Employment gaps and being fired are stages of your career that can be tricky to explain to a recruiter. We usually consider them as times when we failed at something while we think of a job interview as a place to show our strengths and accomplishments.
Let’s change our mindset! We say CV gaps and dismissals can be used to stand out in an interview.
So how to explain being fired? How to explain CV gaps in an interview? Here is our guide to first see your lack of work experience as personal growth and then share what you learned and how it makes you a valuable candidate to an interviewer.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Telling your story simply and honestly
There may be many different reasons why you didn’t have a job at one point. Mental or physical illness, a lack of motivation, not being sure what you want to head for, being fired, having multiple job applications rejected over a long time… They are all valid and should be addressed calmly, with honesty and no apprehension. If your CV gap is due to a dismissal where you played a part in the termination, be especially careful that you are telling an honest story about what happened. Try to be as factual as possible and don’t blame your former employer or colleagues.
You don’t have to explain a CV gap if the interviewer doesn’t ask about it, but if they do make sure you give a clear account of what happened. Don’t go too much into details and don’t apologise for your CV gap as these are not situations to be ashamed of but simply stages of your career that call for clarification.
A Journey of Personal Growth
Reflecting on what you learned and sharing your experience with the interviewer
Even if your experience of unemployment was a hard time, reflect on the positives and identify what made you grow. Indeed, times when things don’t go quite as planned are those when we learn the most about ourselves. Maybe you have learned new skills or taken a break that allowed you to decide what you need next in your career. In any case, unemployment has probably taught you something valuable and guided your decision to apply for a specific role. While you explain a CV gap, make sure to mention what you learned both on a personal level and in terms of skills that made you decide to apply for the role. Being passionate for your role and industry are equally important, which an employment gap and reflection have probably helped you confirm.
Depending on your case, here is how you can pinpoint what to put forward to stand out in an interview.
1. Being fired during a redundancy
If you were fired during a redundancy, be assured that while your role was redundant you were not. Redundancy is the result of a business’s miscalculation rather than your fault. Reflecting on your experience while working in a position made redundant has probably given you insight on what didn’t work with your former company’s structure. As a job applicant, this makes you valuable because you can offer advice on what managerial mistakes your new company can avoid while planning a strategy to define roles in your field.
2. Being fired because you weren't qualified enough
Thornier–we’ll grant that. But also an opportunity to share what you learned and how you evolved since your dismissal. Explain that you were underqualified and let them know that you’re willing to work towards becoming more skilled if you haven’t done so already. For any cases that are more serious, make sure you have taken steps prior to the interview to ensure that the issues you faced will not be repeated in the future. If you’re unsure whether your explanation convinced the interviewer to hire you, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything you could clarify that would make hiring you an easier decision. Indeed, that will show you’re happy to discuss your weaknesses, find ways to improve, and eager to get the role. For more advice on what you can ask an interviewer to stand out, have a look at The Best Questions To Ask at the End of an Interview.
3. Resigning from your role
Resigning isn’t abandoning. Ending your contract doesn’t mean that you failed to perform at the role but rather that you realised something wasn’t working for you with this job. It may have been the work pace, the environment, the methods, the values of your former company, the tasks themselves… Having a previous experience of work where you were not satisfied or in a good mental place gives you clues about what sort of work environment you need to feel good. Telling the recruiter about your past experience and why you want to get this new role will show them that you know what you want for your career and reassure them about your commitment.
4. Battling a mental or physical illness
Illnesses require time off from work to rest and heal, which means it’s completely normal to have a CV gap due to an illness. If you suffered or are still currently suffering from a mental illness such as depression, it’s OK to mention it to the recruiter to explain your employment gap. Recruiters won’t judge your ability to perform the role based on your mental health but need to know about it to understand your career history. Moreover, going through hardship and still coming out of them to apply for a job involves the kind of determination that most recruiters are looking for.
In any case, don’t feel insecure about CV gaps! Explain what happened honestly and let your interviewer know what you learned from it. For more insight into how you can secure a job offer, read The Good Candidate….How to Stand Out from Other Applicants.