Explaining Employment Gaps: Navigating Your Interview with Grace and Confidence

Handwritten text that says where do I start? to help people when explaining employment gaps.

Explaining Employment Gaps: Navigating Your Interview with Grace and Confidence

Let’s face it, life can throw us curve balls faster than a major league pitcher but that doesn’t mean we still can’t knock it out of the park. In the ever-evolving job market, layoffs and employment gaps have become more common than ever before. However, when it comes to interviews, these periods can often feel like blemishes on an otherwise stellar resume. The key to navigating this tricky terrain lies in explaining employment gaps and layoffs with confidence and honesty.

Understanding the Importance of Explaining Employment Gaps

First things first, it’s crucial to understand that layoffs and employment gaps are not the red flags they once were. The modern workplace is dynamic, and career paths are no longer linear. That said, the way you explain these periods can significantly impact your interview. It’s not just about what you say, but how you say it.

1. Be Honest but Positive

When faced with questions about employment gaps or layoffs, honesty is always the best policy. However, it’s equally important to frame your response positively. For example, if you were laid off due to company downsizing, focus on the skills you gained during your tenure and how those experiences have prepared you for new opportunities.

After five years at XYZ Corp, the company underwent significant downsizing, and my role was impacted. While it was a challenging time, I took it as an opportunity to refine my project management skills and even earned a certification in Agile methodologies. I’m now looking for a role where I can apply these enhanced skills in a new context.

2. Keep It Brief and Redirect

While it’s important to address employment gaps and layoffs, your goal should be to acknowledge them briefly and then steer the conversation back to why you’re the right fit for the job. Don’t dwell on the past; focus on the future.

Yes, I was out of work for a year due to a family health issue. However, I’m eager to bring my decade of experience in sales and my proven track record of exceeding targets to your team. Let’s discuss how I can contribute to your goals.

3. Address Layoffs Directly

If you’ve been laid off, remember that it’s a common occurrence and nothing to be ashamed of. Be direct about it, focusing on the situation rather than personal feelings or details.

The entire department was phased out as part of a strategic shift within the company, leaving me without a job. It was a difficult time, but it allowed me to reflect on my career path and focus on what I truly want to achieve professionally.

4. Don’t Apologize

Remember, there’s no need to apologize for an employment gap or layoff. Such events are part of the working world. Instead, focus on showing how you’ve grown from the experience.

There was a period last year when I was between jobs. Rather than seeing it as a setback, I viewed it as an opportunity to reassess my career goals and focus on professional development.

5. Highlight What You Did During the Gap

Employment gaps can be seen in a negative light only if you fail to show how you’ve used that time productively. Whether you took a course, volunteered, freelanced, or worked on personal projects, sharing these activities demonstrates initiative and a commitment to your professional development.

During my six-month employment gap, I focused on enhancing my digital marketing skills through an online certification program. Additionally, I volunteered my expertise to a local non-profit, leading their social media campaign. This period helped me stay sharp and ready to dive back into the workforce with fresh insights.

6. Explain How the Gap Makes You a Better Candidate

Turn your employment gap into a selling point by explaining how it has made you a better candidate for the job you’re applying for. Reflect on the experiences you had during your time off and connect them to the job requirements.

The year I spent traveling and volunteering abroad after a layoff gave me a unique perspective on cultural diversity and team dynamics. These insights have greatly enhanced my communication skills and adaptability, qualities that I believe are crucial for the global reach of this role.

7. Use the Experience to Demonstrate Resilience

Employment gaps and layoffs can serve as powerful examples of your resilience and ability to adapt to change. Use these experiences to showcase your strength and determination.

Being laid off was an unexpected turn in my career journey, but it taught me the importance of resilience and adaptability. I used the time to upskill, network, and eventually landed freelance projects that expanded my portfolio significantly.

8. Practice Your Response

Like any part of the interview, practicing your response to questions about employment gaps will make you more confident. Try to anticipate the questions and prepare concise, positive answers.

I took a two-year break from my career to care for a family member, which was a deeply rewarding experience. Now, I’m fully ready to return to my career, bringing not only my professional skills but also enhanced empathy and time management abilities.

9. Be Prepared for Follow-Up Questions

Interviewers may ask follow-up questions, so be ready to provide more details if necessary, but always steer the conversation back to your strengths and suitability for the position.

Following the layoff, I engaged in a variety of freelance projects that not only kept my skills sharp but also expanded my network within the industry. I’m excited to bring these fresh perspectives and connections to your team.

10. Maintain Confidence

Finally, maintain confidence throughout the interview. Your attitude towards employment gaps and layoffs can significantly influence the interviewer’s perception. Present these periods as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.

Yes, there was a time when I stepped back from the workforce to further my education. This decision has profoundly enriched my expertise and I’m thrilled at the prospect of applying this knowledge in a practical setting.

Explaining employment gaps during interviews doesn’t have to be daunting. By being honest, focusing on growth, and maintaining a positive outlook, you can turn potential vulnerabilities into compelling narratives of resilience and determination. Remember, it’s not the gap itself but how you bridge it that matters most to employers.

At Talent Front, we believe in the power of transformation and growth. Whether you’re navigating layoffs, employment gaps, or any other career challenge, remember: every experience, every gap, is an opportunity to learn and become an even more valuable asset to your future employer. Keep your chin up and your spirits high – the right opportunity is just around the corner.

About the Author


Marcia is the founder and CEO of TalentFront. She leverages her executive background in talent recruitment, leadership development, performance management, sales, and marketing to provide insightful recruitment solutions to a diverse range of clients. Her experience on both sides of the hiring equation helps her fully understand the struggle in finding and retaining top talent – and the reward in finding that just-right person.