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Employment Gaps: How to Explain Unemployment in a Product Manager Interview

Unemployment gaps can often be a pain point for candidates during the Product Manager interview. There are plenty of reasons why you may have employment gaps on your resume and there are a few best practices to stick to when explaining unemployment in interviews.

Having any type of work gap or being an unemployed candidate won’t stop you from landing Product Manager interviews, but if you don’t have a legitimate reason for taking time off, it may stop you from getting the job.

When you break it down, there are five main scenarios to explain unemployment. Let’s get into what those scenarios are and the best strategies for positioning them in the interview. Follow along with our YouTube guide:

1. Resignation

Did you resign from your old job? We all know that the Product Manager job hunt is like a full-time job of its own. Maybe you decided to resign from your old job to dedicate all your time to job hunting so you can find the Product Manager position that is the perfect fit for you. How do you explain this resignation on the application and interview?

When it comes to updating your LinkedIn profile, there’s a little bit of wiggle room, but not much. You can probably wait about a month after resigning before updating your profile to show unemployment. Those first few weeks of unemployment you really want to hit the ground running with Product Manager job applications. In our program, we focus on getting your those Product Manager interviews as quickly as possible if you’re unemployed. After about a month, it is time to update your LinkedIn profile and your resume to reflect when you left your previous position. 

How to Talk About Resignation in Your Interview

Whether it is public knowledge or not, you want to address your resignation in your Product Manager interview. Let them know you achieved all you could in your last position and you are ready for your next challenge. Be sure to never talk badly about your old company, even if the true reason for resigning before securing a new job is because of the toxic work environment. You always want to frame it as you completed the challenge and are looking for the next one.

Once you have addressed the reason for your unemployment, redirect the conversation back to the company you are interviewing with. For example, highlight what about this new position attracts you and why you applied here for your next challenge.

Don’t leave room for it to seem you are simply unemployed and applying to every Product Manager position there is. At Product Gym, we tell members to start every interview with this: “Thank you so much for sitting on the call with me. What was it about my background that stood out to you guys so much that prompted you to schedule a call with me?” Their answer to this question will help you answer the “tell me about yourself” question later in the Product Manager interview.

2. Laid off

Unfortunately, in this pandemic world, layoffs are common and completely out of your control. Some companies are performing mass layoffs right now and they can be very public. However, companies tend to have a bit of compassion for people who were let go during a mass layoff with hundreds of their colleagues. You want to make it clear on your LinkedIn profile and in your resume and cover letter that you are not working at that company anymore. Also, highlight what you were able to accomplish in your time there. 

How to Dress Being Laid off

In the interview, address your unemployment as it is. For example, be real with your interviewer and say, “you may have heard about my previous company performing a mass layoff recently with a pre-recorded Zoom call. Unfortunately, I was on that Zoom call.” There is no need to say too much more about it if you just acknowledge the situation and then refocus back to the job you are interviewing for. 

If you were terminated individually, handle the conversation similarly to how you would if you resigned. Leave it open whether you were laid off or left the company. You can say something like, “I think it was time for us to move in a different direction. I had accomplished what it was I felt we could accomplish together.”  Then, as always, bring it back to the new Product Manager position you are interviewing for and why this company is the right choice for your next challenge.

Remember, they have a job to do and a list of Product Manager interview questions to get through. So there is no reason to spend too much time on this part of the conversation.

3. Family Emergency

Whether it is a divorce, a sick family member who needed care, or a child who needed your support or attention, a family emergency is a family emergency. It is a perfectly valid reason for a gap in employment on your resume or for current unemployment. 

Make sure your LinkedIn profile and your resume are consistent and accurate. If your employment gap is from June to October due to a family emergency, you want both places to accurately represent that timeline. Your cover letter is your place to be transparent and give your reason for unemployment. You can reference your resume and let the employer know there was a family emergency that resulted in unemployment for those months and now it is all taken care of. 

When you address your unemployment in the interview, remember it is truly no one else’s business exactly what that family emergency was. The person conducting your Product Manager interview should not pry any further. And likewise, you should not give too much further detail. Keep the conversation professional and brief. You can simply say, “for the last 4 months where I was not working, I was dealing with a family emergency. Sometimes life happens, but I’ve sorted everything out now. I’m excited to get back to work as a Product Manager.” From there, as always, direct the conversation back to the position.

4. Sabbatical

In this scenario, you basically just wanted to take some time off. Maybe you needed a break or maybe you wanted to take a few months to travel the world. Regardless of the reasoning, you will need to answer the question of what you have been doing while unemployed. 

There are two options for addressing a sabbatical on your LinkedIn profile and Product Manager resume.

  • Option one, leave it blank. Simply don’t mention that time period at all and you can address it in your interview.
  • Option two, if you did any type of consulting or freelance work during your travels you can list that here. 

It is important to be honest about your time away from work so don’t fill in the blanks with a stealth startup if you don’t have anything to prove for it.

How to Explain a Sabbatical in a Product Managr Interview

First things first, you don’t want to talk about how amazing your time away from work was during your Product Manager interview. By telling amazing stories about your travels and relaxation during your interview you are actually hindering your chances of landing the job. The employer is thinking you may convince other members of the team to follow in your footsteps and take a sabbatical for themselves. Instead, you can address your sabbatical from a very professional viewpoint. Here is an example:

Since entering the workforce, I never really had any time off, as you can see in my work history. I was at a point in my life, financially speaking, where I was able to take some time for myself and take a break from the working world knowing I could come back and get a job I was really excited about. It was a much-needed recharge, but over the last couple of months I have been looking forward to getting back to work. I have been very intentional with my job hunt coming off of my sabbatical because I really wanted to find the right company for me.

5. Job Hunt Burnout

The final scenario that may result in an unemployment gap on your resume is burnout. For example, maybe you were laid off and spent the next several months searching for your next Product Manager position with no luck. After all that time you become discouraged and just take a break, accepting an entry-level job in another industry perhaps.

This is a fairly rare situation, but it does happen. It is totally okay if this is where you are today. First and foremost, please reach out to us for a free consultation. We can help you polish up your resume and find a Product Manager job with ease. It does not have to be this difficult and you do not have to do it on your own. 

How to Come Back from Job Hunt Burnout

When you update your resume, include as many product-related skills as possible and transferable job responsibilities. Highlight what you have been doing in your other position that directly relates to what you will be doing as a Product Manager. This is also a great tip for anyone who is applying for a Product Manager job with no experience

After landing a Product Manager interview, you will need to explain your product management employment gap. Know that you do not need to tell them the whole story. A great way to address this in an interview is to say:

I always wanted to try something new, so I moved into this sales position for a few months just to try it out and gain some new experiences. I gave it my all and accomplished my goals there. Now, I’m ready to come back to product management. That experience reconfirmed for me this is the job I want to be doing. I can see now that product management is where I add the most value to a company.

Let them know why you decided to come back to the industry specifically with an application to their company.

Finding Your Next Product Manager Position

Whether you are currently unemployed or you have a large gap in employment on your resume, you can still land the Product Manager position of your dreams.

Always be upfront with your potential future employer and address the reason for unemployment without being asked. During your Product Manager interview, remember to always bring the conversation back to the job you have applied for and why this company is the place for you. If you need any more tips on how to position your background or how to ace the job interview, schedule a free consultation with our team. We’d love to answer any questions you may still have.