Ask Tami #4: Justifying Your Career Gap and Bringing It Up in an Interview

Shruti asks: How do you justify your career gap during your time as a full-time mom, and how do you bring it up during job interviews?

Tami: First of all, you don’t need to justify or apologize for taking time to care for your family! When you talk about your time out of the workforce you should be simple and direct, skip any unnecessary details (the interviewer does not need to know every twist and turn) and move quickly to talking about the skills and experiences you bring to the role at hand. 

This is easier said than done, so here’s some tips:

1. Process any negative feelings you have about your career break before you go into an interview. I meet a lot of people who are grateful for the time they had to focus on their family and enjoyed the time they spent outside the paid workforce. I meet others who have more complicated feelings, including anger and resentment, about giving up their career. These feelings may center on a family member who was unsupportive or a past employer that wouldn’t provide needed flexibility. Whatever the case may be it can be hard to talk about your break in a positive way if you are harboring those negative feelings. You may just need a few talks with supportive friends or you may need more professional support, but doing this work before trying to discuss your break with a future employer will help you do so in a more productive way. 

2. Write yourself a “script” that includes three elements. The trick with this question is to explain the gap simply and unapologetically and quickly move past it so you can focus on the more interesting questions about what a great candidate you are. To accomplish that the three elements of the perfect answer are: brief recitation of your professional history, the length and focus of your career break, and, most important, a reiteration of your enthusiasm and suitability for the role they have available. Here’s how it works when you are interviewing for a job similar to one they had in the past: “I spent {#} years {brief review of skills and experiences} in my professional career. I had the privilege of being able to spend the last {# } years focused on my family. I’m very grateful for that time. Now that my {child or other caregiving recipient} is {in kindergarten, high school, college, no longer in need of full-time care}, I’m ready to return to the workforce. I’m excited about this position specifically because it requires {brief reiteration of experiences or skills}, which directly relates to my career doing {function}.” The same basic construction also works for a pivot. You just need to add one or two more sentences at the end that connects the dots of your prior experience or recent training to the current requirements. 

3. Practice, practice, practice: Once you’ve got your script you need to practice saying it — out loud, in front of a mirror. I actually advise you spend a lot of time practicing answers to lots of interview questions. It’s the best way to give a great answer. And it’s particularly important to practice answering any questions you are nervous about answering. What happens too often is that you hope someone won’t ask about your gap. But then they do. And you get flustered and start rambling. Assume they will ask the hard questions! Practice your script over and over until you can say it with flawless confidence!

Good luck (and remember to keep going!),

Returning to the paid workforce can be both an exciting and daunting challenge. My work as Executive Director of Path Forward has given me a unique perspective on both sides of the employment equation. I’ve answered questions for thousands of job seekers and I understand their worries. And I have gained insights from HR and talent executives at the more than 75 companies we’ve partnered with. I’m eager to help you leverage this insider advice to help you get back to a fulfilling career. If you’ve got a burning question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming edition of “Ask Tami”, you can ask it using this form.