A simple formula for explaining your career gap in a job interview

Dread being asked about your career gap at job interviews? Use this simple formula to explain it – and impress recruiters. 

It’s the question every mother dreads when returning to work after a career gap: “What is your reason for taking time out?”

It can be tough enough patching up your confidence to head back into the job market, without being asked to explain what you have been doing for the past few months/years – and convince an employer that it makes you perfect for their role.

Luckily Shamanth Pereira from Career 2.0 has got a simple formula to help you explain your career gap – and impress – at an interview.

Don’t try to avoid or shy away from answering

The most important thing to remember when answering the question: “What is your reason for taking time out?” is to own it. Rather than fearing or avoiding the question, embrace it and make it your own. The key to successfully doing this is down to three things:

  1. Your body language – adopt a positive stance, smile, and look enthusiastic to be there.
  2. Your structure – have a structure to your answer(s).
  3. Your tone and intonation – use a vibrant, enthusiastic and positive tone.

By working on the above you are 50% there. All you need now is a simple formula for answering the question!

Evidence backs up your decision to take a break

Before I reveal the formula, there’s something you need to know: your decision to take a career break is backed up by research. Indeed, did you know that investing in the early years of your child beats the stock market by an extra 5%?

A study, the life cycle benefits of an influential early childhood program, by Nobel laureate James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and the director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development, reveals that comprehensive quality care in the early years of development delivers a subsequent 13% return per annum on investment. While the S&P 500 historically has averaged around just 7% when adjusted for inflation.

The most effective ingredient of this early childhood care programs discussed in the paper was related to the ‘human interaction’ with a child. The term that’s used by the child development specialist is scaffolding, like building a sculpture — in this case of a human being. Staying with the child, taking the child to the next step, challenging the child. In that sense it’s very personalised education.

So in a nutshell, we have research-backed evidence that our career break (should we choose to have one) actually delivers greater future ROI for the family compared to investing in the stock market.

(To understand the underlying parameters that allowed Professor Heckman and hi co-author to reach this conclusion, please read the paper here.)

Here’s my simple formula for explaining your career gap in a job interview

So, how do we incorporate this information into a concise answer that will impress an interviewer? Here’s my simple formula:

  • First answer why you choose to take a career break.
  • Next discuss all the different things that you did during the career break.
  • Finally pull it together and summarise how those experiences will benefit your new role.

How I answered this question in a job interview

As an example, here is the answer I gave during one of my interviews when I was asked this question:

My reason for taking time out is to build a strong foundation for my young family. I wanted to make the most of their formative years and be there in the early stages of their development.

During this time, I completed an MBA and built an e-commerce business from scratch. I always wanted to continue my intellectual curiosity whilst taking on my role as a mother, though I wanted the flexibility to manage it on my own terms.

So freelancing and building my own business allowed me to achieve both. It was certainly much trickier creating boundaries and certainly taught me the fine art of being productive in a short time space and the ability to work amongst chaos.

So throw me in any situation and I will thrive, and I certainly look forward to bringing onboard these skills and experience to this role.

It worked for me – now it’s your turn!

If you are wondering whether it worked, it did! I was hired for the job, so suffice to say my career gap wasn’t a deal breaker.

Now it’s your turn to let world and your future boss know all the amazing things you are great at and new skills acquired since becoming a parent. Go forth and shine!

Shamanth is founder of Career 2.0. She helps women who have taken a career break successfully relaunch your career using her proven 5-step framework. 

Grab Shamanth’s free resume makeover cheatsheet to craft a compelling CV and skip the resume blackhole of doom.