Interview Insights | Key Question: “Can you explain the gap in your resume?”

My clients have a minimum of ten years of rich experiences.

It’s hard for me to imagine not seeing a gap in a resume.

The reality is that various situations necessitate stepping away from a traditional career.

Some of the driving forces behind these decisions have included the following:

  • a want or need to focus on building a family
  • caring for a parent
  • hitting a professional wall
  • the desire to fuel a wanderlust soul
  • earning a big bonus
  • being let-go
  • a need to regroup and reevaluate life/career choices
  • or, simply the need to stop everything due to the exhaustion that comes as a result of working continuously

Those are the real reasons why some of my clients decided to take time off. At the time, they evaluated whether to stay or go without the next logical opportunity secured and the decision to stop was best for them.

The tricky part is now having to explain a sometimes very personal decision to an interviewer.

A very useful way to think through your response to this query is to shift your focus on why you stopped working to the following points:

  • What did you learn about yourself during that off time?
  • What skills did you start, continue, or stop using during this time off?
  • How did you work through this uncertain time?
  • What was the biggest professional win you experienced before deciding to stop?
  • What did you miss most about working when you weren’t working? (Yes, the consistent check is nice but not the best answer)
  • At what moment, did you decide to commit to securing your next role?
  • In what ways are you better prepared to take on a challenging role now that you had that time off?
  • Do you regret that you had that time off?

The key insight is that you are not only confident but also come across as secure in the fact that you made the best decision for you, your family, your health, and your career based on valid and very solid thinking. This is such an important fact that I want to stress.

Chances are if your reputation as a business leader was that of having made sound decisions then be confident that you didn’t all of a sudden lose your prowess when you made that very personal decision to regroup.

You risked having that gap in your resume and it was worth it, so here’s a sample answer on how to discuss the gap in your resume.

Yes, I took time off from 2010–2012. I choose to voluntarily step away from my job with Alibaba where I served as the Head of Customer Champions after making a sizable dent on the three biggest challenges that premiere customer-focused organizations with an exclusive online presence continue to face. Before I left, I reduced call volumes (by ~2 million calls a year), increased satisfaction with the returns process (by 15+ points of satisfaction as per our surveys), and changed the sellers’ perception of value and trust through a decrease of 10%-plus in negative feedback.

It was after this win, that I made the hard decision to bring my energy and focus to build my family and ensure that we were in a place where I could wholeheartedly return to an organization where I can continue to drive industry-wide changes.

It’s funny, during that time out of the office, I missed most the satisfaction that I got after nailing a business challenge. I missed the team wins. I missed the immediate feedback that working for a digital brand affords us. I’m confident that my time off was well spent because I figured out what I wanted for me and my family.

Are you struggling with the best response to this typical interview question? Leave a comment below and I’ll provide the guidance you need to get unstuck.

Melissa Llarena’s craft is coaching top executives on how to strategically dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Get instant access to a 20-page interview preparation kit that will give you an edge. Join the thousands who’ve read her career insights in Forbes and The Huffington Post. Follow her at @CareerOutcomes.