How do I explain my 2 year employment gap due to severe burn out from graduate school?
November 30, 2009 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Employment gap filter: Went through depression in graduate school and finished. After I graduated, I took 2 years seemingly doing nothing other than visiting friends and getting my head back on straight. What to say about my 2 year gap?

I completed my graduate education and went through depression at the same time. After graduation, I basically went through the process of trying to get my life re-organized and back together. I moved in back with my parents and I lost the 20 pounds of weight I gained from my debilitating clinical depression (I still don’t know how I even managed to finish graduate school). After graduation, I did some traveling which basically entailed visiting my friends in different parts of the United States and then spent the rest of the time trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have spent approximately the past 2 years “getting myself” back together with nothing really specific other than reading many many books, getting physically fit and visiting long time friends I hadn’t seen. (Yes, that is a long time of doing nothing special but I really needed it from the severe burn out I was going through.) I know a lot of people go through depression, but I don't want to hurt my chances and put myself in a bad light for obvious reasons by having to tell my potential employer about my situation. I was thinking of saying I went through a "medical illness" but I don't want to jump the gun and have people think I'm chronically ill or get into too many personal questions about my life. So I need something else to say that would be relevant and kind of a catch all phrase to explain myself. Honestly, I feel like I was a "good/decent" student before my depression. But with the weight of my graduate studies, I just completely fell apart. As in, I wore the same clothes several days in a row and went to class, I would burst into tears for no reason (very scary), and my voice was so mono-toned that people thought I was sick all the time. I feel like I have a good track record previous to all this (if that's even relevant) but now that I'm trying to get myself back into the job market, it's like I have this huge gap and I'm sure employers would wonder what's up with that? Is it that big of a deal to have that size of a gap ?

(Other info. that may be relevant to this question)
• Applying for basically entry-level jobs related to science field. Desire science/health related jobs. Some examples of this are as a lab technician, research assistant, teacher assistant/sub, nursing home aide, etc.
• Want to gain experience and get myself back into the “game of things” as my first start and footing. But don't want retail/sales because I have done that before and hated it and want something related to my career goals in the science/health field for the future.
• My depression is under control and I now know the warning signs to be aware of what to do if it ever happens again.

So what I can say about my 2 year gap? Any perspective, advice, or ideas would be greatly appreciative as I try to get myself out of this hole.

Thanks in advance for any advice or wisdom to handle this. throw away email -
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'd just say you were traveling. It's true, in a way, and seems like a common thing for many people after finishing their education.
posted by something something at 10:28 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

So what it looks like to me is you were in grad school, you graduated successfully, and then you went traveling for two years. The rest of it is none of my business. Lots of people go traveling after school and before work to take advantage of not being tied down. Two years may be on the long side but it's not unheard of.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:30 AM on November 30, 2009

You could also say "medical issues, which I'm happy to say are now resolved".
posted by shiny blue object at 10:50 AM on November 30, 2009


Do not mention medical issues.

Post-grad school time off is completely normal.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:51 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'd say I was traveling and doing research for a book.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:54 AM on November 30, 2009

You had the opportunity to travel, so you took advantage of it. Nothing to fault about that.
posted by HuronBob at 11:19 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's like I have this huge gap and I'm sure employers would wonder what's up with that?

Professional hiring guy and chewer of resumes speaking here: no, nobody cares.

Someone or other wrote a book in the 60's about resume writing that warned job-seekers to never show gaps in their work history. It's nonsense. Nobody cares about gaps unless they're ridiculously long, like 20 years. Most gaps are assumed to be non-related work, since a good resume only lists relevant experience anyway. In 1943, one would have a complete work history with a single firm. These days, people have 31 different jobs in their pasts: they shouldn't all be listed on a resume.

So don't say anything about it in your resume. Don't include it, don't address it, don't apologize for it. So your school ends in 2001 and the next entry starts in 2003? Fine. Ninety five out of every hundred HR or hiring people won't even blink.

And on the off chance someone who is trying to be clever asks about it in an interview, you're completely right to be taken aback for a second. Ask "What two years?" and then say something positive.

"Oh. I went traveling out West after grad school. Have you ever been to the desert in Arizona? It's amazing."

Now, stop worrying and get out there. Good luck in the job hunt.

I've given this same answer at least five times on MeFi. If I ever find the person who wrote that book of bad advice, I will hurt them.
posted by rokusan at 11:32 AM on November 30, 2009 [23 favorites]

If you say traveling and they ask you interestedly, "Oh, where did you go?" be sure to have something to say that doesn't lead back to two years of aimless wandering. It's natural to ask about traveling and people expect you to have things to share and the way you talk about it is something they will definitely notice. If you're vague and don't seem to be able to mention any specific place you visited or reason you went there over two years, that's still a problem.

The best (partially true) excuse I used was that I spent a year pursuing a career in a creative field that didn't work out. It's not like they could whip out a guitar and make me prove anything, and no one can really blame anyone else for chasing a creative dream and not succeeding.
posted by fleacircus at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2009

I've got similar gaps and I just say I was a self-employed tutor and freelance editor/proofreader.

I did have one person tell me after I'd gotten the job that some people wondered if I'd been off having a nervous breakdown in one of the gaps that I didn't fill with made up stuff. I wasn't, I was just enjoying unemployment.
posted by mareli at 11:58 AM on November 30, 2009

I wouldn't mention the medical aspect at all. It might seem important to bring it up since it was an important event in your life, but it isn't relevant to a job. You're an adult and you chose to spend your time in a certain way -- and it sounds like you were deliberate and productive, given your condition going into it, and it sounds like you have things under control now, so there's nothing you need to hide or justify. It's not like you spent those years doing nothing. The best way to show that you are ready to be a functioning employee is to act like one now, not to make justifications or tell the true and convincing story about how you got back on your feet.

I might list the things you did: visited friends you hadn't seen in a long time, took the time to read a lot of books, traveled and got caught up on few of the things that had to take a back burner during school. That all sounds valid, and it sounds like something a well-balanced person would do. I think that if someone asks, they are just looking for "an answer" so that they know you can speak and represent yourself reasonably. I would be ready with a brief response about traveling or whatever, and a way to link that back to the job conversation.
posted by ramenopres at 11:59 AM on November 30, 2009

Most gaps are assumed to be non-related work, since a good resume only lists relevant experience anyway.

Bingo. Unless you're applying for a government position that requires you to account for all your activities (education, paid & unpaid employment, unemployment) over the past 10 years, you can gloss over gaps by titling that section of your resume something like "Selected Work Experience." It puts the emphasis on the things you've done that are relevant to the position; for all they know, you could have been temping or doing something equally responsible-but-not-interesting, and judging from the other responses here they won't care.
posted by kittyprecious at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had two very large year-long gaps on my resume. The first was backpacking Europe, for which I'm open and proud to discuss. Whether or not you do this, travel and experience is exactly what I would say in your circumstances. There's nothing to be ashamed about that and some employers will actually respect if you've some life experience. Say with confidence that you had the opportunity to broaden your horizons and turn it into something positive. As a corporate whore, there is nothing I can think of that would give me a negative impression of someone who interviewed with this kind of gap.
posted by eatdonuts at 6:22 PM on November 30, 2009

Traveling, but make it a cool story. Believe it or not, interviewers dig this.
posted by xammerboy at 10:21 AM on December 1, 2009

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