If you’ve ever been to London and taken public rail transportation known as The Tube, you’re well aware of the written platform warning and automated voice that blares over the loudspeaker “Mind the gap!” It’s become iconic whereas you can purchase t-shirts, paperweights, coffee mugs, and even talking key chains that all exclaim Mind the Gap!
But minding the gap also pertains to those who are job seeking and have a gap on their resume, either current or recent.
So, what is the best strategy for answering the question, “What have you been doing since your last position ended?” or “What were you doing during (time period) while in-between jobs?”
As a former corporate recruiter and hiring manager, I interviewed candidates with gaps on their resume on a regular basis. Around 50% of everyone I interviewed had some sort of current or recent break in their work history — and I almost always asked about it. The answer they gave carried a lot of weight, as it’s important, and not all interview questions are created equal.
Any guesses on the number one response candidates gave when addressing a gap on their resume (drumroll…)?
“I was looking for a job.”
My initial response was to eyeroll them, and calmly state, “I know that. You’re sitting right across from me in a job interview, remember?” But my Upper Midwestern values of politeness and courtesy overrode any potential sarcasm, so I usually countered with something to the effect of, “OK, besides that, what have you been doing to work on YOU?”
The usual response was the quintessential deer in headlights look. Kind of a blank stare and silence.
Very often, deer who get caught in the glare from an oncoming car’s headlights don’t fare all too well and job seekers who offer up the same reaction in an interview when asked about a work hiatus don’t either.
So, what is the best way to answer the question?
Talk about what you have been doing to work on YOU. Discuss books you’re reading or have recently read, classes you’re taking online, networking groups, professional groups, working with a career coach, doing contract work, or taking on a part-time gig. I call this technique Stacking. Meaning, the more areas of professional development and skills-building you can stack, the more solid your bridge will be over the chasm in your employment history.
To best address an employer’s concern, your answer should sound like this: “Since my last position ended, I’ve been taking leadership classes (name them) online through (school or app) as I’m a firm believer in ongoing education and professional development. I’m also involved in an executive networking group (name) and even update their web site for them. I’ve done some pro bono (or paid) work with (name the company or organization), and have engaged the services of a reputable career coach. We meet on a weekly basis to discuss my goals and objectives and an action plan for achieving them. He/she also assigns weekly homework I must complete.”
Most any hiring manager worth their salt will have the same response: Ok, good answer. Next question.
Sounds a lot better than “Looking for a job” which to my inner recruiter self can also be translated as “Not much, occasionally looking at Indeed, mostly kicking back and watching reruns of Seinfeld.”
So the next time you come upon the fast-moving Tube train, aka the job interview, mind any gaps you may have by talking about what you’re doing to work on YOU in the areas of professional development and building your brand. A break between jobs is an excellent time to build skills, grow, learn, and increase your marketability. It says a lot about you as a professional and may just be the linchpin you need to pull to put you over the top in winning the job verses the tough competition you’ll likely be facing.