If you’ve been out of the work world for a while, you can bet an interviewer is going to ask you about it when you attend an interview. While gaps in employment can be a red flag for employers, it’s not the end of the world. Think of it this way: the employer has asked you in for the interview, so he’s at least interested enough to want to find out more about you.
Still, you need to prepare yourself for the inevitable question about why you’ve been out of work for so long. Ahead of your interview, prep for the question in one of several ways.
1. Be honest
There’s no getting around the fact that you have that gap in employment, so the best course of action is to explain the truth. Taking a break from work to raise your kids, to travel, or for an illness are reasons that are totally normal, and ones the employer has probably heard before. Whatever the reason, it’s best not to lie – but what you say after that is probably the more important part.
2. Allay the employer's fears
The next step is to talk about why that thing that kept you from work is not keeping you away any more. If you’ve been ill, you don’t have to go into great detail about the problem – and employers in many countries can’t discriminate against you for your health status – but you still might want mention that your health issues have been resolved enough to allow you to go back to work. Don’t mention the exact illness, unless you want to, but say you had health issues that are now resolved.
If you were away from work because of your kids, say that you wanted to spend time at home to be with family, and that you’re now freer to devote your time to your career. No details needed about your daycare situation or your children’s ages.
If you were fired or laid off from your job and haven’t been able to find another one, on the other hand, you’re facing a situation that’s a bit trickier. Being laid off because of a company’s failure is not your fault, but if you were fired, it’s best to say that you "weren’t the best fit" for that job, keeping the exact details vague. Whatever you do, don’t ever badmouth a former employer.
3. Mention how you've continued to grow
After a brief explanation, focus most of your time on why that gap in your employment isn’t going to be a problem. Employers want to see that you’ve been keeping your skills fresh, staying current in your industry and have kept some of the contacts you had. Ideally, you’ll have done some things that have kept you in the game, such as volunteering, for example. You can also tell the employer about online courses you might have taken or how you’ve kept your skills fresh by continuing to attend conferences and industry events. You can also talk about relevant skills that you’ve continued to use. If you’ve been involved in your local church fundraisers, for example, tell the employer how your ability to advertise, handle money and manage inventory has continued to keep your sales skills fresh. Unless you’ve been sitting on the couch all day every day, there are probably skills you’ve been utilizing during your time away from work.
4. Stay calm - not all interviewers are out to get you!
While some interviewers will ask you about your gap in employment just to see you sweat, others will just be generally curious about what you’ve been doing and won’t be there to nail you to the cross. Remember that you made it to the interview round, after all, and that’s something. So, keep calm, do your best, and quickly move on from talking about your gaps in employment to talking about the skills, education and experiences you have that continue to make you a great fit for the open position.
5. Research the company
Since the second part of the question is "why do you wish to get a job now", you’ll need to come prepared with some reasons you want to work for that particular company. That requires research ahead of the interview. Check out the company’s website, its social media feeds, its employees on LinkedIn, and any published reports you can find to get a sense of the company culture and how and why you fit into it. When you’re asked "why do you wish to get a job now", tell the employer that you’re excited to work with a company that has the culture and the mission that this one does – so much so that you’re ready to return from "retirement".
Having an employer grill you about your gaps in employment – and your desire to return to work – can be a nerve-wracking experience, but when you’ve been away from work for a long time, it’s going to come with the territory. Take it as practice for the other challenges that you’ll face when you actually land the job.