Are employment gaps a problem?

Employment gaps are an interesting conversation and issue for people, and for various reasons. So this question comes up a lot from the perspective of a candidate trying to get a job, and also as a hiring manager or team lead reviewing candidates for an open position. To make sure we’re on the same page, an employment gap is simply a period of time where someone wasn’t employed and it shows on their resume. A lot of people will transition from one employer to another with no downtime, at least any notable downtime. But when that downtime is noticeable, like months to years, that’s when the conversation comes up. What you’ll find will be unique to each person, and each employer. But overall there are important things to consider, so like anything in life, it’s a gray area.

Start with empathy

A key thing to hold onto is empathy. We all have to work for a living, but most people would rather not work for a living. And for most people, the most important part of life isn’t work, but things like family, love, experiencing life, etc. So if you see a gap in someone’s employment, a first thought should center you in empathy to understand that:

  • Don’t default to they’re a lazy or unqualified employee
  • Maybe the market was difficult, like in 2023 the engineering market is brutal for a lot of people searching for a job
  • Maybe a life event came up

Overall there are a multitude of reasons why there could be a gap. And it’s none of your business really.

What’s the size of the gap?

If the size of the gap is relatively small? Why do you care? Like if it’s a few months or still less than a year, there won’t be any problem. Their skills won’t have diminished, or anything that would impact their ability to do their job. Again, fallback to empathy.

If the gap is more than a year or two? Don’t immediately reject them. Again, fallback to empathy, but reach out to understand less about why they have a gap, but more understand what they did to keep themselves fresh in their career. Maybe they spent time during their gap and maintained their skills. You wouldn’t know unless you asked.

If the gap is really large? Similarly, don’t outright reject them, but it’s worth having a conversation specifically about it. If someone has a gap of several years, then if their resume is good otherwise, why not just talk to them about it?

Overall remember that life happens to everyone, and we all do our best to handle whatever is thrown at us. Try to practice empathy wherever you can.