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Post by Rich Moy on Mar 7, 2016, 12:00:00 PM

Considering that most developers last year told us they're employed, it would be easy to see a career gap on a resume as a big time red flag. It makes sense to inquire about the circumstances that led to the lapse in employment. But you could miss out on a great developer if you immediately rule that person out if you refuse to hire anyone who hasn’t held consistent employment.

To help you avoid passing on a top tech candidate, here are some smarter interview questions to ask a developer who happens to have a career gap on his or her resume.

Can You Give Me a Brief History of How You Got to Where You Are Today?

This might be one of the most obvious interview questions to ask a developer, but that’s actually by design. This question helps you get to the bottom of two things. For starters, it puts the candidate at ease. It also shows you a lot about how transparent each candidate is with you.

Some candidates might say things like, “I was part of a layoff, and it made me feel terrible for a while, but I learned a lot from it and think I’m a better professional because of that experience.” Other candidates might try dancing around resume gaps to try and hide something they'd rather not share. While you shouldn’t let either type of candidate off the hook, a developer’s openness about a difficult period on their resume is always a good sign.

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Tell Me About Something You Accomplished During That Time

Developers are always looking for opportunities to dive into new technologies and work on side projects. When you’re looking to get to the bottom of how productive a candidate was during a period of unemployment, this question will show you just how passionate a developer is about his or her craft.

If you stumble onto a candidate who’s less inclined to share what he or she has learned, and more eager to share the sordid details about a former boss or work environment, don’t be afraid to take a pass on that person, even if you've seen them produce amazing code. Hiring managers should be more understanding of long-term unemployment, but you also need to consider the potential impact that someone with this negative of an attitude could have on the chemistry your tech team has worked hard to build.

Why Do You Feel This is the Right Job to Come Back For?

The wording of this question can be adjusted to fit any candidate—but the answer is particularly interesting when you’re dealing with a developer who’s either unemployed or working on a freelance basis.

Many developers we’ve spoken to have told us they consider a company’s mission to be just as important as salary and other perks, so this is a great conversation starter to get to the bottom of a developer’s motivation for applying to work for your company in the first place.

Look for the same kind of transparency that you sought in the previous two interview questions we discussed. If a developer responds by telling you about all the new technologies he or she tinkered with over that time, that's a good start. If that response is followed by an impassioned explanation of why your company was the company they knew they needed to be a part of, you should feel good about hiring that person (that is, if you’ve also determined they write quality code). On the other hand, if the candidate’s answer makes you unsure of how much they know about your company, don’t hesitate to take a pass and wait for someone better to come along.

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