How to Explain a Job Gap if You Didn't Do Anything During the Gap

February 8, 2016

Unfortunately, as much as you (or I) believe this, it’s not something all hiring managers are comfortable with. I reached out to Muse career columnist Caris Thetford to chat about this dilemma of the unaccounted-for job gap. Thetford, who is a serious proponent of self-growth and development, suggests that a change in mindset may be appropriate. “Maybe you think you should have been more productive during your gap, but unless you literally just sat around watching all of the series available for free on Amazon Prime, you probably did something during your break that you can use to your advantage,” she explains. 

Remember in high school when you relayed an edited version of your weekend shenanigans to your parents? In a similar fashion, “you'll tell your potential employer an edited version of your employment gap.”

Of course, Thetford supports owning up to being burned out and needing time to deal. Nonetheless, you don’t need to reveal that you slept in until noon each day, that you became skilled at making pancakes for breakfast and dinner, and that you reread all of the Harry Potter books. Twice. Instead, be frank about your need to take some “me” time, maybe mentioning a journal you kept, a new publication you discovered, or a lesson you learned that you can in any way relate to your career (e.g., “Spending so much time away from my computer reminded me of the importance of simplicity in my life, as well as in my approach to digital marketing…”). If you took time off to travel, talk about that. It’s really OK if your trip wasn’t with Habitat for Humanity. 

And, if you realized after getting laid off or quitting that a career change is in the cards, play up the preparation involved in making that move. Talk about the steps you took to connect with people in your new industry of choice. Discuss ways you researched the field and courses you plan to take to be even more marketable. Remember that you’re editing your job gap in a way that a potential employer would find acceptable. As Thetford points out, “If you spent some time connecting, reading, and preparing to go back to work, that's what you want to highlight.” 

Bottom line: You can paint an honest picture of yourself without making the entirety of your personal life a near-stranger’s business. The job gap is never really unaccounted for if you can find a way to positively account for your time.

Chicago City Hall
  • “The decision to leave my former firm was difficult, but the thought of conducting a job search in Chicago while continuing to practice in Indianapolis was simply overwhelming. Fortunately, I was referred to Alan Rubenstein by a friend. Alan’s knowledge of the Chicago legal market and the different cultures within various law firms was invaluable. The information and resources Alan provided gave me a competitive advantage and allowed me to negotiate a superior arrangement, but most importantly, he helped me select the firm best suited for my personal and professional goals. I have since referred several of my friends to Alan and they have each had equally rewarding experiences.”

    Robert T. Buday, Partner

    Latham & Watkins