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How do I explain a work gap to my future employers?

"People take gaps in their work and careers all the time. You are not the first person this company has met with who has a gap in their resume."
Illustration of woman and men in an office with a resume ripped on top of them
What really matters is how you’re going to talk about it in a way that says, “Hire me! I am perfect for the job!”TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Caroline Moss is an author and host of the podcast "Gee Thanks, Just Bought It," which helps people find the products they need to make life easier, better and more productive. Now with this column, "Asking for a Friend," she's helping people with the advice they need to make life easier, better and more productive. To submit a question, email us at tmrwadvice@nbcuni.com.

Hi Caroline,

I had diagnosed PTSD because of the environment at my last job and took a year off. How do I explain the gap to future employers?

Signed,

Back on Track

Hi!

First of all, I think it’s really brave that you are both sharing this diagnosis with us and that you took the necessary steps to take care of yourself. You identified something in your environment that was causing you grief or stress, and you were able to remove yourself and seek help and time in order to heal. Who wouldn’t want to hire you?

But for real, people take gaps in their work and careers all the time. You are likely not the first person this company has met with who has a gap in their resume. What really matters is how you’re going to talk about it in a way that says, “Hire me! I am perfect for the job!” There is nothing shameful about a PTSD diagnosis or a break in employment. If you can move on from that worry, then let’s begin what you should prepare to discuss.

If I were you, I would be honest. Clearly there were aspects of your last job that caused you great distress. I imagine you would not like to have a repeat experience at your new job. Being honest about this diagnosis will allow you and the interviewer to really see if you’re both a good fit for one another. Explain the situation at your last job and what you learned about yourself as a person and an employee by experiencing that kind of environment. Don’t place blame on either the company or yourself; spin everything into what kind of a learning opportunity had been presented to you in the aftermath.

“I had a very demanding boss who did not respect personal boundaries, and I learned that…”

or

“I worked in an office where we were expected and required to work 80, 90 hours a week…”

or

“I experienced harassment from a colleague at my former company, and learned that I couldn’t count on that company to protect me.”

Whatever your story is, name what happened and how you handled it. That’s what they want to hear about. They won’t necessarily have worries about the gap year, I’d guess.

A few years ago I had to have a similar conversation with a prospective boss about the last work on my resume, which had ended poorly. I showed up to my interview assertive. I knew myself, I knew my skill set and what I could bring to the table in this role, and I knew that I was a worthy candidate for employment. Regardless of my relationship with my previous employer, I decided to be honest but also confident. The problem was not me, it was that the company and I were not a good fit and decided to part ways. I didn't overindulge my professional weaknesses, but showed up to send the message that I am here interviewing for this job and this is the job I want. (Yes, I was hired!).

You can do this. Own it. There will be an employer out there who will hear your story, your assertiveness and your confidence and think that you’re perfect for the job at hand. Good luck!

Have a question for Caroline? Email us at tmrwadvice@nbcuni.com.