Bridging the Gap
If you’ve taken an extended leave of absence for a non-work-related purpose, you may wonder how you should present your time off on your resume and in interviews. With respect to your resume, changing from a chronological to a functional format may be the only adjustment necessary. But if you’re put on the spot in an interview, you need a concise, thoughtful–and honest–answer that will address prospective employers’ concerns.
The best approach is to do some quality thinking about why you took time off, and what you gained from the experience that will make you a more attractive employee. Here are several situations and some suggestions for explaining your absence from the work world:
Maybe you went through a divorce, had health problems, or were taking care of an ill relative. While it may be tempting to play upon your interviewer’s sympathies and share your tale of woe, think again. Instead, provide a straightforward explanation of your time off and steer the conversation back to your objectives and experience. For instance, “I was needed out of state for a family emergency, but now that everything’s settled, I’m ready to get back to work. I’ve been keeping abreast of the e-commerce industry during my time off, and I think my experience is especially relevant given the recent string of mergers among pure-play and brick-and-mortar companies.”
This approach is best because it focuses on your qualifications and skills while downplaying–without avoiding–the issue of your time off. And if you can filter in the current industry lingo–showing you haven’t missed a beat–all the better.
If you took time off to finish a degree or get certified in a particular field, you don’t need a fancy way of explaining yourself. Be upfront; virtually everyone respects the decision to return to school, especially when it makes you a more valuable worker. A good answer: “I decided the time was right to finish my degree. I think the combination of my experience and education in business management will allow me to contribute a great deal in a position such as this.”
If your break was for no other reason than to hit the ski slopes, play out your fantasy of being a rock band groupie, or travel the globe, you’ve got a challenge. You need to come up with a compelling reason why your summer (or year) of fun will make you a stellar employee.
If you took just a few weeks or a couple of months off between jobs, don’t sweat it. Few prospective employers will care that you chose to relax a bit–in fact, don’t even mention it unless they do, and then say nothing more than, “I used the opportunity to regroup and get ready for a full-scale job hunt.”
If you were out of work for more than 6 months, figure out what exactly you learned from your experience–and it better be good. As a ski instructor, did you polish your teaching skills? Learn to work with a multicultural crowd? During your time as a groupie, did you learn another language? Figure out how to live on a tight budget?
Whatever you come up with, practice selling it with a straight face until even your own mother would believe that your reason for moving to Hawaii and working as a cocktail waitress was to study the customer service needs of the food industry.