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Long Gaps Between Jobs? Answer The 4 Interview Questions Employers Won’t Ask

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How do I overcome the hurdles presented by years-long unemployment / underemployment? – They

When you have long gaps between jobs (unemployment) or a series of part-time or short-term jobs with no clear career progress (underemployment), these gaps will slow down momentum to your next job. Employers see a gap as a big unknown and may not fill in the blank with positive assumptions. As the job seeker, don’t get defensive, and don’t give up.

Instead, be prepared. Address potential objections when you present your background, skills and motivation for that next job. You’ll have to anticipate these objections, and preemptively answer. Start with these 5 questions employers are probably thinking but won’t ask:

1 – Why should I interview you over other candidates without a gap?

This is a question that arises in the application stage, well before an official job interview. It underscores why answering job postings when you have a hurdle in your background is a losing proposition. Sure, you may be able to convince employers to interview you with an exceptionally persuasive cover letter, but many employers don’t read cover letters. By all means, include a cover letter with your application (you can write cover letters quickly). When employers do read it, it can help immensely. But you can’t assume it will be read.

You’ll need a strategy for getting in front of your target employers beyond your unsolicited resume. This involves reaching out directly – tapping friends for warm introductions or making your own introduction (ie, cold calling). Make introductory connections on LinkedIn, or perhaps you can meet via a professional association or conference. Slowly deepen the relationship by focusing on mutual points of interest, even helping the other person, well before jumping into what you need. Yes, this is an investment of time and effort on your part, but if you’ve been unemployed or underemployed for this long, what’s another few weeks to lay down a proper foundation for your networking?

2 – If you’re so good, why hasn’t anyone hired you?

When you do get that job interview, the question of why you haven’t been hired yet is the elephant in the room. Whatever the interviewer asks you, your ultimate answer needs to assuage any concerns about your qualifications. You have to sell your skills, expertise and personal attributes to such an extent that the employer considers themselves lucky to have found you before someone else snaps you up.

Focusing on your qualifications neutralizes the negative effects of the gap. Ultimately your gap is inconsequential — the employer is hiring your ability to help them, not your life story — so don’t spend a lot of time explaining your gap. Be concise, and speak in a neutral voice devoid of frustration, anger or defensiveness. Whether you stopped working entirely or worked less than you would have liked, give an overview without a lot of details – “I was tending to a family issue”, “I was on sabbatical”, “I was experimenting with several different interests”. Always bring the conversation back to the employer and why the employer is hiring in the first place.

3 – Do you really want a job?

Even if you’ve done a good job selling the employer on your qualifications, they may still question your motivation. If you’ve been able to survive this long without a job or with a less taxing job, why not just continue as you were? Employers may see your gap as something you deliberately chose, which calls into question your work ethic.

Just saying you have a strong work ethic won’t be enough because past experience speaks louder than promises in the hiring process. However, you can make a compelling case that now is a different time by redirecting the conversation to the employer, what they need and why you’re so excited to help with that. You’re not just excited about getting back to work – you’re excited about specifically working there.

4 — Why should I invest in you so you can just leave?

Focusing on your genuine interest in the employer you’re speaking with and not just any job, not only deflects objections about your work ethic, but also addresses another hesitation employers have about long-term gaps: you are looking for any job to jumpstart your career and will leave at the first sign of a better offer. The employer might think you can help, and they might believe you have the work ethic to stick to your career, but they fear being the rebound relationship.

If you are interviewing for a job that is not a long-term fit, be careful about making promises related to how long you’ll stay. Instead, outline what you’ll accomplish. This doesn’t guarantee that the employer won’t still be upset if you leave before a full year, but you can at least point to specific contributions you made while you were there.


Plan your next career move, not just your next job

If your career hurdle is unemployment or underemployment, be careful about joining a company where you’re not willing to stay. If you need to take on work strictly for the money, then that’s about your bank account, not your career, and you can keep those for-the-money jobs separate from your overall career-specific experience. (If these stopgap jobs are somewhat career-related, group them as consulting or freelancing when you include them in your profile or pitch, so there is some continuity.) Otherwise, invest in clarifying your long-term career goal, so you’re not just finding your next job but taking a strategic next step in your overall career.

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