A Gap In Your CV: How To Explain Yourself At The Interview

Natalia Bielczyk, PhD
8 min readAug 22, 2021

So, what to respond to the question? First of all, you need to remember that a career break doesn’t need to be your handicap at the interview. When pitched properly, it can become one of your selling points.

Special Case #1: When Finishing Projects in Free Time Is a Standard.

In some working environments such as academia, it is, unfortunately, a standard, and an expected attitude, to finish projects after the funding dries out. Should you mention finishing projects in your free time? Yes — for as long as you frame it properly!

For instance, if you say, “I didn’t manage to finish my project in time, therefore, I spent another few months on it,” it won’t sound any good to the employer. It will basically suggest to them that you don’t deliver in time. However, if you say instead, “Unfortunately, the funding for my project dried out. However, I love the topic and I felt responsible for the project and the team, therefore, I decided to stay and finish it in my own time,” that’s the whole new story!

You should know that today, employers have a lot of problems with loyalty, namely, with the employees who drop projects before the project launch just because they spot a better opportunity in the job market for themselves. So, if they hear that you never jump the ship and that you are a person who successfully brings the projects to the end no matter what, they will consider it a strong advantage of yours!

Special Case #2: Were You Physically Ill?

If a disease prevented you from working, you should definitely mention it! There are two main types of illnesses that affect productivity and the ability to work: physical and mental illnesses. The point is: in general, physical illnesses are not contagious and if the employer can feel relatively certain that the illness will not come back, they won’t have any problem with it.

Besides, a physical illness is also a logical reason that well explains why you were away from work. The recruiter will feel safer about employing you when they know what happened in this mysterious time when you were away from the job market.

You can also use this occasion to share a heartwarming story of you missing your profession while being sick. (if it’s true, of course! :)) Employers love to hear that, as stories of successful comebacks always motivate other employees to appreciate what they have in their professional lives.

Warning: The situation is different when it comes to mental illnesses. Of course, it is not a shame to feel down, especially in the hard and uncertain times that we have now in the job market. Everyone can get a burnout. It is actually one of the most popular origin stories of companies in the first place — a corporate employee getting a burnout and deciding to go their own way is a classic scenario! But please look at the situation from the hiring manager’s perspective.

Mind that the hiring manager doesn’t know you as a person. They have to make an important, binary decision solely based on the first impression of you. Even if they find you a competent professional with a vibrant personality, they might extrapolate the fact that you got a long-lasting burnout and project it onto the future.

They don’t know why you happened to suffer from burnout in the first place! They have no idea if you had a particularly hard situation back then, or rather, you cannot cope with stress in general and break under any smallest challenge. Therefore, they will be afraid of the possibility that your low mood comes back. For more, mood tends to be contagious in teams closely working together. Therefore, employers can also fear that a burned-out an unhappy employee can spread the mood to everyone around them. Hiring such a person is, therefore, a risky business for them.

Of course, today, we hear a lot about global mental health problems in the media. Employers are not blind; they are aware of the problem and notice decreased productivity and lowered mood among their employees. Therefore, to a certain extent, they will be understanding of the fact that you felt unwell for a period of time. If you reveal your mental state, you definitely hear words of understanding and support from the hiring manager. However, regardless of how sympathetic they behave, between two candidates they will always choose the high-energy one. This is the reality.

For all the aforementioned reasons, it is better to keep your mental-health related problems to yourself at the interview, just to keep safe.

And now, what to say if none of the above happened within your gap year? Well, you have a ton of options! To list just a few:

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #1: Professional Development and Increasing Professional Qualifications.

Today, careers are not as linear anymore as they used to be in the past. More and more professionals decide to change not only jobs but also professions during their professional lives. And often, quite a few times! (as nicely explained for example in Emilie Wapnick’s best-selling book “ How To Be Everything? “). Obviously, changing career paths naturally causes incubation time and delays between subsequent jobs — and employers understand that!

The field research by ResumeGo revealed that applicants with gaps in their CV are, on average, 45% percent less likely to get invited to an interview than others. The difference was especially pronounced for professionals with a gap lasting for more than three years. According to this study, the employers were the most welcoming to the candidates who named extra education as the main reason for the gap in their CV.

Therefore, the first thing you should think of is courses that you took during the gap — especially if you are going for jobs in one of the competitive sectors of the job market such as AI or biotechnology, where innovation happens every day and the landscape of cutting-edge technologies in the market changes year by year. The recruiter will enjoy to hear that despite your career gap, you keep in the loop and

Of course, some of the courses that you completed within this time might have been more relevant for your professional life than others. Coding courses, self-development courses, foreign language courses — they all matter for your long-term professional development, hence, they are worth mentioning. Yes, Coursera courses count too!

Of course, it is better to name courses that allow you to produce some viable output such as a GitHub folder. But in any case, courses are evidence that you are proactive and care about your personal and professional development.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #2: Building a Professional Network.

Have you attended any conferences, meetups, hackathons, or any other professional gatherings during your gap year? Well, in that case, you should mention it! Building a professional network is also a clear evidence to the recruiter that you always go forward. And, that you understand that today, business is built on trust, bonds, and relations.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #3: Working on Your Productivity.

Have you tried any methods for increasing your productivity, such as Pomodoro or other techniques? Well, it’s also good to mention! Although increasing your productivity shouldn’t be the main scope of your response to the question, it will be seen as a positive trait if you mention your practices. The point is: better to talk about what you did — even if these are small improvements to your professional qualifications — than focus on all the things that you didn’t do.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #4: Creating Content.

Were you creating any type of content in your gap year? Did you write a blog or create video content such as YouTube movies? Or perhaps, you were occupied with journaling? What recruiters need right now is creativity, focus, and communication skills.

In times of short text messages and emoticons, most professionals are less and less capable of creating focused content and vocalizing their thoughts and emotions properly. If you are able to write and/or speak in a structured and engaging way, it will be interpreted as your professional strength by the recruiter. Plus, of course, taking your own initiatives and creating content out of sheer interest is a sign of genuine interest in a subject matter, energy, and proactivity.

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #5: Voluntary Work.

Did you volunteer to organize any event, or participate in any non-profit initiative? Even weekly meetings of some local Hackerspace group, a local business club, or any other local initiative are good to mention. After all, it is evidence that you have a genuine interest in the subject matter, that you are sociable and a good networker! And, that you always keep yourself in a loop. Of course, online events count!

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #6: Running Your Own Business.

Did you perhaps made an attempt to launch your own business or a freelance practice during your gap year? Many professionals skip mentions about their business in case it didn’t work out. This is a mistake! The recruiter would rather hear that you made an attempt to become an independent professional, yet for some reasons you failed, rather than that you travelled around the world and made beautiful photos of yourself in the capitals of 18 countries. In business, failure is not really a failure — apathy is.

Plus, employers know best how hard launching the business might be. They will definitely value a candidate who had enough courage to try. And, they will want to put your entrepreneurial spirit into play in their own business!

How To Explain a Gap In Your CV, Part #7: Learning About Economy.

According to the common stereotype, employers prefer to hire employees who are dependent, insecure, and in debt. Where’s in reality, they enjoy employees who are relaxed, happy, driven by their personal mission rather than the necessity to make quick bucks, conscious about how the economy works, and interesting to talk to in general terms.

Plus, people naturally lean towards money-aware individuals! Therefore, if during your gap year, you spent some time learning about the economy, making investments, and building a financial cushion, you might simply say it. Just frame your response in a way that suggests to the recruiter that you think about your professional development and professional future seriously. That you are someone who builds financial safety to function better as a professional and to make more responsible decisions. You will see that the recruiter will highly enjoy your response and will feel encouraged to keep you around!

Originally published at https://ontologyofvalue.com on August 22, 2021.

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Natalia Bielczyk, PhD

A neuroscientist helping professionals in finding their dream career paths at ontologyofvalue.com Privately, enthusiast of tech with affinity to blockchains.