SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like him to answer? Submit it here.
After years of having bad managers, I decided to take a career break. I needed time to reset and to spend time with my family. I am now trying to return to the American job market and want to know how to explain my return to the corporate world. How can I make my sabbatical a good selling point? —Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I’m sorry to hear about your string of bad managers. Managers, for better or worse, have immense influence over our experience at work. In fact, more than 84 percent of U.S. workers say poorly trained people managers create unnecessary work and stress.
While you are far from being the first worker to take a break to recharge, it could be something potential employers inquire about. If they do, honesty is truly the best policy. Explain to your hiring managers that you needed time and space to focus on yourself and your family but that you are ready and eager to return to the workforce full time.
Whether the break gave you rest and rejuvenation, appreciation of the work, or a new perspective, I encourage you to be transparent with potential employers and help them understand how your unique experiences fit the position and could improve the company’s bottom line.
You don’t mention what type of work you are looking for. Did you do any freelance work, volunteer work or traveling during your break that might have expanded or enhanced your skill set? If possible, connect the dots between your time away and the organization you wish to work for so potential employers can see how your sabbatical relates to the job you want.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this answer, it’s this: Don’t focus too much on why you took a break. Rather, home in on how this was a positive experience for you, what you can bring to the table and why you would be an asset to your future organization.
Good luck, and welcome back!
With interviews not taking place in typical office settings, what guidelines are in place to ensure employers are still evaluating job candidates fairly? —Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Good question. This year, organizations were forced to rethink business practices across the board. The job application process was no exception.
While interviews aren’t necessarily happening in person right now, virtual interviews, whether by phone, Skype or Zoom, are by no means a new thing. In fact, they’ve been quite common, especially in the early stages of the hiring process, for some time.
The same guidelines for interviewing candidates in person also apply to interviewing virtually. In fact, when it comes to virtual interviews, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said equal employment opportunity laws do not prohibit the use of specific technologies or methods for selecting employees and therefore do not prohibit the use of video resumes.
That said, technology, if it is to avoid becoming a tool for discrimination, needs to be wielded wisely. Employers should prepare for all interviews with the same—or a sharper—eye for detail.
Some employers use a candidate evaluation form to ensure applicants are being rated in a standardized fashion. Such forms can be used with virtual interviews just as they would be during in-person interviews. While hiring managers may ask candidates to expand on responses provided to the list of questions, a standard evaluation helps them stay on track with the questions they ask, keeping interviews fair and consistent. After all, if the goal is selecting the best candidate out of many, it is prudent to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
Lastly, if you are interviewing virtually for a job, make sure you are in a quiet, clean and distraction-free area where you can focus on the conversation. The hiring process might look different, but your effort shouldn’t differ.