Burnout is a hell of a thing. You do all you can to protect against it, overcome it and try to deal with it, but it could still get you in the end. You quit your job and focus on yourself for a while. Several months go by. You’re feeling like the real you again. You might be starting to think about that smaller and smaller number in your bank account and decide that it is time to get back into the job market.
Interviewing is tough enough as it is. But it is made even harder when a prospective employer sees a gap on your resume. Answering the dreaded ‘I see between this time and that time you weren’t working; can you explain that?’ question can either make you certain to get the job or else you could blow the whole interview.
Preparing for the question and having your answer ready beforehand will make the whole interview process easier. It’ll lessen the stress of wondering if they will ask that question by being reassured that you have the answer ready to go. It is an essential part of any interview prep; scrambling around for an answer in the room shows your interviewer not only that they may have something to worry about if they hire you but also that you don’t even anticipate the most obvious things that might come up.
The one thing you should never do is lie in your interview. Do not be tempted to say you were in training or education when you were not. If you get a job with a lie, it is very easy for that lie to come back and haunt you. Don’t even think about it. Stop.
There is often an unwritten code in interviews. ‘New challenges’ might mean that I wasn’t enjoying my old job anymore. ‘Wanting to stretch myself’ could meant that I didn’t get the promotion I thought I deserved. This type of code protects you, your interviewer and your old employer from any kind of reputational damage. You don’t want to burn bridges in your professional life.
That’s why you don’t want to come right out and say that your old employer worked you so hard that your enthusiasm and passion for the role evaporated – that your job left you dreading every morning and counting the seconds until you could finally go home. That’s not a great answer (though it does show some courage and honesty).
You don’t want to overshare in this situation. Neither, however, do you want to be perceived as an enigma that has to be cracked. Striking the right balance can be tough. Highlight the positives of the last role, explain briefly that you wanted a break before embarking on new challenges and state that you’re looking forward to those new challenges now.
‘During my years working with my previous employer I accomplished a lot of which I am very proud. I wanted to carry that experience with me into new challenges but wanted to focus on my personal goals and projects for a time before then. This allowed me to get new skills and feel fulfilled in both my professional and personal life. Now I’m ready to take what I’ve learned and look for new professional challenges.’
That is a good template to follow but be sure to make it apply to you by personalising it. Even though we might not think of them as projects, the things we enjoy can be called as such. Exercising and training to meet a goal is a project. Learning a new language or how-to code is a project. Reading that stack of books that is piling up beside your bed is a project.
Explaining why now is the right time, and this company is the right place, to get back into the job market is also important. You should move from the general, “I’ve achieved what I wanted to with my career break”, to the specific, “this company will give me the opportunity to use my experience and newly acquired skills because of x and y”.
By focusing on the future and on the company, you move the conversation on. With their questions answered, you should feel confident about nailing the rest of the interview.