#Human Resources #Employer

HR Guide: Evaluating Candidates with Employment Gaps

Nikki Blog
by Nikki Blog
Jul 15, 2020 at 2:26 PM

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You are interviewing a promising and skilled job candidate. But here's the problem, they have been out of the workforce for quite a while. 

How do you evaluate job candidates with employment gaps? What should you look for? Let's check it out.


Keep an open mind and be consistent

There's a way to approach candidates with employment gaps. First of all, make sure you are not making assumptions about the candidate as this will stop you from identifying talent your company needs.

Sometimes these job candidates have unemployment gaps because of:

  • Family responsibilities
  • Health problems
  • Continuing study to add skills or train for a career change.

Unemployment gaps do not mean that a candidate can't perform, so don't pass on a resume just because there's a gap. Instead, try to concentrate on these candidates' experience and skills as they may be valuable to your company.


Assessing candidates based on skills and experience

Evaluate candidates with employment gaps the same way you would evaluate a regular candidate. For that type of position, make sure that their skills are up-to-date. 

Candidates who are not currently working may list former employers, volunteer coordinators or college faculty as references. Check these references the same you do for currently employed candidates. 

For example, you may ask their references with topics such as:

  • The candidates's work ethic
  • Their professional skills
  • Their work, volunteer or academic experience
  • Their character

Some candidates went back to university to learn new skills and knowledge.

How to discuss the candidate's employment gaps

During interviews, concentrate on behaviour-based queries that can show you whether the candidate has the right characteristics for the job.

For instance, ask them about a challenging situation the candidate faced at work, at school or in a volunteer role; how they handled it; and what the outcome was.

Other than the standard interview questions, you can and should ask about the candidate's employment gaps. But do so with caution and grace. 


1. How to ask why there's a gap

“I see you have a gap in employment here. What can you tell me about that?”

As they answer, pay attention to:

  • The reason why they took the break
  • The reason they are returning to the workforce
  • Indications of their level of motivation and reliability

For example, a candidate who took time off to go back to university may be motivated to get back into the workforce and put their new skills to use.


2. When to ask follow-up questions and when to move on

After hearing the candidate's reason for their employment gaps, you should use good judgement about whether to ask follow-up questions about it. 

In general, if the gap was because of a return to university, you may ask:

  • Why did they go back?
  • Were they looking to upgrade their professional skills or pivot to a new career?
  • What new skills did they learn as part of their education?

On the contrary, if a candidate's resume gap was for personal reasons such as a new baby, or their own health issues, the best way to approach this is to take that information and move on to the next topic.

field engineer
There are also job candidates who wanted to switch fields, which explains the employment gap as it takes time to do that.

3. What not to ask during the interview

It's important to stay away from questions that delve into personal reasons for employment gaps as they may be unethical or damaging to your employer brand and reputation. It's better not to ask about the candidate's personal characteristics such as:

  • Disability
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender
  • Family status

Instead, focus on asking questions that help you decide if you should move the job candidate forward based on their skills and experience.


4. The red flags 

As you ask the questions, look out for possible red flags. For instance, what if the candidate explains the employment gap by saying they didn't need to work or didn't want to work? This will raise questions about why they want to return to work now.

If the job candidate's work history shows a pattern of leaving jobs soon after onboarding or multiple rounds of unemployment, it's vital to understand why. 

Worker's can't control over being laid off, but if somebody repeatedly chooses to leave positions after a short time of work, that may indicate a pattern that they will repeat at your company.


This is how you turn a potential job candidate with employment gaps into an asset. Treat them like you would with any other candidates, understand the reasons for those gaps, you can tap into a pool of talent with the skills, experience and motivation to be an asset to your organisation. 

Source: Insperity

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