Careers advice

How do you explain a career break in a job interview?

Don’t worry, this won’t be a deal breaker for employers.

We take career breaks for different reasons. Maybe you’ve recently returned from the staple Kiwi OE, maybe you’ve started a family or maybe you needed to take some time out for your well being.

However, there’s one thing that many of these career breakers have in common: a fear of what employers will think of a gap on the CV.

First things first, there’s no need to worry. It’s very common for New Zealanders to take career breaks, and employers will be used to seeing this. Secondly, we’ve got you covered in how to answer questions about your time out during a job interview. Let’s explore.

How do you explain a career break in a job interview?

1. Be honest about why you took a career break

There are two main reasons why people are tempted to dodge interview questions when it comes to career breaks:

  1. You’re worried you don’t have a ‘good’ reason: if you took time away from work for reasons like travel, you could be worried that employers won’t see this as valid.
  2. It’s too personal: if your career break was for family reasons, or because you needed to look after your own mental or physical health, this can be uncomfortable to talk about.

If you fall into the first category, you shouldn’t be worried. We’ll talk about how to frame your answers below, but most employers will see value in seeing more of the world and expanding your horizons.

For those in the second category, we understand that these matters can be tough to chat about with a complete stranger, in the already stressful environment of a job interview. However, once an interviewer realises it’s a sensitive subject for you, they will almost certainly change tack and leave it at that. Also, you might tie yourself into knots by making up a different reason for taking time out, so it’s best just to be straightforward.

Importantly, remember to maintain positive body language, even if this isn’t something you want to talk about. Avoid defensive postures, like crossing your arms, and remember to smile and keep your tone upbeat.

Don't be worried about your 'reasons' for your taking a career break.

2. Talk about what you learnt

Depending on the reasons for your career break, what you learnt could include:

  • Courses and qualifications: while it’s perfect if these align with the job you’ve applied for, any new qualifications show your desire to learn and see a project through to the end.
  • Soft skills and personal attributes: if you took time off for personal or family reasons, and are happy to talk about it, there’s a good chance you’ve gained emotional resilience, and other important soft skills.
  • Knowledge and understanding of other cultures: in a diverse country like New Zealand, cultural awareness is an important soft skill that employers look for, so this is definitely valid for anyone who spent their OE exploring new countries.

3. Bring it back to why you’ve applied for this job

While your OE may have been the greatest time of your life, you’re not here to give the interviewer a day by day account of what you did. You want the hiring manager to see you as a future employee, so you need to focus on the job itself.

The end of your answer should tie back into the role itself. This could be done by referencing some of what you learnt during your time away from work, or you could talk about how the changes in your life mean you’re now perfectly positioned to take on whatever challenges the role might throw at you.

How do I face an interview after a long break?

If you’ve had substantial time away from applying for jobs, you’ll probably also need longer than usual to get yourself prepared.

Among the important things to go over are:

For the most part, job interviews have remained the same for years, so it’s just a question of brushing up on the details. However, another important thing to consider is whether you’re up to speed on video interview skills – depending on New Zealand’s COVID alert level, these may or may not be in place in your location.