A gap between jobs can appear on an applicant’s resume for many different reasons. Sometimes a gap may signal a red flag for hiring managers, but it may just need a bit of explanation on behalf of the candidate. With a little understanding of resume gaps and by asking the right questions, you can get to the bottom of things.

Reasons for lapses in employment

Though it’s always smart to be careful when hiring, you wouldn’t want to pass over an exceptional candidate simply because their resume had a hole. Though an employment gap could signal a candidate with poor work ethic, it can also be a sign of other things. Consider the following;

  • Layoff and difficulty finding a new position. Though our economy is experiencing an upswing, layoffs were common not that long ago. Depending on the field, an applicant may have lost their job and found it difficult to get a new one.
  • Volunteer, charity or part-time work. A candidate—especially post-college—could have taken some time to participate in a cause they believe in before jumping into (or returning to) the paid working world. Also, if a candidate has been laid off, they may have opted to accept part-time work to make ends meet until a job opportunity became available. As some resume writing styles advise to only list pertinent job experiences, the candidate may have opted to leave any of the above off their resume—resulting in what appears as a job gap.
  • Returning to college. Taking time to get additional education, such as a higher degree, or to change fields could also appear as a gap on a resume.
  • Maternity and raising a family. Young children can benefit from having a parent at home for care—it can help with their social growth and development. For this reason and many others, parents may simply wish to take time away from their career to raise their family.
  • Helping with an ill family member. A noble task is taking time to care for a sick spouse, family member or friend. And life experience can help someone build qualities and strengths just as well as work experience.

Interview questions to ask

To understand why a candidate may have an employment gap on their resume, you can simply ask for an explanation of what happened between thus and such dates. If you need further information, you can also ask the following:

  • Did you leave this position on your own?
  • Do you have any professional references I can contact?
  • Did you get along with your co-workers?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?

When you ask these questions, gauge the candidate’s answer, but also their body language. It’s uncomfortable to talk about layoffs or firings, but if the candidate has a positive attitude about moving forward, this is a good sign. However, if they seem extensively uncomfortable discussing an employment gap, the candidate might be lying about the circumstances. In the end, it can help to use your gut instinct to decide if a candidate is worthy of your investment or not.

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