Half of workers reluctant to disclose career gaps, study finds

But while employers express concerns around ‘skill fades’ resulting from breaks, half of employees believe they gained new skills during time out of the workforce

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Half of workers say they do not want to tell their employer about career gaps, a new study has found.

The research by Applied, which surveyed 2,001 people in September 2022, found that a third (33 per cent) of employees had taken a career break of six months or more. 

However, 53 per cent said they would feel more confident applying for jobs if they did not have to share the gap with employers. The figure rose to three-quarters (77 per cent) among C-suite executives.

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Childcare was the most common reason for a career gap and, of those who had taken time out of work, more women (38 per cent) were affected by this than men (11 per cent). 

One in five (20 per cent) of all respondents cited mental or physical health as their reason for taking a break, and this was the most common reason for male (23 per cent) respondents. Just under a third (29 per cent) said redundancy or caring responsibilities were responsible for their career gaps. 

The research found that a third (35 per cent) felt a career gap of a year or longer could result in ‘skill fade’, this is despite half (51 per cent) of career gap employees feeling like they had actually gained skills. 

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The study also surveyed 226 HR professionals and employers, and found that half (49 per cent) thought candidates who had taken a career gap should be ‘prepared to explain’ their time away from work to potential employers. 

Khyati Sundaram, chief executive of Applied, said unconscious bias should be eliminated from the recruitment process, and called on employers to level the playing field by removing employment start and end dates on CVs. “Candidates should not have to explain their career gap to employers beyond the extent to which the skills they gained qualify them for the role at hand,” he said. “The notion of ‘skill fade’ during a career gap is a fallacy and we want to ensure all candidates are given a fair and equal chance to succeed.”

Richard Edge, chief executive of Careerships, said having years of experience outlined in a CV was beneficial in giving more structure and context to the recruiter. Candidates should also feel comfortable articulating the reasons for their career break, but, he highlighted, “this is about an employment contract, not a life contract”.

Having been responsible for global recruitment, Edge said he was “all for” career breaks and that nobody should be discriminated against for them: “In some instances, people can develop themselves in career breaks [and] this could be an asset to an employer.” But he warned that if a candidate thinks they will be discriminated against then they may want to think about alternative employers.

Charlotte Gibb, employment and skills campaign manager at Business in the Community, stressed that a candidate’s career gap had no bearing on whether they were able to do the job. “If employers want to attract talent they must ensure that their recruitment practices are inclusive and focus on the essential skills needed, rather than creating unnecessary barriers for applicants," she said.