Instead of saying, 'Explain the gap in your resume', consider asking, "What did you do in the last five years?", or “What did you learn from the experience?”, experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Practices say.
For the longest time, there has been a stigma attached to career breaks. Recruiters are known to ignore resumes of candidates who have not worked for a while, while jobseekers who get to the interview round often have to share the reason for the employment gap.
Unsurprisingly, a recent United States survey found that three in five employees believe resume gaps make it harder for them to secure full-time employment.
But such breaks are not uncommon. The same survey showed that more than two in three employees have an employment gap, with family responsibilities the most common cause.
Caregiving responsibilities, or a desire to prioritise physical and mental health, are valid reasons for stepping out of the workforce for a while, noted Alvin Goh, Executive Director of the Singapore Human Resource Institute.
"Having a career break doesn’t mean a candidate is not up to standard,” he pointed out at a TAFEP webinar on "Embracing agility in your business strategy - Good for business, good for people".
There are signs the tide may be turning. Gen Z workers, known to prioritise mental health and work-life harmony, generally have a more open-minded view of resume gaps. Instead of being regarded as a red flag, such “breaks” could be marked as a green flag for personal development, such as learning new skills or pursuing passion projects.
In 2022, in a step towards normalising career breaks, social network LinkedIn introduced a new feature for users to indicate reasons like caregiving, and health and wellbeing for these gaps.
Here are some ways hirers can approach employment breaks fairly during an interview.
Be curious, not judgmental
While shortlisting candidates, firms should not throw out a resume simply because it contains career gaps. Rather, they should assess applicants based on their merits.
During the interview, questioning people over what they did during their career break is a biased practice, said Mr Goh during the TAFEP webinar in March.
"(Women) have taken leave to take care of family members. It’s their right. Even for myself and some of my professional colleagues, we have taken gaps in our career just to have a mental break,” he added.
If you find yourself looking unfavourably upon a candidate with an employment gap, be mindful that unconscious bias might be at play.
Focus on aspects of a candidate that are relevant to the job, without making assumptions related to the gap. For example, ask competency-based questions on the interviewee’s skills, knowledge, and experience.
Instead of saying, 'Explain the gap in your resume', consider asking, "What did you do in the last five years?", or “What did you learn from the experience?”
Time to refresh and reskill
There is another reason hirers should keep an open mind. Career breaks could be a chance for candidates to acquire new skills and experiences.
According to a global LinkedIn survey, over half of people who took an employment gap felt they were better at their jobs afterwards. Half of hiring managers thought people returning from a break had gained important soft skills.
Employers should also be aware that candidates who stop working for a while often do so out of necessity.
Companies can consider offering 'returnships' to people re-entering the workforce – short-term positions where they can refresh their skills without starting from the bottom. This may include provision of added training and mentors to help them succeed in the role. Returnships could lead to a permanent role in the organisation – a win-win for both the employee looking to return to the workforce, and the organisation that gets a good hire.
Every interviewee is unique, and there is no “perfect” career trajectory. By evaluating candidates fairly, and not writing them off because of resume gaps, companies can tap a wider pool of talent.
Don’t mind the resume gap, and you might just fill a talent gap.
TAFEP provides information and resources to help employers and HR professionals keep abreast of HR best practices. Visit tafep.sg to find out more.