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Candidate employment gaps: 7 questions to ask potential hires

Candidate employment gaps: 7 questions to ask potential hires

A promising candidate grabs your attention, but his candidate employment gaps raise questions. Should you care about a candidate’s missing work history?

While continuous employment speaks to reliability and commitment and puts recruiters and hiring managers at ease, it can be a mistake to pass on candidate with a resume showing career breaks. Sure gaps can be a warning sign but don’t assume the worst.

Candidate employment gaps are quite often not a choice. Economic upheaval, like recessions and pandemics, have led to a tremendous amount of restructuring and downsizing, and many good people have become victims of circumstance.

Understanding the reasons for the gap is your best bet to finding reliable, talented and motivated employees. Just be sure to ask these 7 questions to go beyond the gap:

What can you tell me about the gap in your work history?

With this type of simple, open-ended question, you’re looking to find out the reason they took a break. Was by choice or circumstances beyond their control, or were they forced out?

If they left to go to school to upgrade their skills, then this speaks to motivation and dedication to their profession. Maybe the work gap is related to family caregiving responsibilities or health issues—all worthy of admiration. These gaps don’t mean that a candidate can’t do the job—references can back that up.

Getting fired, or quitting before getting fired, is a whole other story and needs discussion and transparency. Ideally, acknowledgment of their part and what they learned makes for honest discussion, You want to feel assured that their former termination will not impact their performance or your company.

Although vague responses can be a red flag and require more exploring, don’t ask questions that delve into personal reasons for the gap and invade their privacy.

Tell me about your last few jobs—what did you like about the work and what prompted you to leave?

Getting a candidate to walk through their resume provides insight into their interpersonal and work skills relevant to the position you’re hiring for, and hopefully address your curiosity and concerns about why they left.

If a candidate’s work history shows a pattern of job hopping or multiple bouts of unemployment, this could signify an ongoing commitment issue. If they’re a victim of bad management and voice lingering resentments, take note. This could make you and your company a casualty of their problematic work ethic.

Evidence of stability and increased responsibilities at jobs prior to the gap make them a less risky hire, and their employment story should diminish your doubts, not raise them.

Did you enjoy the gap?

This will provide insight into the applicant’s personality, outlook and work ethic. If the best part of the gap was sleeping in and having no schedule to keep, this may not be your ideal hire. If they are simply looking for a way to pay off debt from a year of travel, again you may want to consider another candidate.

On the other hand, if the gap was based on external motivators like career development and they can’t wait to apply what they’ve learned, their experience and enthusiasm could be great additions to your team.

A beneficial candidate employment gap doesn’t have to be something the candidate enjoyed—but ideally it should be a learning opportunity in some way, including the ability to face adversity or take on new challenges. A candidate being able to self reflect on the good and the bad of their gap offers insight into how they operate and how they’ll fit into your office culture.

Have you gained new qualifications or skills on the career gap?

You want candidates who’ve remained competitive in their field by staying abreast of industry trends and developments. Technology changes quickly so if you’re hiring for a tech position, you may not want to invest in retraining and support, but rather have a new hire hit the ground running.

Have they attended conferences or industry events? Maybe completed an internship or volunteering stint? What you want to see is that someone has continued their professional development throughout their involuntary—or voluntary—break with a commitment to staying relevant.

A candidate’s ability to persevere with their own personal advancement through activities, research and learning, in good times and bad, bridges the gap in a positive way and shows focus on the future.

Do you have any performance reviews/letters of recommendation?

Since candidate employment gaps tend to muddy the waters, getting a clear picture of a candidate’s capabilities and accomplishments with endorsements isn’t a bad idea. It definitely helps pad out the information you accumulate from reference checks.

To make a great hire, you want access to as much information as possible. Performance reviews and/or letters of recommendation are great add-ons for rounding out the applicants profile and providing further insight into how they work with others. Another important piece of the culture fit puzzle.

During your gap, were you applying for positions and if so, why do you think you were unsuccessful in landing a job?

 Looking is a good thing. Unfortunately, a candidate looking too long brings out our biases, according to research, and, in turn, compromise our efforts to recruit the best people.

Good economy or bad, the best and the brightest go jobless. Put assumptions aside. Keep in mind perseverance is admirable, and you can likely count on them being eager to work and prove themselves. If they’ve responded to the challenge by improving skills and knowledge, and are now focusing on more specific positions, this shows their critical thinking and commitment.

You want to see a thoughtfulness in the job search. Randomly targeting jobs out of desperation doesn’t win them any points—your aim is to bring on a new hire who has the right skills and fit, and enthusiasm for you company.

What are career goals and where do you see yourself in five years?

By focusing on the future, a lot can be drawn out about the past. So they aspire to lead brand strategy on a global scale? Be your lead account executive? What steps have they taken, including before their gap, to acquire the education, skills and experience needed for that role? No matter how small a role or project, it all counts and shows commitment to goals, even when gaps get in the way.

Finding a candidate who wants to advance with your organization, and has the worth ethic to do so, is your goal. Gauging the likelihood of the candidate sticking around for the long term is critical to reaping the benefits of any training and support you’ll need to provide.

Fill in the gaps with the best candidates

Even after all these questions, you won’t have all the answers. While keeping in mind that more and more people are experiencing career gaps, you want to focus in on all the other factors that positively outweigh the gap. Monster can help you with advice, guidance and low-risk recruitment strategies so you hire the right candidate.