We all recognise how daunting an interview can be. Preparing answers for every conceivable question, doing the company homework, learning intricate detail about the role on offer and paying more than one visit to the local coffee shop to make sure their range of delicacies will be just what we need for those early morning breakfast meetings.
Most of us are armed and ready to talk about our experience and show exactly how we can add value. But how many of us have prepared to answer that awkward question – the one we shouldn’t feel embarrassed about but that inevitably conjures up the need to apologise, excuse or justify profusely?
Why is there a gap in your employment?
There are so many reasons you might have taken a career break. Perhaps you chose to be at home with young children, needed a break for health reasons or just fancied a trip around the world whilst the time was right. There’s no reason to feel ashamed, our reasons are likely to be highly personal but also valid. Whatever the reasons, sharing and explaining can sometimes be difficult but, with employers desperate to understand, it’s essential we know how to handle the question.
The elephant in the room
Honesty is the best policy. Trying to hide it makes it look like you have, in fact, got something to hide. It might seem unfair but research shows that faced with an unexplained career gap on a CV, an employer will question the honesty of the applicant. A reference to your break from employment is a much better way of dealing with it than including no information at all. So, define your period of unemployment in the way you would a job role – give it a clear start and end date and label it as a Planned Career Break.
And remember it’s unlikely you’ve been sitting twiddling your thumbs the entire time; perhaps you were gaining further qualifications so reference these clearly and talk about your reasons for pursuing further education. Plus, there are bound to be heaps of transferable skills you’ve picked up from being a mum, a carer, a karaoke expert on a cruise liner – be proud of what you’ve accomplished in this time and take the opportunity to shout about how you can use your skills to add value in the workplace. Employers will respect your honesty.
No need to apologise
Here at Career Mums, we often hear from jobseekers who are worried about the gap in their CV. There is a fear that employers will offer judgment rather than understanding, leading some of us to take an apologetic stance.
Taking time out to have children or recover from illness doesn’t need an apology. But circumstances change over time so it can be helpful to explain that your children are now in full time education, or that you are fighting fit and ready for action. Employers will be grateful for the reassurance, and you are displaying a determination to fully commit to the role.
Focus on the positives
Multiple gaps might need a bit more explanation but it’s important to continue being honest. Structure your CV to provide examples that support a specific skill set, with academic qualifications and employment history summarised and cut down. By focusing on skills and achievements, rather than past jobs, you can talk in detail about your strengths, making gaps in career history seem less prominent.
The real you
Above all else, the aim of your CV is to show off your strengths. Knowing you are likely to be asked about a career break gives you the insight to prepare for the inevitable. Investing time and a little bit of love into your CV will pay dividends in the long run. The gaps in your employment are a part of your journey, be positive and reference them calmly whilst offering clarity.
The explanation you offer to your prospective employer can be another opportunity to highlight your strengths. Being able to slot directly into the team and perform the job successfully isn’t just dependant on qualifications – it uses life skills, personality, drive, determination, resilience and so many other positive traits that we don’t simply learn in education. Remember how much you have to offer and help an employer to see the real you.
We are here to support you! The Career-Mums team have been assisting working parents in their careers for over 5 years. If you’d like more personalised support to help you land your next role, book your Spotlight on your Career Coaching programme.
For further help and support around juggling life as a busy parent, check out our Working Parents coaching programme.
Join our Career-Mums Club free community on Facebook for regular support and inspiration as a working parent.
Career-Mums is proud to be a social enterprise