Dear Evil HR Lady,

Why is a gap in work history such a big deal? Why do applicants have to list volunteering, education, commercial attempts to account for what they were doing? So long as they weren’t in jail, having mental therapy, or engaged in some illegal activity, what’s wrong with taking off a couple of years (after a quarter-century of working 110%) and sitting by the beach contemplating life? When I was working, my co-workers and myself had to feign a “laid-back” attitude. Everyone had a driving sense of urgency; that was a given. We worked hard to do the job and (sometimes) harder to hide the sense of urgency. Yet I have always heard from HR that gaps in employment are a “red flag.”


Dear Hammock-Jocky,

A red flag is not a brick wall. It’s just something that jumps out to say, “ask more questions about this.” In my experience, periods of unemployment ususally have good explanations–I got laid off, had a baby, moved with my spouse, my mother was ill and I needed to take care of her. It’s that the ones with bad explanations can be really bad–I was in jail, repeatedly got fired so I just gave up for a while, I was too busy stalking someone to work.

I don’t know why you had to feign a “laid back” attitude in your previous job. But, I don’t see your explanation of “after giving it 110% for 25 years, I decided to spend 6 months relaxing” as a bad thing. Just something that needs explaining.

Related Posts

7 thoughts on “Red Flags

  1. Its not such a big deal if you don’t act like it is. During my first semester at law school, I quite a job I hated and stayed home for about 5 months.

    Once I was interviewing again I usually explained that I wanted to get settled into school.

    Good luck 🙂

  2. Yay, Evil!

    That’s a fantastic answer. How reassuring to read that a “hiatus” is not the death knell for our careers we have always been told it is.

    That’s why I read this blog. To find out what HR people are really thinking. I hope they’re all as good as you.

  3. Well, I don’t speak for all HR (I wish I did–think of the power!). But, I think that time off isn’t a career killer. Newsweek just ran an article about moms returning to the workforce–and how companies were gladly accepting them. If I can take 10 years off, I don’t see why our question writer can’t take 6 months off.

    I wish I could take 10 years off.

  4. Of course, It would also be helpful if I could read–he wants to take 2 years off, not 6 months.


  5. When I was recruiting full-time, I always went through the resume with my candidate as more of a discussion piece to start off the interview. It really is just an obvious question when you are talking about someone’s resume to say “what were you doing during this period”, it’s not necessarily something to trip you up.

    However, we do look for a reasonable answer, like school, travel, family, personal time off, etc. One time I had someone relay all the details of their divorce, I mean the nitty-gritty details, yikes I came out of that one knowing WAY too much. Look for the cues when the recruiter is trying to move you onto another subject! 🙂

  6. Oy…”So long as they weren’t in jail, having mental therapy, or engaged in some illegal activity…”

    I will have been at my job a year next week. Before that…2 years unemployed. In that 2 years? i was in jail, I was in “mental therapy” and it never mattered. No job interview ever touched on that–when asked (rarely) why I was out of work so long, they were satisfied with “well, I keep applying but haven’t been hired yet”.

    And so, y’know, mental therapy may well signify a disability, as in my case. And while many people think of a mental disorder as a scarlet flag, my bosses know and are cool with it. In fact, i can name at least four coworkers who are on some form of psychiatric medication.

    Yeah. I just kinda took issue with that. Because it won’t matter without a background check, and then only for jail. And the rest, no one is allowed to ask about.

  7. Mental health issues are one thing, jail is entirely another. You can hold jail time against someone unless it is somehow related to the job. However, I’d darn well want to know about it.

    Most applications have a section on “have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

    Again, it’s a flag, not a brick wall.

Comments are closed.

Are you looking for a new HR job? Or are you trying to hire a new HR person? Either way, hop on over to Evil HR Jobs, and you'll find what you're looking for.