Stepping back into the job market after a career gap, or if it has been a while since you left your last role, can feel daunting for many of us. You might be concerned with how to present yourself to a future employer, or how to answer questions about your time out of the workforce.
Whether the pause in your career history has been out of choice or circumstance, here are my top tips for feeling confident about finding your next role after a career gap and giving yourself the best chance of landing that perfect opportunity.
1) Be prepared to answer the question
The biggest faux pas you can make when you have a gap in your career history is not being prepared to provide an explanation for the gap. Whilst the vast majority of employers are understanding about people having gaps, they still want to understand your career history and the journey you have been on up until today – so make sure you have a comprehensive answer prepared for if this question comes up. You might even want to proactively bring this up to address the ‘elephant in the room’ in your cover letter or personal profile section of your CV. A gap in itself is rarely a red flag to an interviewer, more of a point of curiosity, but where it can become a concern to an interviewer is if you shy away from providing an explanation or are unable to confidently explain what happened.
2) Honesty is the best policy
Every week I work with people who are facing redundancy or have been made redundant and one question that comes up time and again is, how do I explain why I left my previous role? The simple answer – be honest. Being made redundant has no bearing on your performance in your role or ability to work effectively for your organisation, and now more than ever employers are understanding this after the large numbers of people that have been impacted by business restructures and might have found it’s taken a little longer to find their next opportunity. The same is true for other reasons for having a gap in your career history. People understand that life happens outside of work, but if you don’t authentically give a little bit of information, they may jump to their own more negative conclusions.
Likewise, if you were made redundant a few months ago and haven’t yet landed your next role, it is always worth being up front about this rather than trying to massage your dates of employment to make it look like you have only just left. You don’t want to risk being caught out later in the process and appearing dishonest during recruitment or once you start as a new employee.
3) Keep your focus positive
That said, there is such a thing as being too honest. Quite often when people have had a gap outside of their control, this can come with a lot of emotion. However, your next interviewer doesn’t need to know that you felt it was unfair you were made redundant, or that you had to stop working for a time because the burden of responsibility for looking after family members fell to you. Instead of focusing on any negative emotion that might be linked to your gap or your past employer, find a positive angle.
For example, it might have taken you a while to find the right opportunity following redundancy. You can focus on the positive for your future employer by explaining you have been selective over what you are applying for because you want the next opportunity to be the right one. Your time out of work might have allowed you to spend more time on your hobbies or interests outside of work and you have channelled time and energy into these instead. You are raring to go with your next opportunity and keen to get back into work. These are all positive things an employer wants to hear!
4) Talk about other skills relevant to the job or that show your character
A future employer doesn’t want to hear about the Netflix shows you have filled your day with in between making job applications. Instead, think about what you have learned during this time. Have you done any training or development that is relevant to your career, like learning a new coding language or completing a free Open University course? As well as enhancing your employability, these kinds of activities show something of your character, that you remain motivated and proactive on how to channel your free time for personal development. Or if you had time out to look after your children, what did you learn about time management, prioritisation and personal resilience? Think about the skills that are valuable to your next employer and look for ways you have strengthened or enhanced these in ways outside of your last employment.
And if you’re still at the point of securing that next interview, think about how else you can use this time to add to your skill-set. It can be tempting to think you need to spend all day every day looking for a job, but there are other job-related activities you can do with your time to also boost your employability like those mentioned above. Seeing if you can pick up some adhoc voluntary work in your community can also be a really positive thing to talk about on your CV or in an interview, showing personality traits that employers will find attractive.
5) Think about how your CV looks to a future employer
If you have a lot of gaps, or it has been some time since you were last in the workplace, you might want to consider a skills focused CV instead of a more typical chronological one, so that the reader doesn’t initially get distracted by timescales. This may come up eventually (remember, honesty!) but if you have already got the interest of the interviewer or recruiter by selling yourself and your achievements, they are much more likely to remain open minded when it does come to discussing your time away from work. At the very least, have a section at the start of your CV that talks about your key skills and achievements so this is firmly planted in the mind of the reviewer.
6) Have confidence in yourself
If your career gap was out of your control, or sometimes even if it was a conscious choice, it is easy for people to unduly worry about how this will look to a future employer and feel like they need to overly justify or explain the situation. Actually all an employer really wants to know is your story and is there anything in your background that is likely to make you an unreliable employee going forwards. If you have frequently left permanent positions out of choice with nothing else to go to, resulting in gaps in your CV, this might concern a future employer as to your reliability. Whereas, if you have taken a series of short, fixed term contracts or been made redundant from multiple jobs, this is an entirely different scenario and shows nothing of your reliability. If anything, it’s a sign of your resilience and tenacity to be able to keep bouncing back. Have confidence in the choices you have made and don’t let this hold you back from selling yourself to your future employer.
Want to find out more about how Connor consultants use our expertise to help you or your employees re-enter the job market with confidence? Get in touch to discuss redundancy or outplacement in more detail with us by completing the get in touch form (just fill in the form at the bottom of the page), or call +44(0)1491 414010.