Courtesy of Laurel & Wolf
The job market has dramatically shifted in the last decade—there have been serious peaks and valleys since the recession, and the way we work has changed. According to Fortune, people say they’d take an 8% pay cut to be able to work from home, and perks like unlimited vacation, parental leave, free meals, and more are keeping employees happier longer. But if circumstances have required you to be out of the workforce in this current climate, you might be afraid of re-entering such a new landscape.
If you’re embarking on a slew of job interviews, it’s not all bad news. Companies are becoming more flexible and open to your potential (they want to keep you longer, too!), which means there is more opportunity for you to not only prove yourself on a professional level, but on a personal level, too. If you’ve had to step away from your career, be it because of a failed business, starting a family, or caring for a loved one, listen up—there are ways to effectively explain your time away without apologizing or belittling your gap in experience. Here, two career experts explain how to navigate the inevitable interview question and still get the job of your dreams.
Your Startup Failed
If you’re concerned about explaining a failed business venture, don’t worry; the trend to start your own business is becoming more popular. “There’s a trend of more and more people trying their hand at taking their passions and making them into businesses. Be honest, sincere, and never lie,” says Seema Alexander, a business and branding strategist for entrepreneurs. Emphasize the skills you learned in your turn as an entrepreneur, and use perceived failure as a way to demonstrate your ability to take risks.
Honesty is also key, says Jenn DeWall, a career and life coach for millennial women. “Be confident. Don’t allow the gap to erode your confidence or the belief that you can do a job well. Remember you have valuable skills to offer the employer that don’t go away because you took time off.”
You Had Kids
Again, DeWall emphasizes that it’s important not to apologize for this a gap due to motherhood. “If you took maternity leave, trust yourself that you made the best choice for your family and it in no way took away from your already established expertise,” she advises. “Be prepared, and know that this is a question they will likely ask from a place of curiosity not judgement. It’s all about the mind-set you have when you walk into the interview.”
Alexander suggests using specific confident language, such as, “I wanted to be there for my children for the first couple years, and I decided to leave so that I could raise my kids until they were ready to go into daycare or school. It was the best decision I have made, but I am ready to be back in the job market. During my time off I was not stagnant,” at which point you can list online courses you took, volunteer work, how you kept in touch with the industry, and any other relevant information.
You Cared for an Ailing Parent
“Prepare to talk about it by outlining the two to three most important things they should know about the gap,” says DeWall. “Be positive. Often in these situations, we succumb to a fear of judgement and begin to think of our situation in a negative light. Talk about it positively. For example, if you took time to care for family, think of it is a positive. You were able to take time to help the health of a family member. But also, during the time likely found that you longed to go back to the routine of a job, with challenges that were less life threatening or stressful.”
Alexander adds that it’s a difficult age to be at, and the reality of being part of the “sandwich generation”—having to become a caretaker of your kids and your parents at the same time—is a tough situation. She suggests to try saying something like, “I had no choice but to take off time to take care of an ailing parent. During this time, I wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of our industry by taking an online course, attending association meetings, volunteering for events, etc. My family circumstances have changed now, and I am ready to go back full time.”
You Haven't Been Able to Find a Job
“If you were having difficulty finding a job, acknowledge the reason,” says DeWall, whether it’s your industry, your location, or your personal situation. “Be honest. If you’re confident, positive, and prepared, it is far easier to then be honest. Don’t hide anything, but again express your interest to be in the workforce.” Alexander suggests similar language to her other advice, proving again that you weren’t stagnant. DeWall agrees, saying “Bonus points if you can talk about anything you did, such as reading or attending courses to help ensure you were polished and still invested in your industry.”