I realize that when you review your employment history in an interview, a life-altering personal situation such as a divorce may have impacted your separation from a previous position. One of the large mistakes you can make in an interview is to answer a question about why you left a position with a vague “I had a lot of challenging personal issues at the time.” Evasiveness is never going to do you any favors in a job interview. After all, how do I know that this “challenging personal issue” was not prison time for axe-murdering?
An even larger interview faux pas is overshare. During interviews, candidates like to explain why they resigned from a job (or were fired) by telling me their spouse had an affair, leaving them alone to fend for themselves with three small kids, a ten year old car with a failing transmission, five figure credit card debt, and a jumbo-sized-nacho-platter chip on their shoulder. That is way too much baggage to unload on a hiring manager (or in fact anyone other than your therapist or your best friend). Such responses leave me with the following impressions:
a) Will we have to hear about his wife’s affair monthly, weekly, or daily? Because clearly he is going to talk about it.
b) Will all of the drama he just laid out for me negatively impact his attendance and/or work performance?
c) Is this candidate emotionally stable enough to handle the challenges and burdens of starting a new career?
I promise these are not the impressions you want your recruiter to have. I love a good trainwreck as much as the next person, but only after nine pm via Seaside Heights compliments of MTV on the syndicated episodes of “Jersey Shore” *.
Unless you are interviewing for a position as a lyricist for country music (in which case, disregard everything I just said and overshare away) explain briefly and unemotionally that you experienced a recent change in your family or household situation and now that the loose ends are tied up with this transition, you are enthusiastic to return to work. Any decent recruiter can read between the lines and infer that you experienced a divorce, separation, serious illness, etc and will likely find that a satisfying explanation for a gap in employment.
I suppose even axe-murderers could benefit from this strategy.