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How Do I Handle a Very Long Employment Gap?

by A little embarrassed
(New Jersey)

I need to know how to handle an employment gap. I have a great deal of experience in the working world, from 1989-2001. It's now halfway through 2008 and I have not worked since 2001.

I have a Bachelors degree and I am a class or two shy of my Masters degree. In 2002, which is when I stopped attending school, my life took a dramatic turn. I had a nervous breakdown, where I had to be hospitalized for a month, and couldn't function for awhile and have since recovered.

I started my job search yet again and it's been difficult and quite frustrating. I've asked quite a few people for career advice, some of whom are professionals, and nothing seems to be working.

I do not have any kids so I can't say I've stayed at home to watch the kids. I do not want to get that personal with my life, especially for fear of discrimination.

I do not know what to say on the interview that will help me to get the job without them focusing on such a long employment gap. Please help.

Comments for How Do I Handle a Very Long Employment Gap?

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Jul 25, 2008
Honesty Is Usually a Good Strategy
by: Kathi

This is a tough question to answer. But don't be embarrassed. True, you had a problem that you had to deal with, but the important thing is, you DID deal with it and you got better, which is great. Good for you!

As to the long absence from the work world, I generally recommend that job seekers be completely honest, but I can understand your reluctance to weather possible bias against mental illness, or emotional issues, whatever. And bias is certainly a possibility, whether it's legal or not.

I would use a functional resume that emphasizes the skills you have and your education, rather than your work experience, but the gap will still be evident at some point.

So, I guess the question is whether you can reframe an answer that presents your gap more positively, rather than making you sound like a basket case. During your time away, did you do anything productive, such as a rehab training program or volunteer work that might have given you some valuable job, or at least life, experience?

You could tell an employer that you took a few years off to do some soul-searching and figure out what you wanted to do with the rest of your life, but 7 years does sound a bit excessive for this. Or, you could say you were caring for a sick family member (you!), but that obviously is not completely honest, and could easily come back to bite you down the road.

I guess I'm still recommending you be as honest as you can about your past, while emphasizing where you are today... that you are currently healthy and ready to make a contribution to the workforce once again. An employer who really wants your unique skillset and personality should be willing to "take a chance" with you.

One final thought to leave you with... if there is some kind of training or certification you could take to get back on track with your career (you don't say what that is), you might get that first, so that could be presented front and center as what's going on currently.

I think I'm rambling, but please do come back and let us know what happened for you... and much success!

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