Q. Hi Cathy. I was laid off sixteen months ago with a great severance package. Since my spouse was working, I really didn’t need to search for a job right away. How do I explain my time off?
A. Gaps can be challenging to navigate — and even more challenging to explain. But when a company really wants to hire you, they won’t spend a lot of time obsessing about gaps. So…
(1)Aim your job search on finding someone who can say “yes.”
Focus on reaching a manager who appreciates your talents – not a screener looking for ways to place your resume in the “reject” pile.
(2) Use extreme care when omitting a job.
If your last (or current) job lasted just a few months, some advisors say, “Leave it off, especially if you were earning a below-market salary or working in a totally different field.”
Maybe. But I recommend preparing an answer in case you get caught on a background check.
And some employers would rather see even short-term employment than no employment. It’s always a judgment call.
(3) Create a one-sentence explanation to explain the gap.
Practice talking in sound bites — you don’t want to seem evasive, but a short matter-of-fact answer will discourage curiosity.
(4) Stick to business.
Explain your gap accurately but professionally. Refer to health and family only as a last resort.
Note: If you’ve got a really sensitive situation (e.g., you were in a drug rehab program), get lots of professional advice.
(5) Consider changing direction if you’re blocked.
A few years ago, “Hortense” called me eight months after leaving a high-powered job. She had spent that recovering from shock and enjoying her leisure. She sent out resumes and collected a series of rejections. “Overqualified,” they said.
I encouraged her to continue pursuing her job search, but also consider a new business. We talked for a few hours over a couple of months. I suggested she attend a few networking meetings just to test the waters.
She went to one breakfast meeting. She said, “I’m thinking of starting a specialized coaching company.”
To her amazement, people started handing her business cards and saying, “Call me when you’re ready for business. We like your style.”
And she was off and running.
You may not want a business…but returning to school for a new career might make sense. Often a shift in strategy will open doors you never anticipated.