Interview Advice: How to Explain a COVID-19 Resume Gap

Interview Advice: How to Explain a COVID-19 Resume Gap
Throughout the past year, the World of Work has been turned upside down, impacting organizations and individuals alike. In April 2020, the U.S. unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.8% — and as of September 2020, almost 100,000 businesses had permanently closed their doors. At the beginning of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that almost 40% of unemployed individuals had been out of a job for at least six months. 

While the workforce is moving quickly to learn new skills and find employment, many individuals will unfortunately have a gap on their resume from losing their job during the pandemic. The good news is this doesn’t put you at as much of a disadvantage as you may think. 

Changing Attitudes

Traditionally, a resume gap has been viewed as a bad thing. Like many other candidates, you might believe that it makes employers and talent access professionals question why no one else has hired you, whether you get along with colleagues, or if your experience is relevant — and ultimately discourages them from reaching out. But I can assure you that’s no longer the case.

Much like COVID-19 has changed other aspects about the World of Work, it’s also changed how employers view gaps on resumes. In fact, this shift was occurring before the pandemic. Instead of focusing on previous job titles and experience, recruiters have been evaluating candidates based on their Individual Scorecard and overall skill sets. However, even though companies are a lot more flexible and empathetic when assessing job seekers, you’ll still need to explain why you’ve been unemployed and what you’ve been doing to grow your career in the meantime. 

Having managed Protis Global through many recessions, I know what candidates can do during an interview to turn a resume gap into an opportunity. 

Acknowledge That the Gap Exists

If you don’t want prospective employers to judge your qualifications based on a gap, then you shouldn’t either. In other words: don’t try to hide or lie about a period of unemployment. The first person to look at your resume — likely a seasoned HR representative or talent access professional — will easily spot errors and inaccuracies. Not to mention, all it takes is one phone call to a former employer to determine the truth. 

The pandemic has taught us all about shared experiences, and prospective employers are bound to understand why there’s a gap on your resume during such a unique time, so be open and honest.

Prepare to Be Brief

That said, it’s important that you be succinct. An interviewer is guaranteed to ask about any significant gaps on your resume — but that doesn’t mean they need to hear a long, detailed explanation of why you were let go from a previous job or the deeply personal reasons you’re not employed. The more elongated the explanation, the more concern it brings to the surface. Be on point, substantive, and succinct.

Just like you would prepare to answer questions about your prior experience, practice talking about your periods of unemployment. Ideally, you can be clear, confident, and concise in your delivery; focus on the facts, and make sure to end on an optimistic note. 

Explain What You’ve Been Doing

More than anything, employers want to see that you’ve put your “time off” to good use. Many individuals, despite losing jobs during the pandemic, have still been working hard as at-home teachers and primary caregivers. Others have been volunteering safely in their community or discovering new hobbies and passions. No matter how you’ve filled a resume gap, you can put a positive spin on it during an interview. 

For example, have your time management, organization, or budgeting skills improved as a result of these new responsibilities? Have you used this period of unemployment to attend an online course? Talk about what you’ve learned during this time, whether personal, social, or professional — you have a real-life story to tell, so don’t be afraid to lean into that.

Show Interest in Getting Back to Work

Once the gap on your resume has been addressed, it’s time to steer the conversation back to your desire and ability to do the job you’re interviewing for. There are a few ways you can express excitement about your prospective role and responsibilities:

  • Discuss the organization’s recent accomplishments to prove that you understand its mission and evolution.
  • Ask what success looks like moving forward for the company and the role to show your investment in its future.
  • Ask questions about the company’s culture and values to better understand if they align with your own. 
  • Share personal stories that show you’re passionate about the company and industry.

Periods of unemployment — especially those brought on by uncontrollable circumstances — are nothing to be ashamed of. When you’re asked to explain a resume gap during your next interview, follow these best practices to show employers and talent access professionals how you’ve effectively used your time outside the office.