Employers are concerned about finding employees who will be reliably available, and they also want to know how you handle protracted absences if you ever have needed to take them. Ideally, it would be great to just answer this question with a "no," but the fact is that sooner or later, everyone has an emergency that takes them out of work. Hiring managers know this, so they look for signs that you will be prepared to make sure that the transition in and out of work is smooth.
Points to Emphasize
If you do have long absences on your work record, the key is to discuss them in a way that shows how you minimized their impact on the workplace.
- Highlight the reasons for the absence and discuss why it was better to leave work than to remain.
- Discuss how you made the transition easier by preparing to have your duties covered, including any steps you took to train others.
- If your absence was for professional reasons, like attending a conference, emphasize how that development ultimately aided in your development as an employee.
- Make sure that your answer also touches on the transition back, so that they understand how you handle being back in the thick of things.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
The following strategies wind up calling attention to the less desirable aspects of this question, so they should be avoided at all costs.
- Never unload about your problems to an interviewer. This seems obvious, but this question can throw people off-balance, making it easy to forget.
- Avoid discussions about your activities while away unless you were leaving for a professional purpose that impacted your return.
- Don't compare your work quality to that of your substitutes during your absence.
- Do not hint at future protracted absences, even if you think they might be necessary.
Hiring managers can be pretty understanding about the ways that life unfolds, but they do want to make sure that you are ready to roll with things as they unfold, so show your flexibility.
Here is one way to handle past absences while emphasizing your positive qualities as an employee:
I did have to take an extended vacation in my last position. I worked with my employer to be sure that it would be fine for me to use that much time at once. We made sure my clients all had contact information in case of an emergency, and when I got back, I called each one to make sure they had what they needed.
Last but not least, don't worry too much.