What would be the most suitable way of explaining long gaps on resume, in employment history due to health reasons.
January 13, 2011 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Need urgent help with resume making, given less than optimal circumstances, namely a history of illness and accompanying lack of employment for an extended period of time.

I have been dealing with crippling depression and anxiety for a number of years. This had caused me to drop out of the Masters program (in engineering) that I was enrolled in, about 6 odd years ago and made it virtually impossible to have any kind of meaningful employement for almost the entire time since. I was barely functional during this period, staying at home or with friends and just trying to get through each day.

However, slowly and with a lot of help, I was lucky to be able to dig myself out of this mess and build a life again. About 3 years ago, I was able to return to school and finished my degree a year ago. Over this period, I was quite productive and was able to land (and hold on to!) a research assistantship, publish three papers and also present at a couple of conferences. I still struggle but have things under control to the extent that I can function quite well and no one who met me today would be able to guess what I was like only a few years ago. Since graduating, I have been working on a full time basis in the same lab that I was working in as a student.

However the time has come for me to seek employment outside and I'm at my wit's end as to how to go about it. I had not had to make a resume or go looking for a job right after graduation, since boss (my advisor at the time) had been liked my work enough to offer me to stay on for a year longer.

Just sitting down to make a resume makes me start sweating and I feel completely paralyzed. I have no idea how to explain the long gaps in my educational and employment histories or the lack of any tangible achivements, given my age (I'm in my ealy 30s now) and every negative feeling and thought that I've ever had about wasting awaying so many years to anxiety and depression come flooding back.

I'm looking for advice and help on the following issues :

a) What would be the best resume format for me to use, given my circusmtances.

b) Should I use a professional resume writing service? Are they worth the expense?

c) If not, could you recommend any books or website which have good advice on resume writing? There are just so many choices out there and if any had particularly helped you, that would help in narrowing down the options.

d) Do you have any advice on how to best to best explain the gaps and yet draw positive attention to the things I have been able to do in the last 3 years.


e) If you or someone you know have been in a similar situtation and were able to successfully land a job, how did you go about it?

Throwaway email address : anonemail2011@gmail.com

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you need a professional resume service - looking at good ones linked on websites (including former askmes) should give you a sense for what works.

Honestly, most employers most care about your most recent experiences. List your tremendous accomplishments in the last three years. You don't need to list those earlier years, and if someone asks, you can say that you had health troubles and are now, thankfully, recovered. All good HR folks will nod and get back to asking about your recent successes.
posted by ldthomps at 12:07 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I came in here to say, get help with your resume. This does not mean you need to hire a service, but ask your friends. Or, hey, go to a temp agency and get help writing one from scratch. Explain your situation to your agent and ask for help writing a resume. They get paid based on getting you a job, so hey.

Or, based on where you are your state or country may have a job centre - the people there are paid to get a basic resume together.

Or google engineers who code/make shit you like and see their resumes on their professional web pages and use their format. Formats differ based on your profession. Academics and doctors for example have these long things involving their publications and whatnot. Your nerdly exploits should be mentioned in a way that your future colleagues will understand.

I personally love helping people with their resumes/CVs and have recently refined mine into one my temp agency folks love and is attracting freelance work. I make tweaks in it based on what job/gig/grant I am targetting.

The cover letter is another thing entirely. This is a brief pitch, again done in the way your field does it. Ask friends and former colleagues and alumni and folks you met at those conferences what theirs look like.

tl;dr: treat it like an engineering problem: research how it's done, and do it optimally.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:29 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for a resume service, I'd recommend this Etsy Shop. The owner is really kind and patient and she is particularly skilled at making the most of what you have to offer without spinning things into falsehoods.
posted by patronuscharms at 12:33 PM on January 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

A "functional" style resume is your friend, as mentioned above, rather than chronological, which would show the gaps.

In an interview setting, if the gap came up with questioning, you could answer any questions by saying "I had some health issues which were dealt with." If they have further questions or concerns, point out that since then you were able to return to school and finished your degree a year, land a research assistantship, publish three papers and also present at a couple of conferences. You don't have to give them any details, they will just want assurances that you will be able to perform all aspects of this job.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:36 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Medical/health issues." That's all you need to say if/when you get to the interview phase and the person asks about your employment history. Your recent accomplishments are more than enough to bulk a good resume. Do some googling for the proper format for your field, and get your boss or professional contacts you may have to review if they have the time.

Do you know how many people have long employment gaps due to mental/physical/emotional health problems, family crises, travel, child-rearing, etc? Not a big deal at all!
posted by lychee at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're going to want to start with your school's career services office. CSOs are generally useless in actually getting you a job, but they're pretty awesome as resource centers for organizing and professionalizing your job search. And one of the things they're going to be able to do is tell you whether your particular field leans more towards the traditional one-page resume or towards the multi-page curriculum vitae that By The Grace of God was talking about with doctors and academics.

But I think the CSO should probably eliminate any need for a professional service. I've used two different CSOs on three different occasions and never had any complaints.
posted by valkyryn at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2011

Seconding what ldthomps and lychee have said.

Also, congratulations on all you have overcome and accomplished. A good number of people in my life struggle with depression. I have seen how rough it can be.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:20 PM on January 13, 2011

The answer is really quite simple: your life (as far as your resume is concerned) started when you returned to school three years ago. What happened before that is pretty much irrelevant because it had no bearing on your professional experience or training.

I've never been in this same situation, but my job involves interviewing senior level job candidates and their resumes routinely start at the point their career was launched. Early unrelated jobs, false starts, short-term employment, etc. are excluded from the resume and no one blinks an eye about it. And they still get hired, even for very important and highly-paid positions.
posted by DrGail at 2:21 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have some thoughts about the best way to address this but it sort of doesn't matter what I think; it matters what whoever you work with thinks. If it's causing you this much stress and anxiety and you're not unemployed and have an income, I'm a huge believer in buying yourself out of trouble. It sounds like for $50, the lady patronuscharms suggests will be able to at least give you some answers to your questions, a format and somewhere to start. That has to be worth $50 to you.

Seriously, just go do that. Send her what you wrote here and go start.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:33 PM on January 13, 2011

Nthing the 'don't sweat it' angle. Tell your story starting recently. What happened umpteen years ago is far less important than what you're doing now - and where you're going :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:32 PM on January 13, 2011

I had a friend who had noticeable gaps on his resume. In interviews, he simply said "I had some health problems , but I'm much better now", and left it at that. I think for the most part, the kinds of people who would push for details about your medical history aren't the kind of people you want to work for anyway. People will take your cue on the issue; if you're matter-of-fact about it, they'll respond in kind.

My friend was successfully hired by the software firm that we both worked for, and after a few years, he went on to work at Apple. So don't worry about your chances being ruined! This kind of thing is much more common than you think.
posted by neushoorn at 4:00 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

the kinds of people who would push for details about your medical history aren't the kind of people you want to work for anyway

Especially as, if I'm not mistaken, this is very very illegal to do, at least in the US.

Not a lawyer, just someone with health problems
posted by jtron at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2011

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