A reader asks:

How do you explain a long gap in work history due to personal issues such as depression?

We asked VM Brasseur (@vmbrasseur), an engineering manager with 18 years experience, for her input on the best way to handle this. She says:

“First of all, congratulations on pausing to take care of yourself. Recognizing that this is necessary is hard enough. Doing it is even more difficult.

“Secondly, it may be possible to avoid the question altogether (but still be prepared to answer it; more on that in a moment) by using different formatting for your resume. Using a functional rather than a chronological formatting puts the focus on the skills and experience you have rather than on the time spent in a position. Note: there are those who claim that candidates only use a functional resume format if they want to hide something (a gap in employment, for instance), but that is not actually the case. It’s true that a functional resume format is not as common as a chronological, but as a tool it is not inherently deceptive. It’s merely different and people are suspicious of different.

“Regardless, never assume your interviewer is unobservant and won’t notice your gap in employment. You should always be prepared to discuss it in some form. And, in this case, that form is: minimal. When the subject comes up, your answer should go into no further details beyond, “I needed to take time off for medical reasons.” That’s it. Period, dot, end.

“The details of your medical leave are NOT relevant to the job at hand. If it were (for instance, you are no longer able to lift more than a certain weight), then you can state your physical limitations which pertain to the job but do not have to go into detail about your condition.

“Aside from the fact that the details of your condition are not relevant to the job, divulging them puts you and the the hiring manager in a very unfortunate position. The more personal information you divulge (religion, marital status, sexuality, mental health status, etc.), the more you put the manager in a position where they might exercise or be accused of bias in their hiring judgment.

“I would like to think that most hiring managers would not be swayed by such things, but that (alas) is not the world in which we live. We are human, and we have human flaws. Most people will overcome their personal biases when hiring, but some cannot do that. If you do not divulge unnecessary information, the hiring manager will not have the opportunity to exercise bias.

“Unnecessary” here is anything not directly related to the role for which you are interviewing. Your preference between cats and dogs, whether you know how to drive a manual transmission, whether you prefer kombucha to Scotch, whether you needed to take time off to get into a healthier mental space. These are things which do not relate to most jobs and which do not need be shared. Your professional life can be an open book during an interview, but your personal life does not have to be.”

Good luck with your job search!

Do you have a question you’d like us to answer? Email advice@recompilermag.com (personally identifying information will not be shared).