Gaps in Employment

A reader writes…

I’ve been out of work for a long time now.  How do I handle the question in interviews about my gaps in employment? When asked, “What have you been doing all this time?”  My answer is, “Looking for WORK!”  I appreciate any suggestions.

Dear, “Gaps,”

The dreaded question “What have you been doing all this time?” is bound to come up – whether you’ve been out of work for 2 months or 2 years!  I will say, however, that due to the nature of today’s labor market, most recruiters and hiring managers are more understanding and compassionate. They realize that lengthy gaps in employment are a harsh reality these days.

The key is to be honest about your situation and “practice” an answer to this inevitable question in advance. Don’t sound like you’re reading from a script… but definitely have an idea of what you’re going to say.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Share what you’ve done to look for work. This reveals your resourcefulness and determination.
  • Be open about how you have handled the stressful process of looking for a job.  We all know it is  a challenge, but what did you do to cope?  What have you learned? A common interview question is, “How do you handle stress?” Or “Tell me how you operate under pressure.”  Your answers (though not related to stress on a job) are equally relevant and valid. 
  • Highlight any skills you obtained during your unemployment period — aside from patience and perseverance, that is.  Did you learn any new software programs? Did you brush up on a second language? What about your ability to network?  All of these attributes build character but also reveal a lot about your abilities (and what you can contribute to a new position).
  • I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again… feature any volunteer work. You may be able to provide letters of recommendation and apply new skills and experiences to a job.  Here’s a link to a previous article I wrote on this subject:

In conclusion, when asked about your employment gaps, don’t get defensive… get determined.  Looking for a job is like a full-time job in itself.  The steps you’ve taken say a lot about you and your work ethic.

I have complete confidence. You WILL get through this!


26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Patti Foglesong
    Sep 05, 2012 @ 18:01:53

    I have applied for a Recruiter position at the Select Staffing office in Oxnard,CA but my experience is seven years old. Any advice on how to address this problem?



    • anitaclew
      Sep 06, 2012 @ 16:29:43

      Thanks for the question and congratulations on taking steps toward becoming employed. Often, people have gaps in their employment record or distance between relevant positions. I would check out a previous post of mine that I find very useful for people in your situation. Click the link to view Gaps in Employment.

      Best of luck to you and your employment search. Please let me know how everything turns out!



  2. ameliarojas
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 14:23:36

    Volunteer work is a great alternative and besides that may open new doors and it’s a way to market yourself as well. I agree with Anita volunteer and request letters of recommendation! I know more unemployeed people today than ever before, it’s a sad situations for us Americans and it honestly doesn’t seem to be improving quick enough. Obtaining new skills may be the way to go in a competitive job market, this is a serious situation as we can see from all the comments left here. Follow Anita’s well focused and relevant advice and stay motivated and keep searching, don’t give up!



  3. Martha
    Jul 10, 2012 @ 14:58:06

    I really apprecciate your advice!



  4. G. Eric Gaither
    Aug 31, 2011 @ 08:03:25

    Temporary Services are the way to go for many of US because of the diversity in assignments as well some services offer Direct Placement to some companies.
    While some Temporary Services are specific to the Professional sector (I.T., Engineers, etc.), the remaining services service the remaining populace.
    Many companies view such work as experience and such work also demonstrates ones ability at procurring something as opposed to just sitting around collecting unemployment payments or whining about how this economy has stagnated ones ability to become active.

    For those of US able to do such work, there is Day Labor yet this option isn’t feasible for many People due to the nature of the work; usually construction at menial labor pay (minimum wage).

    I’ve recently been rehired by a employer (from being laid off in late ’08) as a Truck Driver and while I despise Trucking because of the many federal bits (namely CSA2010), such position is far superior to the daily grind of seeking employment through temporary services (of which I was signed to at least 5) and day labor (of which I was signed to 2).
    If not for that company, I’ve no idea what route I could travel apart from destitution.

    Thank you for your time.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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