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Johanna Wise

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A Painful Truth About Career Gaps

Posted: 11/04/2013 1:04 pm

Recently I underwent a paradigm shift while organizing a conference to help job seekers with career gaps find employment. I reached out to a prominent career consultant, inviting him to speak at the upcoming Connect•Work•Thrive Return to Work Conference. He replied that he would be willing to discuss generically how to prepare for the 2014 job market, but did not want to help people who have gaps in their careers find jobs.

What?

Well, it turns out he finds it deceptive (his term) to include skills used in nontraditional careers on a resume. He elaborated: "If 50 people are applying for a job, why should I help the person who took time off to study his navel in Tibet? Someone who spent time caring for an elderly relative is not going to have skills up to par with someone who continued slogging in the workforce. I feel it is my responsibility to focus on what is best for society, and I don't think helping these people get a job accomplishes that goal." After a prolonged silence on my part, he finished with the pièce de résistance: "Why should I help cover up the fact that someone spent two years battling cancer?"

OK -- time for a huge reality check.

People have career gaps for many reasons: child care, elder care, personal illness, loss of job due to outdated skills or a poor economy, time spent starting an unsuccessful business, change of venue to accommodate a spouse's job, retirement followed by the realization that one's financial cushion is insufficient, or simply the need to take a break to reassess one's career goals. During these breaks, people continue to garner additional skills -- no class or job prepared me for the negotiation skills I learned, navigating a cranky toddler out of the supermarket candy aisle. These breaks offer a chance to reflect and realize perspectives not found without a change; consider paradigm shifts you've undergone during a yoga class, listening to beautiful music, or while traveling.

So what's the takeaway?

In the Venn diagram of life, your reality may not overlap with someone else's and you can't take rejection personally. Interviewers, human resource professionals, and people with whom you network may not understand your life choices. All you can do is clearly and compellingly articulate what you've learned and translate that into a benefit to employers. It's up to them to listen and learn.


The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is a wonderful little book, which I recommend you consult as you begin a job search journey. Today I discussed the second agreement, but all four will help you on your path:

Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.


It was pretty clear the career consultant wasn't interested in understanding a different perspective. During the process of returning to the workforce, you may meet people who don't agree with your life choices. When you do land that coveted job interview, be sure to use business terms to describe your activities during those gap years. The good news is there are many smart, caring, and insightful HR professionals who understand that not every career follows a straight, uninterrupted line.

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