How to explain a gap year in a job interview

Career Advice
14 May 2018 | Career Advice | Guest Author

Having a spotless and updated CV is every jobseeker’s prerogative. This is why gaps in a resume are perceived as trouble. There is no reason to panic. The fact that you care enough to be worried about a gap means that there was a valid reason for it. Be clever and use it to your advantage.

It will come up

Regardless of whether you mention it or not, your gap year will come up during your job interview. The fact that you haven’t mentioned it anywhere can make it seem like a) you are hiding something, or b) you fail to recognize its value by finding it unimportant. Feel free to briefly mention your gap year in your CV. Do not elaborate, however. CVs are meant to have a clear structure and be concise. You can elaborate to an extent in your cover letter through several brief points (do not make the entire letter about it). If the interviewer cares to know more, they will ask.

Be confident about it

The best way to be confident about a gap year is to be prepared for what you might be asked. If you stutter, pause, or in any way seem uncomfortable, you may raise some eyebrows. If your gap year was for the purpose of cutting loose, extract only the key points from it and move on. For example, if you have been camping and visiting music festivals around Europe, you can simply say that you were backpacking through Europe and getting to know different cultures. There is no need to panic, nobody cares to know whether you have been partying or visiting European castles.

Most common reasons for resume gaps

Whichever reason you had to take a gap year, do not be afraid to say it. Be honest about it. Some of the most common gaps in employment are caused by illnesses, staying home with your children, caring for a sick relative, inability to find work, and traveling. People usually get worried about the latter two the most, but they should not.

The economy after 2008 hasn’t exactly been entirely stable and not everyone was able to find work. Also, people who have previously worked on building a career may have refused a career change and waited for the right job. On the other hand, some may have taken time off for further education. As far as traveling is concerned, you could have used it to grow as a person. If you have been involved with certain institutions such as Doctors Without Borders for Volunteering, teaching English to kids in Thailand or attending English courses for Japanese students in Australia, you had a good reason for your absence so be sure to mention it.

Don’t be explicit unless it matters for the interview

One of the common reasons why people take a gap year is to care for their sick relatives. A job interview should have a serious, but a positive tone. There probably could be a better way of saying this, but there is no need to gross your interviewers out, make them sad, or feel sorry for you. Do not go into details of illnesses and family affairs unless you are specifically asked to do so. That will not happen, though. The only reason you could possibly mention some of it is if it relates to the job you are applying for.

The skills you have acquired

This is an important part of making the gap year sound like a valuable experience. Extract any experiences which could indicate that you have acquired a new set of skills. If you have been volunteering, you may have been given official training in order to learn to perform certain tasks. Perhaps you have been taught how to manage a team or do accounts. Also, mention any courses you have attended. Bear in mind that certain skills can be learned even without an official training. For example, you have spent a year in Mexico and as a result, you can now speak Spanish. This is something no employer will ignore.

Showcase your traits

As opposed to skills, traits are who you are. Certain situations in life allow you to apply your traits in order to cope. The fact that you are easy to communicate with, a quick learner, ambitions, and have a great love for humanity means that you will have no problem working well in a team and be an asset to it. Consider the job market and perceive the interviewers as your target audience. Determine what it is they want and advertise yourself. Offer them the traits they need and use the traits as an advantage to be a candidate which stands out.

An employer has two concerns related to a gap year. They are afraid that it may have been wasted which could prove you to be a bad candidate for them. Furthermore, they think you might drop everything and leave for the second time. Assure them that your gap was for a specific purpose which is now fulfilled. Also, do your best, to be honest, and explain that you have extracted some value from your gap year and that it proves you are a good person.

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