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HOW TO- Explain a gap in your CV

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It’s important to realise when job hunting that not everyone has a perfect CV. Some people are lucky and have gone straight from school into further education followed by volunteering abroad and into paid work with no breaks. Others have different experiences, and for various reasons you may have had periods where you were out of work – perhaps through illness, to have children or maybe you there was a time where you found it difficult to find work. Whatever your CV looks like, it is your CV and it reflects your life experience to date.

There is no point in comparing it to anyone else’s – no-one else has lived your life. You are unique – so celebrate that fact!

WomanJumpingOverCliffWhen it comes to interviews you will almost certainly be asked about any gaps in your CV. Potential employers are always interested in your previous work history and why there may have been periods when you didn’t work. I always advocate an ‘honesty is the best policy’ approach. I would be truthful about the reasons why there are gaps in your CV. I would aim to present the reasons in a positive way explaining what you learned from this period in your life. Remember, that if you didn’t work because this was a challenging time in your life, then you will have grown during this period and probably learned a lot about yourself. We grow on a personal level far more in tough times than we do when life is easy. The fact that you are being interviewed now means that you are back and ready to work. If you have been at home raising children, then acknowledge this is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. The skills you learn as a parent will stand you in good stead to tackle any role! Don’t forget to mention any voluntary work you have done during this period. People often forget to mention work that is unpaid as though it is somehow less valuable than paid work. Voluntary work is a job like any other, the only difference is that you don’t receive any money. You will still make a contribution and gain valuable skills doing any kind of work, paid and unpaid so mention everything which is relevant to the job you are applying for. Employers are interested in it all.


Now, imagine you have secured an interview for your dream job. You are busy preparing – deciding what to wear, making notes of good work examples you can use in answer to interview questions. However, you have been dismissed from an earlier job and you know you are going to be asked about this. How do you reply? I am going to repeat my earlier advice and suggest you go with an honest approach. It’s vital to be aware that interviewers will sense if you are lying. We all unconsciously read each other’s body language all the time.  Studies of communication have shown that the words we use only account for around 7% of the message we are trying to convey. Our tone of voice accounts for around 38% and our body language accounts for roughly 55%.Communication-piechart

This is helpful to know because if you are about to explain something about which you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, e.g. you were fired from your last job for persistent lateness, then you need to consider not only WHAT you say but more importantly HOW you say it. If you are explaining this scenario to a prospective employer then be open and honest, try to keep your body language relaxed and maintain a reasonable level of eye contact (without staring!). Keep your tone steady. As in the previous example of gaps in your CV, explain what you learned from this experience and also how have worked to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Always bear in mind that we are all human and we all make mistakes. The person sitting across from you, interviewing you, is human too and they will also have made errors in their life. I can absolutely guarantee you that. It’s not so much the mistakes we make in life but how we learn from them and avoid repeating them.  What I do know from years of interviewing candidates is that I respect honesty and I can tell when I am being lied to.

So, embrace your CV with its gaps and quirks. Be open and honest, and to quote Oscar Wilde, ‘be yourself, everyone else is already taken’. Good luck.

Author : Ashley Moray, Volunteer at Smart Works Edinburgh



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