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A painful truth about career gaps

Posted on Oct 8, 2017

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 a Connect•Work•Thrive Return to Work Conference. He replied that he would be willing to discuss generically how to prepare for the job market, but did not want to help people who have gaps in their careers find jobs.


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People have career gaps for many reasons: child care, elder care, personal illness, loss of job due to outdated skills or a poor economy, time spent starting an unsuccessful business, change of venue to accommodate a spouse’s job, retirement followed by the realization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.

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. The good news is there are many smart, caring, and insightful professionals who understand that not every career follows a straight, uninterrupted line.

Johanna Wise is CEO at Connect•Work•Thrive LLC.