Turning your gaps into your strengths to nail positioning in interviewsFeatured

In an era of the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, and mass layoffs, resumes no longer look like how they used to. It’s more common for people to have gaps in their resume for whatever reason – toxic environment, sabbatical, or getting laid off. Or maybe you quit before hitting the coveted one-year mark. Or maybe the fear of a challenging recruiting process might hold you back from accepting a gap on your resume, impacting your physical and mental health.

All of this can make the recruiting process, which is already quite stressful, even more stressful. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In order to understand how to position your gaps effectively, we need to get into the mindset of a hiring manager or recruiter.

When a hiring manager or recruiter first looks at your resume, they are trying to make one decision: is it worth getting on the phone with you for 30 minutes to get to know you? All you need to do is intrigue them enough to hop on the phone.

You can do this with your existing experience by accurately positioning your existing experience, and highlighting concrete achievements and impact while skipping fluff.

During the call, a good hiring manager is curious about understanding your background further. They might ask you questions about the decisions that led to this gap, or how you leveraged it to further grow yourself.

Instead of getting scared by this question, you can use this as a moment to become vulnerable with your potential future boss, which can set you apart from other candidates.

Note that I’m talking about a good hiring manager. Bad hiring managers will judge you during the call, or maybe not even get on the phone in the first place. If you’ve done everything above, and a hiring manager acts poorly, then I’d look at that as a reflection on them, their personal biases, and the company’s culture rather than a criticism of your decision-making.

Breaking down positioning:

  • Start with impact. For example, instead of saying “Working with ABC stakeholders to build XYZ," reposition to “Drove X by Y% through ABC and working with Z”. That makes it easier for a hiring manager to get intrigued.
  • Additionally, if you’re applying for a job that requires industry-specific knowledge (esp in healthcare, financial services, real estate, etc.) make sure to highlight that experience explicitly.
  • Be direct. When questioned about your gaps, be direct. Don’t embellish the details or speak in hyperboles. The goal is to communicate confidence about the situation with the hiring manager, which is easiest when you’re direct.
  • Be vulnerable. Especially when explaining the why behind the decision that led to the gap, share your honest thinking behind your decision-making progress. I love phrases like “To be completely transparent…” or “To be totally honest…” when I’m transitioning into a moment of vulnerability. Turn it into a bonding moment opportunity!
  • Be forward-looking. Avoid blaming others for what happened. Focus on how you’ve learned and grown from this situation, and how the experience has helped you understand what you want next.

This might seem pretty overwhelming, but let’s put it into action with a personal example.

Putting it into practice

During my last job search, I left my previous startup in <1 year. I realized pretty quickly that the role was not for me because the job I signed up for and the job I had were completely different. I also had a hard time finding the right support at my company, which combined with the work I was doing, led to burnout. It was becoming pretty clear that I needed to leave.

I polished up my resume and wrote out three bullet points for my role:

  • First bullet was focused on my scope, which was much bigger compared to my previous role. I wanted to highlight this so I could be considered for people management positions, as none of my previous roles talked about it.
  • Second bullet talked about my biggest impact at the company, a feature I launched that improved our metrics from 10-20%.
  • Third bullet talked about some of the other leadership opportunities I participated in.

Then, when speaking to hiring managers, I got the inevitable “Why are you leaving X role and what are you looking for?”. Applying the three tips above, I positioned my story as the following:

  • I started by explaining all the things I’ve learned in my startup role, but how the lack of support and chaotic environment was not the right fit for me to do my next role. I also spoke about how my current manager doesn’t have any product background experience, and I’m looking for more product mentorship. I positioned all of the above as data to inform my recruiting strategy- consumer product at large companies
  • Then, I talked about the type of culture I’m looking for, the type of impact I’m looking to have (both as an IC and people manager), and the skills I’m excited to grow in.
  • Then, I connect the above points to the specific company I’m interviewing with, to emphasize why I think it could be a good fit.

The above approach didn’t mean that I passed every single interview. Some hiring managers totally got where I was coming from, because they had faced something similar, and applauded me for my transparency and specificity. Some hiring managers were skeptical. But I didn’t get too hung up on it- I knew those places were not the right fit for me. After all, if a company has arbitrary standards on how “long” an employee needs to stick around, that’s not the kind of curious, empathetic environment I want to join.


Having a gap in your resume can seem scary. You know you’re doing the right thing for you… but will someone else get that? The short answer is: yes. (Good) hiring managers understand that things happen, as long as they have context on why you did what you did, what you learned from it, and how it informs your future ambitions. If a hiring manager dings you for doing the right thing for you, then that’s a red flag, in which case: RUN!

Thank you for sharing these tips! The gaps are often a source of anxiety for me. I've been in between jobs and I've been working freelance. I sometimes do struggle to talk about the projects I've worked on.
I'm glad it was helpful. Let me know if you have any followup questions as you apply the tips!
Thanks for this advice. I'm in between gigs so I'm experiencing my 1st gap.I'd like to normalize these gaps. Life happens, as you stated, but the thought that a person should work for 50+ years nonstop exhausts me just thinking about it. That's not a life!
Thanks for the response Daree! I'm glad this helped.
Excellent post! Helped simplify a complex and confusing topic and develop next steps aligned with what I am looking for.
Thank you! I'm glad you found the tips helpful. Good luck with your next move!
I love this. The interview process can seem daunting and a little bit like a popularity game at times. I actually do not like it when a recruiter asks me to explain every little thing on my resume. In every interaction with a potential company, for me, it is about whether or not I want to work there. Are they the right fit for ME? I'm talking to this person, at this company, because I want to learn more, not because I am desperate to work there.
I love that attitude! You definitely should be interviewing the company as much as they're interviewing you.