Imagine this: You’re interviewing for a new job, after having taken time out of work to travel and forget the stress induced by your former employer. As the interview progresses, the hiring manager naturally inquires what you’ve been up to since leaving your last role and your heart races as you search for the perfect response to justify the break.
“Sorry, I signed an NDA,” is one easy way to dodge answering the uncomfortable question at all—at least, that’s what TikTokers are recommending.
It all started when the Well, I Laughed podcast posted a 50-second snippet of their show on their TikTok channel with the out-of-the-box career advice. “Lie—you signed an NDA so you cannot talk about that time,” one of the two podcast hosts in the video said. “It’s literally a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
The TikTok clip quickly gained popularity, amassing almost 8 million views since its posting in June and spreading like wildfire as social media users regurgitated the hack on their own channels.
One TikTok user who claims to have used the excuse to bag their current role thinks it makes you a more interesting job candidate because “it sounds like you did high-level government or military work”.
But really, recruiters tell Fortune that saying you signed an NDA might raise red flags.
NDAs aren’t actually that common
Non-disclosure agreements, sometimes known as “gag orders”, are used to prevent staff and ex-staff from making private business information public. As such, they were often employed to keep negative situations like sexual harassment claims quiet (a recently banned usage), or reserved for senior staffers with insider knowledge whose revelation would harm the business.
It’s why the handful of recruiters Fortune spoke to said they rarely come across NDAs. So using it as a way to explain a career gap could make it look like you’ve been caught up in something unsavory—or are making it up. “Unless you work in a function or industry where an NDA is typical, prospective employers will quickly see through the lie,” career coach Dr. Kyle Elliott says.
Plus, thanks to the prolific use of social media, it’s never been easier to cross-verify information provided by candidates. So the short-term benefits of lying about your whereabouts are outweighed by the high chances of getting caught.
Lewis Maleh, CEO of the global executive recruitment agency Bentley Lewis, warns that such a lie won’t just damage the relationship with a prospective employer, but “if you get found out it can result in instant dismissal, loss of trust, and a bad reputation that can follow you through your career.”
Honesty is the best policy
In recent years, the working world has changed and so too have employer’s attitudes. “Where previously workers might’ve been grilled about what they were doing during these periods, hiring managers are now much more open to hearing about the skills and experiences you’ve earned outside of the 9-5,” says Katherine Jackson, regional director at Michael Page.
Taking time off work to travel, raise a family, change the direction of your career, or even for headspace are all valid reasons that, she says, “can demonstrate values, behaviors and ambitions in a way that traditional career paths often can’t.”
It’s why even LinkedIn now has a career breaks feature so that users can demonstrate the skills learned away from the desk on their profiles. Basically, candidates who write off their career break are actually wasting the chance to add color to their application and stand out.
Plus, an employer’s understanding—or lack thereof—around time away from work can clue candidates into what their company culture is like.
“I spoke with someone who just left a job without another one to go to—the culture was too toxic and they just had to make a change,” Maleh says. “My advice was to be completely honest with why they left. If the hiring manager can’t appreciate that, then that’s one more firm to cross off your list of companies you want to work for.”
What to do when the career gap wasn’t out of choice
Even in the case where you were unceremoniously sacked from your last job and have been struggling for months to find a new one, honesty is still the best policy—but that doesn’t mean you have to disclose every detail surrounding your time away from the workforce.
Zahra Amiry, Omnicom Media Group’s associate director of talent attraction insists workers can be as vague as they want to be when discussing their reason for being let go.
“You don’t have to tell somebody everything,” she says while adding that in most cases, employers won’t go through the hassle of writing a negative reference but merely a curt confirmation note that you worked there. So it’s essentially up to you how much you want to disclose around the exit.
On the flip side, if you were part of a large-scale layoff, detailing how you were one of thousands to be let go can stop recruiters from jumping to conclusions that you were fired or singularly laid off.
But ultimately, employers will be more keen on learning how you’ve used your time away from the desk, than your reason for leaving your last role.
“Whilst the career gap may not have been one of your choosing, what you did in that time was—and that’s what you should emphasize,” Jackson says. “Taking a tough situation and highlighting the drive to get back on track career-wise and put your skills to use could actually work in your favor.”