for some help from a friend or family member. Have them ask the question and rehearse your answer, keeping eye contact with them and keeping your tone of voice light and sure. Ask them for feedback, and keep refining it until you feel good about your delivery.
Good luck, and see you again soon.