Last week LinkUp partnered with Dress for Success to host a “Day of Success” that included resume reviews, mock interviews, headshots, and a professional panel presentation. One important question that came up was how to best address a break in work so it isn’t a detriment to your job search.
Taking an extended career break is the reality for many people for various reasons. One of the most common is to care for young children, but it also can be to care for an elderly parent or for your own personal medical issues, among other things.
Many people attempt to skirt the subject of a break or tell a white lie that they think will better reflect the “time off.” Despite the temptation to do either of these things, it’s important to resist. Employers will notice a break on your resume, so it’s best to address the situation so they aren’t left guessing.
If you took time off to pursue a degree, relocate your household or because you were laid off, the situation is fairly straightforward to discuss. Yet when it comes to caring for loved ones, it is often much more of a struggle. Remember, you should never be ashamed of taking time off for family as it’s hard work and a labor of love.
What’s more, caring for your family — children, partners or parents — should be respected. People spend years getting degrees to be teachers and caregivers, so the fact that you are doing this by choice is no less important. Plus, because you’re doing it full-time, it’s actually much more work than people who do it as a profession for just part of their day.
No matter the reason for the break, there are some best practices for addressing it while job hunting so you can transition back into the professional world seamlessly:
Be proactive: Employers may ask you about a gap, but they can’t probe into the details due to anti-discrimination laws that make it illegal to discuss someone’s marital status, children or medical conditions. Share as much information as is necessary so they don’t have to wonder about the reasons for the hiatus.
Be honest: Demonstrate your honesty and integrity addressing the gap head-on. You may want to add a few sentences to your cover letter to tell your story. As for interviews, just like preparing any other response, practice how to explain the gap so you can do so with confidence.
Don’t apologize: There’s no need to apologize, and in fact, you may share that you’re grateful for the time off. Women in particular struggle with being direct so that means if you are a mom who took time off for your kids, stop feeling bad and don’t say you’re sorry, because you shouldn’t be.
Keep it succinct: You don’t need a lengthy explanation. Address the gap and then move on to why you’re the best fit for the job.
Discuss gained skills: A work gap doesn’t mean you didn’t enhance your professional skill set. Play up the skills you learned while on leave, such as organization, communication, multitasking, agility and the ability to respond to the unexpected quickly.
Focus on enhancements: On your resume and during interviews, mention any volunteer and freelance work that took place during your break. This shows you are well-rounded.
Add education: List and discuss education including certifications, course completions and professional classes taken during the gap. Even if it’s a community education course, it’s a worthwhile mention if it’s related to your career. Plus, educational descriptions provide keywords that can be scanned by applicant tracking systems (ATS).
Be passionate: Always reiterate your interest in the position and show you are hungry for a new challenge. Stress you’re recharged and ready to get back in the workforce and want to make a difference. If you show your enthusiasm, you will stand out in a positive way.