How to Handle Awkward Interview Questions – Part 1
There are some classic, tricky interview questions that always seem to pop up but what's the best way to answer them?
Most people will have a gap at some stage in their employment history. Career paths are increasingly non-linear and career changes increasingly common. Nevertheless, an unexplained gap is still a potential red flag to a prospective employer.
This article looks at how you can best present a gap and possibly even use it to help your application stand out for the competition.
Not necessarily. Unless you conceal the gap, all but the most rushed recruiters will pick up on it when screening CVs.
If the gap was only a few months long or back in the annals of time, it shouldn’t be an issue. However, if the gap was in the last few years, you are currently unemployed or it was more than 3 months long, you will need a game plan.
You may even be an ideal candidate with an uninterrupted history of applicable positions. In this case, a gap in your CV might seem particularly conspicuous.
How best to present a gap on your CV will vary depending on your circumstances.
You could just leave a gap on your CV and hope the employer doesn’t dwell on it. But without an explanation, the employer may imagine the worst.
Were you loafing around? Detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure? In rehab? If the employer is inundated with applicants, your CV might be rejected on the basis of the unexplained gap alone.
Some careers advisers advocate fudging your employment dates by rounding months off to years. Recruiters are well acquainted with this approach. Attempting to cover up a gap reads as dishonest - the exact opposite of what you are trying to portray.
Honesty is a better strategy. You could simply state the dates you were off work alongside a succinct account of why you had time off, e.g.:
‘I was unable to work for a period due to illness’.
A more dynamic approach is to add detail of the positives that resulted from your time off. You could present your time off in series with your employment history, for example:
‘Recovery period after an injury - Jan 2019 to Sept 2019 - I was unable to work for 9 months following a work accident. Whilst recovering at home, I focused on updating my developer skill set including taking an online course in App Development.’
Alternatively, you could tell your story in a covering letter or personal statement at the top of your CV. You don’t need to be long-winded. As long as you use the opportunity to allay any potential concerns and present yourself as an honest, proactive and ’can-do’ candidate, a paragraph or two should suffice.
The trick is to present your work hiatus honestly, whilst emphasising the skills and experience you gained during your downtime.
For example, if you are unemployed when compiling your CV, mention any skills and experience you have gained whilst out of work. Maybe you have been on a training course, volunteered at a charity or started a professional qualification?
Talk about how you’ve had an opportunity to reflect on your career, how it's helped you figure out what you want your next challenge to be, and why this job position fits that challenge.
If you were laid off, explain how your employer was forced to restructure for budgetary reasons. Talk about how you were proud of your achievements in the role. If possible, secure a glowing reference from the employer and, assuming it supports your application, ask the employer to confirm the reasons why the company was forced to make redundancies.
Maybe you spent 6 months skiing in Courchevel? Talk about how this trip was a lifelong ambition and how you used the time to improve your French. Sell it as a successful chapter of personal development that has given you a renewed sense of vigour for your next career challenge.
If you took time off to look after children, you can talk confidently about how the experience has honed your communication, time-management and leadership skills.
If you are called to interview, rehearse a coherent explanation of your time off that is consistent with your CV. Whilst you're at it, make sure your social media profiles are similarly consistent. Employers are likely to check your social profiles if your application progresses.
The interviewer will probably ask you about the gap. If you aren’t asked, you may want to raise it yourself anyway. The interviewer might not voice any concerns, but you don’t want to miss the opportunity to recount the polished account of what you did with your time off.
Applicants are often reluctant to mention a previous injury on a job application. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job applicant on the basis of any ‘protected characteristics’, including injury, illness and disability. The law also protects workers from having to reveal a disability, illness and injury on their CV.
In most cases, assuming you are comfortable in doing so, it would be advantageous to seize control of the narrative and disclose the injury on your CV. Without an explanation, the recruiters' suspicions may fill in the gap for you.
As with any other gap, highlight the positives. For example, explain how you spent the time working on your blog, improving your languages or starting a professional qualification.
Assuming you have fully recovered , say so and state your eagerness to get on with your next challenge.
You don’t have to provide any detail that you are not comfortable with. Providing details about the accident happening at work might invite (unreasonable) speculation about you being another injury claim waiting to happen.
You should probably still be upfront about the injury on your CV, but you don’t need to give details about where and how the injury happened.
In theory, the interviewer shouldn’t press you for more detail, but if you are asked, you should have an answer at the ready. Some interviewers may probe deeper, and ask if you took legal action.
Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance Legal Services, said, “Compensation is awarded where there has been a breach of an employer’s duty of care. If you were injured as a result of an employer's negligence you may have received compensation for any pain, suffering and loss of amenity you experienced.”
“There is no need to mention the legal action on your CV and a potential employer should not ask about an injury claim. However, you should still be prepared to discuss it at an interview if it does come up. Again seek to emphasise the positive.”
If the employer admitted liability, you could mention this. If you assisted on a health and safety audit to mitigate the risk for other employees, say so. If you are still on good terms with the employer, or better still have a good reference, you could raise it at this stage.
Even though an employer is not supposed to ask about a compensation claim, lying is ill-advised. If you are offered the job but the employer subsequently discovers that you have been dishonest, you might start your job on the wrong foot. In some cases, the job offer might be withdrawn.
Honesty is still the best policy if you continue to be affected by your illness or injury. As before, you should mention your health condition on your CV.
At the interview you can talk in more detail about how your condition affects you. You could discuss how the employer would be able to make straightforward adjustments to the role or workplace to accommodate your health condition. In other words, put the recruiters mind at ease with a ready-made solution.
By giving more detail about the reasons why you took time off work, and about any injury or illness, you are helping to show your whole CV as a more complete and trustworthy account. In turn, recruiters will view you as a more open and honest candidate.
Characteristics like honesty are among the most valuable traits that prospective employers look for. By presenting a fuller, more rounded application, you are giving employers a better chance to judge you fairly and positively, improving your prospects for getting an interview and securing a job offer.
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