When you decide to take time out from your career, for whatever reason, advisers tell you to frame a story around it.
The logic goes that it’s OK to have time off, as long as you are able to justify during a job interview why you decided to do so.
The above tweet from Sukhnidh, a 22-year-old woman from Mumbai, went viral recently after she challenged why employers need to know about CV gaps at all.
“Why do you have to share intimate personal details to justify non-productive/non-labouring periods of your literal human existence omg,” she wrote in frustration, pointing out how invasive the routine question is.
As replies flooded in, many people pointed out that the truthful answer to this commonplace interview question may be deeply personal. Perhaps, for example, you took time out after a bereavement or as a result of crippling depression: but it’s not the kind of thing that people want to talk about in a high-stakes job interview.
So instead you feel duty-bound to improvise something about volunteering or reassessing your goals. Not only does this feel disingenuous, it also reinforces taboos around workplace mental health. With half a million people in the UK alone suffering from work-related burnout, stress, anxiety and other related conditions are hardly an uncommon topic in any industry – especially at the height of a global pandemic – and yet, time that may be taken out as a result somehow counts as a weakness, according to this line of interview questioning.
Others responding to the debate reminded people that interviewing is a two-way process, and suggested flipping the focus of the question right back at the employer who asked it.
People may choose to take time out for any number of reasons. Perhaps they decided to look after their children: but being forced to justify that only amplifies the risk of maternity discrimination that too many women already face in the workplace. Perhaps something sudden and traumatic happened in their lives that they simply don’t want to discuss. Perhaps they just fancied some time off to rest, travel or recalibrate.
Maybe, as the collective voice of Twitter suggests, it’s time to put this violating question to bed. Our time off is pretty sacred, after all.