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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

How to Explain a Job Gap if You Didn't Do Anything During the Gap

It’s generally understood to be good practice to do something of importance when you’re in between jobs—take a class, get an internship, start a blog, do freelance work, volunteer.

But what if you didn’t do any of those things? What if you straight up took a break and vowed to take it easy before diving headfirst into the next thing? Or, alternatively, you put so much time into the search that you didn’t leave yourself any time to do anything else?

I’d argue that this is far more common than most career sites would lead you to believe. Look, it’s just not feasible for everyone to go out and get an impressive part-time position or launch a time-consuming project after they’re laid off.

While starting a blog is an ostensibly less consuming task than interning three days a week, it still takes time, effort, and a lot of mental energy. And forget about seeking out freelance opportunities if your mind is still spinning thinking about all of the projects that you handled in your last role. Maybe you like the idea of volunteering and even looked into a few organizations that you’d be willing to devote time to, but pair that with eventual job searching, and it can all feel a bit overwhelming.

Besides, there’s something to be said about processing the demise of the last position before you hop, step, or jump into something fresh, even if it’s not another full-time gig. This can be true if you’ve been fired or if you left a job on your own terms. Sometimes you need to respect the gap.

Unfortunately, as much as you (or I) believe this, it’s not something all hiring managers are comfortable with. I reached out to Muse career columnist Caris Thetford to chat about this dilemma of the unaccounted-for job gap. Thetford, who is a serious proponent of self-growth and development, suggests that a change in mindset may be appropriate. “Maybe you think you should have been more productive during your gap, but unless you literally just sat around watching all of the series available for free on Amazon Prime, you probably did something during your break that you can use to your advantage,” she explains.

Remember in high school when you relayed an edited version of your weekend shenanigans to your parents? In a similar fashion, “you'll tell your potential employer an edited version of your employment gap.”

Of course, Thetford supports owning up to being burned out and needing time to deal. Nonetheless, you don’t need to reveal that you slept in until noon each day, that you became skilled at making pancakes for breakfast and dinner, and that you reread all of the Harry Potter books. Twice. Instead, be frank about your need to take some “me” time, maybe mentioning a journal you kept, a new publication you discovered, or a lesson you learned that you can in any way relate to your career (e.g., “Spending so much time away from my computer reminded me of the importance of simplicity in my life, as well as in my approach to digital marketing…”). If you took time off to travel, talk about that. It’s really OK if your trip wasn’t with Habitat for Humanity.

And, if you realized after getting laid off or quitting that a career change is in the cards, play up the preparation involved in making that move. Talk about the steps you took to connect with people in your new industry of choice. Discuss ways you researched the field and courses you plan to take to be even more marketable. Remember that you’re editing your job gap in a way that a potential employer would find acceptable. As Thetford points out, “If you spent some time connecting, reading, and preparing to go back to work, that's what you want to highlight.”

Bottom line: You can paint an honest picture of yourself without making the entirety of your personal life a near-stranger’s business. The job gap is never really unaccounted for if you can find a way to positively account for your time.

Photo of man working on his laptop courtesy of Shutterstock.