• Hillary Hufford-Tucker

Lowering the Red Flags on Employment Gaps


Have you noticed how much you ramble on when asked about something awkward? The more you talk, the more the listener figures out there’s a problem. During an elevator pitch or job interview, long, uncomfortable explanations expose possible red flags for hiring teams.


So how do you come to terms with a difficult time in your employment history?

  1. Remove the emotion

  2. Get specific

  3. Be succinct

  4. Practice

  5. Find the right fit

The Emotional Toll of Layoffs, Time Off, and Bad Bosses

Most of my clients are dealing with changes in their employment status, and, frankly, it sucks. Some experienced layoffs, while others took time off to care for sick family members. On top of these situations, many had awful managers that made the situation miserable.


Until you have that blip of time in the rear-view mirror – and it is nothing more than a moment – it’s challenging to be objective about the experience. However, to make the gap palatable to hiring teams, you must find a way to move on.


I counsel my clients to find an outlet to move through the experience. I like the idea of setting a deadline to stop focusing on the negativity. Some options for closure might include:

  • Talking to a counselor, coach, or therapist for a set number of sessions

  • Writing in a journal and then shredding the pages

  • Using meditation sessions with a pre-determined stop date in which you say you’re “over it.”

  • Chanting a mantra while working out at a high heart rate or while punching a boxing bag

  • Use “Ted Lasso’s” technique of being a goldfish - have a short memory

If you genuinely want to get over the difficult period in your life, you must stop giving the experience space in your head. Please recognize that you’re giving it more power and hurting your potential by hanging on to the negativity. Make time and a plan to get it out of your mind and into the past.


Get Specific in Your Description

Interviewers and recruiters identify with things that are familiar and simple. Think about the typical situations in which people lose their job or take time away. Use some of the examples below as a base to define your status.

  • Large downsizing

  • Change of the leadership team

  • Very ill family member needing support

  • Corporate restructuring

  • Shift in strategy or direction

  • Loss of funding or project support

  • Market adjustments

Holding on to the belief that your situation is unique makes this part of the exercise more challenging. Yes, you’ve had a particularly rough time; however, you would be amazed to know how many people around you have had similar experiences. Almost every resume has a gap; become comfortable with yours.


Limit the focus on your gap by connecting your experience with something familiar to your audience. Show the gap isn’t significant by quickly defining that it’s not an issue and connecting it to similar gaps recruiters may have seen in their own or friend’s careers.


Make Your Narrative Succinct

Rambling about an issue indicates a red flag in the mind of the listener. Memorize a quick summary of what happened, deliver a simple yet compelling reason for the gap, and then stop talking. In general, the shorter your response, the less time the hiring team will devote to questioning the gap. Remember that overt criticism of the situation is a sign of a problem. Take out the emotion and avoid blaming your previous employer or boss.


Take a moment to shift your paradigm and look at the upsides of a gap. Discuss the skills or traits developed throughout your gap rather than focusing on the time off. Some examples may include:

  • There was a change in leadership. Every person on the executive team was either let go or repositioned in the broader organization. It was an opportunity for me to revaluate my skills. I took the time to add R-coding to my expertise, which is useful when evaluating new options for technology in the supply chain.

  • My sister fell ill and had no one to help care for her. We are very close, and I chose to put my energy toward helping her recover. I have always been committed to my work, as you can see in my previous positions. My communication and organizational skills were integral to dealing with her care staff and helping navigate the systems and insurance. Thankfully, she has completely recovered.

  • As markets change, so do the teams needed to promote the products. The company shifted both its strategy and its structure. Many people lost their job. I took the time to reassess my skillsets, became a professional project manager, and took courses in facilitation that will help me better work with consulting clients.

Practice Your Summary

The exercise of reciting your narrative in front of a mirror is cathartic. Practicing will help you feel more comfortable with your statements and make them easier to say in stressful situations. I recommended that clients practice their delivery for various questions and concerns; unemotional and relaxed delivery of your gap story is essential.


Find the Right Company Fit

It’s critical to keep a positive outlook during your job search. If you encounter a recruiter or hiring manager that is laser-focused on your gap, move on. If they’re focused on something that’s easily explained and is but a blip in time, then they will have other annoying hang-ups as well. You do not need to hide from an employment gap. You do need to assess your skills to determine the best next steps and identify target companies – organizations that welcome people who calmly cope with the ambiguity and surprise that is life.

As a certified career coach, Hillary guides extraordinary people and their personal brands. She’s a career solutionista that helps clients discover their unique worth to find new employment, pivot industries, or move toward cause-oriented work. When Hillary’s not busy coaching amazing people, she rides bikes, learns about wine, cooks for friends, and travels globally with her family. Find out more and sign up for her newsletter at www.careersolutionista.com.


#employmentgaps #jobgaps #layoff #resumes #careersolutionista

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