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Explaining unemployment in a job interview

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Get the job 2 July 2015

So you’ve been unemployed or have taken time out from work. What if you’re asked about it at the interview? Can you respond confidently and quash any concerns that the employer may have?

Some employers read into long gaps and think that there’s something wrong with a candidate – they don’t see it as simply time out.

If you want the job, you’ll need to make the interviewer feel comfortable about those gaps in your resume. Here’s how:

  • Think of it as an opportunity. It’s better to be asked, than the interviewer make assumptions. There are all sorts of legitimate reasons to be off work for a period of time and this is your opportunity.
  • Come prepared. Have a succinct, but plausible answer prepared and practice it out loud until you sound relaxed and genuine.
  • Don’t blather on. Make sure you answer the questions succinctly and move right onto something more positive. A good answer can turn into “too much information” very quickly if you’re nervous and keep talking.
  • Keep it positive. Don’t think or say anything negative about your unemployment or your former employer.  It never looks good.
  • Show that you’ve been productive. Have you attended industry events, or even volunteered to help organise them? Perhaps you’ve used your skills for charity work. Check out SEEK Volunteer for some ideas. Sign up for online or short courses in your career field and you can say you studied and legitimately call yourself a student.
  • Explain what you learned. We learn from every experience in life. Look for the positive and spell out informal learning from your time off. Did the break help you focus? Did you gain more skills or improve your network whilst unemployed?
  • Be prepared to explain voluntary unemployment. If you quit rather than being made redundant your interviewer will probably want to wonder why. Have an answer ready – such as taking a sabbatical to plan your future, or to deal with a family situation.

We asked recruiters for sample answers you can use. Here’s what they told us:

“I was unfortunately made redundant in January 2015 and rather than starting a new role straight away, I took the opportunity to pursue my passion for windsurfing, as well as travelling, to visit South America, somewhere I have always wanted to see.” Greg Tadman, of Page Group.

“The gap you see in my CV was due to caring for my ageing parents who have been in ill-health for some time. Given the level of care they have required, I made the conscious decision to take a break from work in order to care for them full time.” Tadman.

“Following my redundancy I invested time in my professional development and attended various networking functions to exchange best practice, keep on top of the latest industry developments and expand my contacts.” Nick Deligiannis, of Hays.

“I have taken the opportunity to brush up on my skills by studying online full time during this break. As a result I have extended my knowledge and skills in (career field).” Jane Hollman of SEEK.

Remember. It’s all about being prepared. Know what you’re going to say, practice it on friends, and just do it.