Leaving a job under less than ideal circumstances is tough. Whether you were laid off, fired, or had to quit for personal reasons, explaining this employment gap during an interview can be tricky. Given the well-documented bias against hiring the unemployed, it’s natural to worry about breaking back into your industry.
Here’s the good news: I’ve coached many candidates through this type of situation, and they’ve all gone on to land exciting new roles. My secret? It all comes down to how you talk about this career break. The right words, details and attitude will put you in control of your professional narrative and can make landing your next position an easier process.
As you prepare to address an employment gap, keep these four pointers in mind:
- Leave the drama behind.
I’ve worked with professionals who have left positions for a wide variety of reasons. Some needed to care for an ill parent or child. Others left companies that were filing for bankruptcy. A few even had co-worker conflicts that were worthy of a reality TV show. While the drama may be fresh in your mind, your future employer doesn’t want – or need – to hear about it. When you’re ready to start interviewing again, write out a concise explanation that explains why you left. Don’t get bogged down in the details; your explanation should be no more than three to four sentences. Practice repeating these lines until you can speak about your departure calmly, professionally and without emotion.
- Focus on your future.
There’s a line from Macbeth that I love: “Things without all remedy / Should be without regard: what’s done, is done.” Whatever happened in your past role, leave it there. Perhaps you felt you were treated unfairly or are still upset that you were passed over for a promotion. While you may feel like a victim, this negative attitude will only hurt you during an interview. Take what lessons you can from the situation and then focus on your future.
- Choose your words carefully.
During an interview, you have limited time to make a positive impression. When your resume has gaps in employment or you have to disclose that you were made redundant, you have to work even harder to make a good impression. Focus on your skills and emphasize that you’re ready to work. If you’re interviewing for a senior role at the C-level, be careful not to say anything to indicate that you’re close to retirement or are looking for one last opportunity.
- Project a positive attitude.
I work with senior level hires, and for professionals at this level, it may take six months or longer to find their next role. These professionals are usually driven, Type A personalities who don’t like being out of work, and they can become frustrated and discouraged by a lengthy search process. When they do land an interview, this frustration can sometimes spill over. They can come off as anxious, tense or even a bit desperate, which will only make addressing the employment gap more difficult. Even if you’re frustrated with the search process, always project a positive attitude during each interview. It will be easier to build a strong rapport with the hiring manager and you’ll keep the focus on your potential contributions to this company, not your previous employment history.
In today’s candidate-driven market, the odds of landing a new position are in your favor, even if you’re out of the workforce a bit longer than expected. Leave the drama at the door, craft a straightforward explanation for the employment gap and stay focused on your future. The process may feel long now, but once you’re busy with your next position you’ll wish you’d enjoyed the time off a bit more!
Have you had to leave a job under less than ideal circumstances? I invite you to share more about how this experience impacted your job search in the comments below.