One of the main rules when employment screening is to construct a full employment history for your potential employee. This usually means accounting for the last three years, but some employers will want to see an employment history going back five, or even ten years. All the HR advice will talk about looking for gaps in employment history, but how do you go about investigating breaks in employment?

Reasons for Gaps in Employment

There are many reasons why a candidate might have a gap between one job and the next – redundancy, caring responsibilities, extended period of travel, study – so don’t automatically jump to the assumption that the candidate has something to hide. They might have been sent to prison, but it’s probably far more likely that there’s another explanation. Candidates are always advised to account for gaps on their CV, so check the application to make sure they haven’t offered an explanation elsewhere.

Chasing References

People know that employers don’t like to see gaps in employment history and are often tempted to tweak their CV to hide the fact that they were sacked and had a couple of months out of work before finding a new job. Always chase up references from previous employers to confirm dates of employment, and make sure they match with what the candidate has told you. Most former employers will also confirm the job title. Giving candidates the benefit of the doubt is important too, especially when taking an employment history going back five years or longer. People forget exact dates; they might remember that they started at a particular job in the autumn, but if they tell you October and it was really November, that’s of no great concern.

Voluntary and Involuntary Gaps

If you do discover gaps which can’t be accounted for, at interview you are trying to get to the bottom of whether these gaps were voluntary, or involuntary. A voluntary gap would include taking time off to have a baby or care for an older relative, to study or to travel overseas for several months. These reasons are not anything to be concerned about, and candidates are usually happy to detail these gaps on an application.

Involuntary gaps are what employers are more concerned about. An involuntary gap can be due to redundancy, being sacked, or even something as serious as being in prison. Candidates are usually happy to tell employers they were made redundant, less so that they were sacked or went to jail. Previous employers may be happy to give a reason for leaving, others will merely stick to giving the dates of employment with no further comment.

Mind The Gap

Not all gaps on CVs indicate the candidate is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. But some might, and you’re not doing your job properly as a recruiter if you don’t investigate what’s going on. It all helps build the picture of a candidate’s background, and helps you make a more informed choice about who to hire.