The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020 sent the global economy into a tailspin, with entire industries slowing down, small businesses shuttering and millions losing their jobs. Over the months that followed, we saw a gradual recovery — and the return of the temporarily unemployed to the workforce. And despite the historic crisis that left them adrift for a while, many of them had to answer an irritating question in interviews with prospective employers.
“Can you explain this gap on your résumé?”
Having hired very few people in my own career, I shouldn’t estimate how often this “gotcha” is used to throw an applicant off or dig deeper into their past. I can state without reservation, however, that it sounds pretty stupid when you actually say it out loud. What is it you want to hear? That the person was in jail? A coma? Lost on a doomed Arctic expedition and cannibalizing any comrade who froze to death? If it were relevant to the open position, it would be there on the résumé, or in the cover letter (which shouldn’t be a requirement either).
No, this inquiry deserves only silent contempt or a withering answer.
Sorry we haven’t been wage slaves every waking moment of adulthood! Apologies, too, that we were so unproductive as babies. That kind of background must be triggering for a manager like yourself. But we’re ready for full-time labor now, and you should be able to glean our qualifications, as well as pertinent strengths and weaknesses, without accounting for what we had going on between June 2020 and January 2021.
We could turn around ask why the last person in this job suddenly quit — yet most of us have the sense of propriety not to. “Explain this gap” is an even lower form of assessment than “Why do you want to work here?” Feel free to assume it’s “None of your business” and “Because I need money for food and shelter.”
I’m forced to conclude that an employer pursuing this line is jealous, not curious. They’d love to know what happens in a gap — and they lack the imagination to seize one for themselves. They dream of having an elision on their otherwise dull résumés, this mysterious space in chronology that could suggest international travel, or a secret spy mission… or both!
They’ll never have the pleasure, though, too comfortable in a silly little professional role to claim their freedom. If they ever try to apply elsewhere, perhaps that interviewer can ask: “Where’s the gap on your résumé? You don’t mean to say you’ve been a pencil-pusher for this long without a break? For god’s sake, you’ve barely lived! Go home right now and start napping on the couch!”
When you have the chance, embrace the gap. There’s no telling when the next will come along.