What have you done since you last worked and what did you do during any other employment gaps?

Typically, interviewers ask about one gap at a time.  While this is a much dreaded question, often making the job seeker feel very uneasy, it is one that should be expected if you have any gaps and therefore should be one that you are best prepared to answer.  Every internet search engine says that being honest is most important; however being honest and brief is better advice.

Traps: The interviewer wants to know how motivated, flexible, and serious you are.  If you spent all your time searching for work then you might appear desperate and your ambition could become suspect.  A single gap is easier to cover than multiple gaps, and multiple gaps often result in more in-depth questions about why you were unemployed.  .  Be brief, but factual and try not to give more information than was asked for.

Strategies: Make sure you understand the question by asking for clarification.  The strategy that is best will depend on a number of factors; the length of gaps, the number of gaps, and, if you caused the gaps.  Since this question may be asked by more than one interviewer for the company, it is important to provide the same response throughout the interviewing process.

If you were unemployed for a short time, mentioning any activity is acceptable, but try to inform how that activity could lead to benefits for the employer.  Longer periods require more meaningful activities to report such as volunteering, or a completing a major home project or getting additional training, (especially if the training would benefit the prospective employer),.  If the gap is extensive, keep your response short  and let the interviewer request more information.  You should be prepared to list a number of accomplishments if probed.

Interviewers look for employment issues where multiple gaps exist. If loss of employment was related to your performance, identify the cause and explain what that was, what you have learned and why that will not be a problem going forward.

Women tend to have more gaps in work history than men and one reason is that they are typically called upon to provide care for family members.  The prospective employer does not need the details, but the longer the gap, the more you should be prepared to fill in additional activities.  Another reason for self caused gaps could be the person’s own health.  Be sure you are able to work and provide reassurance to the interviewer that that is so.  If the gap has been followed by a reasonable period of employment; that can serve as proof of your ability to perform

Resume gaps can also exist because candidates leave off employment outside the field/position for which they are searching.   For example if a programmer decided that he/she wanted to try sales or art, etc., that activity may have been left off the resume and that experience could be discovered during the interview. Be sure to provide good reasons why you are still current and capable for the desired position.

Possible Response: Like behavioral questions, employment gaps are unique to each candidate’s situation.  This example will attempt to cover a number of the strategies discussed above.  Assume there are 3 gaps ranging from 4 months to 3 years.  These responses assume the interviewer asked about each gap as he/she discussed employment history shown on the resume

“I was unemployed for 4 months when I was laid off from Sharpie Company.  The layoff followed a surprise buyout and was very sudden.  In addition to my search for a new job, I worked with an animal shelter as a volunteer.”

“While I was between jobs I took advantage of a very generous severance and decided to cram two semesters into one to finish getting my masters.  That helped me to get the job with Sharpie and I am sure will benefit any employer who wants to grow.”

“The longest period was 3 years and that was caused by a health issue that is now resolved and was never a concern at my jobs since then.”

While these examples are fiction, there is no room for fiction when responding to employment gap questions.  Take time to prepared your response and then have someone provide feedback