Gap We’ve all heard some version of this advice at some point. Some people say it’s easier to get a job when you already have one. Others have said that a hiring manager will be suspicious if you’re unemployed, or you won’t have leverage in negotiations when it comes time for it.
The truth is, it diminishes the idea that there is a world outside of work; it invalidates the notion that as humans, we might need, want, or deserve a break — even the ambitious, career-oriented among us.
Ditch the dated outlook
There is nothing wrong with having a gap between jobs. For many people, this gap is a wonderful and exciting time to grow, slow down, reposition, follow passions, and shirk routine. Even if a gap was not part of the plan, it should not affect your marketability to a future employer. Times have changed, and an employee can still be loyal and committed even if they do not work every day of their adult life.
For employers, candidates having an employment gap should no longer come as a surprise. Today’s workforce is constantly exploring new working styles, prioritizing new experiences, and creating new iterations of work-life balance.
Having time off between jobs, whether planned, unplanned, or somewhere in the middle, can be an asset. It can give you space and clarity to position yourself to land your dream job — not just another role that matches your skills.
Overcoming the stigma
The reasons for having a gap between jobs are innumerable. Some are exciting, like traveling the world or completing a big passion project. others may focus on your health or the health of someone close to you. And some are unplanned, and may not be a wholly joyful experience.
Whatever the reason, it’s important not to let external pressure to justify your time off work rattle you. Maybe you feel the need to constantly explain to friends and family why you are not working. Or maybe you’re getting a lot of questions about how your job search is going, even if you are not actively searching yet. Some people may even pry into how you’re making it work financially.
While taking a work sabbatical is becoming more common, it is not uncommon to be met with confusion from well-meaning people. As a society, we can do a better job of celebrating these acts of breaking the work routine, rather than scrutinizing them. Individually, we can remind ourselves that we don’t owe anyone a justification and can decide how transparent we want to be. For example, you can say something like this:
“I realized one day that I had been working non-stop for a decade! I have always dreamed of taking a sabbatical to focus on other passions in my life. I’m so glad I finally made it happen. I know another job will be there when I need it.”
Communicating employment gaps
At last, the time has come to start looking for your next opportunity. When updating your resume and LinkedIn, you have options for how you want to communicate these gaps from work. Remember, it is possible not to mention it at all; if your gap is fairly short (one to three months), you can choose to omit it altogether.
If you decide to include it, there are many ways to bring it up confidently. Check out these different approaches and consider which one is the best for your situation:
- The Enthusiastic Mention: Add your gap in line with your other jobs, detailing what you did. For example:
- “January-March 2018: Traveled The World”
- “November 2019 to February 2020: Professional First Time Parent.”
- The Skill Share: If you learned a new skill, took an online course or received a certification, mention it here. You can do this even if it only took up part of your time off. For example:
- Online training in Public Speaking
- Certificate in Design Thinking
- SQL Basics course
- The Straight Shooter: Keep it very simple by generically listing independent work. For example:
- Independent Contractor
- Freelance Projects
- Pro-Bono Consulting
- The Honesty Policy: Give a window into your personal life, and just tell it like it is. Depending on your style, you can infuse it with humor. For example:
- “Finally learned to cook”
- “Prioritized family and travel, instead of meetings and deadlines.”
- “Did absolutely nothing, and it was wonderful.”
By being creative and honest, you might even catch a recruiter’s eye, standing out among other applicants. Whatever you do, remember to own your decision and explain it with confidence.
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How to frame time off to recruiters and hiring managers
Getting back into job hunting can be both energizing and anxiety-producing. Don’t add to the stress by agonizing over how a recruiter will react to your gap in employment. Taking planned time off shows a sense of thoughtfulness and self-awareness, which is an excellent asset. Meanwhile, recognizing that it was a good point to leave your old job — perhaps before a big new project — shows strategic thinking.
It is important to realize that depending on the length of your time off, the recruiter may not even notice. If they do notice, chances are it is not very important to them. A good recruiter or hiring manager wants to talk to you about your prior experience, your skills, and what you can offer the company. They are not a detective on the case of why you didn’t work for six months.
The best-case scenario is that the recruiter or hiring manager is outwardly supportive. If you are enthusiastic about the time you took, share that enthusiasm with the recruiter. You don’t need to tell a long story; practice your explanation in two or three sentences.
Consider using this format to frame your message:
- Sentence 1: How you recognized it was time to move on from your previous employer.
- Sentence 2: What you hoped to do or accomplish during your break from work.
- Sentence 3: Why you are excited and ready for your next opportunity.
- Sentence 1: “I loved my experience at my previous company, but when my role shifted, the work moved away from the creative projects I was passionate about.”
- Sentence 2: “I had spent so many years waiting for the right time to try my hand at freelance writing, and then I realized there’s no such thing as the right time, so I did it!”
- Sentence 3: “After four wonderful months of writing every day and finding some success in getting published, I am excited to find a company where I can contribute creatively and work with a team that shares my values.”
If a prospective employer scrutinizes your work gap, it could be a red flag
Companies should be looking at your resume to see your experience, not scrutinize your career timeline. Of course, looking to see tenure and promotions within a company is key information for recruiters, but getting hung up on dates or excessively analyzing gaps in employment is a bad sign. Instead, good recruiters are looking to match the right person with the right role.
Job searching can feel like a full-time job and can be exhausting to balance with work. They should understand that sneaking around to interviews, using valuable PTO for onsites, and tweaking your resume constantly is a lot of effort. A recruiter should be impressed that you are dedicated to finding the right job, not just desperate to escape your last one.
On the flip side, a good hiring manager will ask you about your employment gap because they want to understand the way you think and how you deal with different types of situations. If the interviewer grills you about your employment gap or seems to be trying to pry additional information from you, that’s a red flag. Reconsider if this is the type of work culture and individual you want to work with.