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How to inquire about CV gaps in interview

CV gaps are often described as a ‘red flag’ for Employers. However, there can be many valid reasons for taking a career break. In the UK, recruiting and retaining staff is a common challenge. In a recent survey of 1,008 senior managers, nearly half admitted hiring struggles. Figures like this only strengthen the need to assess Candidates accurately. Managers who dismiss those with CV gaps instantly could be missing out of the chance to meet applicants who have many valuable skills to offer.

Be aware of unconscious bias

Research carried out by the American company ResumeGo proves that a CV gap can affect your chance of securing an interview. They found that applicants without a continuous work history were 45 per cent less likely to receive interest from Employers. Of course, it’s important to scrutinise a Candidate’s background. Employing the wrong person can be costly, not only due to the expense of the recruitment process, but because this can affect team productivity. However, Employers should be aware of any unconscious bias - judgements made reflexively and often unintentionally – which may affect their approach.

Naturally, a CV gap will raise questions. For example, why did a Candidate leave their last job and what have they been doing since? Having said this, always try to have an open conversation. If an individual ticks the boxes in terms of skills and experience, why not invite them to interview to find out more?

Understand the backstory

When you seek to understand an interviewee’s background, this should be done sensitively. It’s very common for people to take a career break to look after children, to care for a relative or to deal with circumstances regarding their own health. But, as many Employers know, asking questions about gender, age or disabilities can be viewed as discriminatory. Instead, focus on an applicant’s work history, prompting them to take you through their employment so far. Explore the Candidate’s motivations for leaving their last position, as well as their desire to return to employment. During this time, individuals may mention caring responsibilities or the fact that they’ll need specific adjustments within the workplace. For the time being, try to put this information to one side – consider the best person for the role, before thinking about the support mechanisms you’ll need to put in place.

Test for skillset

It can be tough re-entering the workplace, even after a short career break. Many industries are incredibly fast-moving, so as an Employer, you’ll need to check that Candidates have kept up to date during this period. An easy way to do this to create a quick task to test whether people have the desired skillset. This should be completed by all applicants invited to interview, to compare performance across the board. From designing a marketing poster to writing down how to deal with certain scenarios, all tests should be based on the key attributes mentioned within the job description. Hiring managers can also look for evidence of how applicants have used their time during their CV gap. Have they completed freelance work, set up their own business, spent time volunteering or taken a course? In many cases, Employers can work with Candidates to create a successful onboarding process which helps them to get back up to speed.

Check for references

Reference checking is an essential part of the recruitment process. In particular, for a Candidate with a CV gap, it can strengthen your confidence in them – with a strong set of references you’ll know that you’ve secured an excellent Employee. As with all references, you should look to check the accuracy of a person’s CV, making sure that your discussions in interview can be corroborated by a reliable third party. It’s common for companies to ask for two to three referees. If an applicant is struggling to provide this due to a career break, ask to speak to someone who knew them during this time and can provide a character reference instead. You can also request to contact people they’ve completed voluntary or freelance work with. However, you should always try to speak to their previous line manager. This will give you the objective feedback you need in regard to previous performance.

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