How do employers react to that employment gap on your resume? Is it always a negative reaction? Will employers give you a chance to explain what happened and move forward, or will they just assume the worst and pass on you?
As a career coach, I have worked with job seekers coming back after time off. As a recruiter, I have reviewed candidates with employment gaps on their resumes. Yes, you can get hired after a gap in employment, even a gap of several years.
Employers do question your employment gap. However, they don’t always ask everything they’re thinking outright. You need to anticipate these questions and assuage their concerns even if they’re unspoken. Here are ten questions employers have about your employment gap:
1 – Why has no one hired you?
When a candidate is selected for interviews despite an apparent employment gap, it’s because there are other factors that positively outweigh the gap. However, this doesn’t mean that the employment gap no longer matters. Employers still need to be reassured that they made the right decision in deciding to interview you. You need to have a strong interview to immediately put the employer at ease and make them think they’d be lucky to have you. Don’t give a weak interview that leaves the employer to think, “Oh, that’s why no one else has hired you.”
2 – What really happened at your last job?
Employers will ask about the job right before your gap, and they will look for reasons to probe further – a story that doesn’t make sense or lingering resentment on your part. The best way to move on from your last job is to really have moved on. If you were let go, give a brief outline of what happened (e.g., your entire department was eliminated, the project you were hired for was cancelled) and then turn the focus back on the interview. Don’t give the employer any reason to suspect there is anything more to worry about.
3 – How sound is your professional judgment
If you left your job on your own accord and you’re now still unemployed, then something didn’t work out for you – e.g., a business venture didn’t work out or it’s taking longer than expected to get back. A business failure or a protracted job search aren’t deal-breakers in and of themselves unless they are just part of a pattern of bad decisions. Make sure the rest of your career story shows smart, empowered decisions so there is no lingering doubt about your professional judgment.
4 – Do you have commitment issues
If you left your last job on your own accord, is it because you weren’t committed to your last job, and could this lack of commitment extend to your next jobs? It’s widely accepted that it’s better to look for a job when you have one. If you were that willing to leave your last job that you would take the risk of unemployment over staying put, some employers will view this as a lack of commitment. Make sure you show commitment and follow-through in other areas of your professional background.
5 – Do you get along with your colleagues
A common back story to being let go is poor teamwork and relationships with colleagues, including direct reports and management. Maybe you weren’t the only one to be let go, but if the company is still standing that means others were spared instead of you. Is there a reason you did not have enough people to advocate for you? Prioritize building rapport during your hiring process so that questions about your interpersonal skills don’t arise.
6 – Will your references tell a different story
Regardless of what you say and how well you interview, the reference checking process will be weighed heavily when there is an employment gap. Don’t scramble at the last-minute to collect your references. Make sure to include references from your most recent job before the gap. Ask your references to specifically comment on your relationship skills, commitment and follow-through, and professional judgment – those areas where employers may have unvoiced concerns.
7 – What have you been doing all this time
While there will be digging into what happened in the past, employers are hiring for a future need. They want to know that the person you are now is a solution to the problem they’re hiring for. Therefore, what have you been doing with yourself that makes you relevant to the job at hand? Your time off can’t be just about your job search – that’s focused on you. The employer wants someone focused on them – their industry, their business concerns. What you should have been doing (and what you need to highlight during the interview process) are activities, research and learning related to the employer and job at hand.
8 – Have your skills atrophied
Since employers are fixated on how you can help them, this means your skills need to be sharp enough that you are productive from day one. This includes computer and other job-specific skills – make sure your employment gap includes projects that show your skills are current. This also includes personal attributes, such as showing up ready to work and having the stamina for full, hectic work days – make sure your employment gap shows structure and substantive activities.
9 – Is your expertise out of date
In addition to current skills, you want to demonstrate current expertise, especially if your employment gap is over a year. Continued membership in professional associations, awareness of recent trends and developments in your specific area, and ability to engage in discussions about what competitors are doing are all examples of how you can demonstrate up-to-date expertise in an area. These are also things you can accomplish even outside professional employment. Make sure you research your field –by reading up on it, by attendings events and conferences, and by networking with professionals and experts.
10 – Will I regret hiring you
When an employer decides to hire, this is not an impersonal decision made by an entity. This is a choice made by a person, or typically a handful of people, who are saying, “This is the person we want to bring into the company.” They also are effectively saying, “This is where thousands of budget dollars will be spent. This is where we are giving up one of our headcount spaces. This is the person that we are going to work side-by-side with for an unforeseen amount of time.” A bad hiring decision causes a lot of regret. An employment gap is like a warning sign, and if an employer proceeds anyway, they want to know they won’t regret it. Be confident, energetic and upbeat throughout your hiring process so the employer never second-guesses their decision to pick you.
Because an employment gap raises so many questions, many of which aren’t raised explicitly, the employment gap is a resume killer. Employers are likely to skip over resumes with gaps because there are enough out there without one. This means that you need to get in front of employers aside from submitting a resume. Directly contacting employers, networking through friends and colleagues, and making connections at professional association meetings or conferences are all ways to circumvent the faceless resume submission process and tell your story so that your employment gap isn’t the first or only thing they know about you.
This post originally appears on Forbes.com.