I Was Just, Uh, Resting?
May 2, 2013 7:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I explain the mental-health-related 2-yr gap on my resume?

I have a job interview coming up VERY SOON-- and my resume has a 2 year gap in which I was basically not working, for mental-health-related reasons.

I did do some contract work during this time, but not much. This would be the first real full-time job I would have had since the mental health problems began. (They're resolved now.)

How should I handle it, if they ask about the gap?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you do have the natural advantage of the last couple years being hard for everyone, and so a lot of people would have gaps on their resumes as well from just plain unemployment. I'd just mention that you were doing contract work during that period.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have to, you can say "health issues that are completely resolved and won't be a problem in the future" not "mental health."
posted by radioamy at 8:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [12 favorites]

"I was doing contract work." Or maybe "I was doing contract work while focused on other priorities." If you can realistically claim something like "student" or "fulltime wife/mom" that would be great. I swept two decades of fuck-up-itude under the carpet with "homemaker and fulltime mom." The reality is I could not have held down a fulltime job successfully during that time.

FWIW: I don't know if it fixes it to substitute "health issues" for "mental health". I could not get a job while blathering on about my physical health. The first job interview where I stfu about it I finally landed a job.
posted by Michele in California at 8:24 PM on May 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

"A family member had health problems and I took some time out to care for them, while also working on my interests in _____ and _____. It's all resolved now and I'm looking forward to focusing on my career in ______ again, especially my goals of _____ and _____. My experience at (previous employer) ties into the role here at ____ and I've got ___ years of ____ experience. May I outline how I see that leading to a valuable contribution at (employer)?"
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:46 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Consultant" is the widely-accepted catch-all for resume gaps. Rehearse some patter about the contracts you worked on. "I did widget-redesign for clients in the manufacturing sector."

I'd advise against making any mention of any type of health issue.
posted by nacho fries at 8:47 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

You were working on a start up?
posted by COD at 9:47 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Michelle in California. "Contract work" if you can stretch it out, or "Contract work while I dealt with some health issues in the family" if you need to qualify it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:57 PM on May 2, 2013

This was a big deal for me as well a few years ago and I had built it up to be a big roadblock in the path to getting a job. Imagine my surprise then that when I'd explain gaps in my resume as time I'd taken off to travel, take classes and do freelance work (not all of it true), and the interviewers seemed unfazed. Rather they actually seemed impressed that I had taken the time off to do some "self-growth" (one interviewers words).

Try not to see it as that big of a deal. If it does come up, it's just going to be one of several things they ask you about. Being chosen for a job comes down to many different factors and this really isn't that big of a deal for many employers even though it is something that you feel vulnerable about. Show up, act competent, emphasize your skills, rinse and repeat until you get a job offer. Good luck!
posted by oceanview at 11:27 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't mention your health at all, it's none of their business. You were self-employed during that period, you did contract work in your field and research. Your research was on getting yourself healthy, but again it's none of their business. I've had several employment gaps, no employer has ever asked me about them.
posted by mareli at 5:17 AM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't volunteer any information. If they ask, say that you were self-employed as a contractor. If they press, say you were taking some time for personal reasons. "Personal" is the key word here — if you say that, it's very risky for them to press the issue further. They'd be opening themselves up to a host of discrimination litigation if they did.

If you feel comfortable fudging the truth, you can certainly do what oceanview suggested and come up with a hand-wavy answer about taking some time for travel & classes. It's a little riskier because the interviewer may want to talk about specific things you did but most people will let it go.
posted by annekate at 6:44 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like Sabbatical. It has a kind of high-toned quality to it. "I took a sabbatical to pursue my interests." You can mention the occasional contract work, you can discuss travel, anything that makes it sound totally voluntary and will inspire envy in the interviewer.

"I have my shit so together that I could take a couple of years off to do whatever I wanted."

This will never work against you in an interview with someone with connected brain cells.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely not mention your health, even without the word "mental." Even if you say it's resolved, they may think you are just saying whatever you can to get the job and it will indeed become an issue. And I would not say "personal" either, as that can include a range of sorted drama and send red flags. Unless you feel it's really necessary to be openly honest or mention it, at least slightly, I would avoid it altogether. I think saying it was a family member's health sounds better, but that is pretty much a complete lie, which I would also avoid as they may find out later you were lying, or perhaps (if the interviewer is awkward) ask you followup questions right then and there about it, forcing you to lie on the spot.

I would say, only if asked about it, that you used the time to work as a consultant while you looked at what kind of company you wanted to work for on a permanent basis. Or maybe you can say you were figuring out which field/path was right for you. If you managed to do anything cool with your time, you could say you did consulting work so you had the flexibility to explore x and y hobbies or travel to z.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:55 AM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have been thinking about this. If "I was doing contract work" doesn't end the inquiry there and they want more info about why you are now job hunting, I would come up with some patter about how "Oh, you know, it sounded like Freedom and I had visions of sleeping until noon, working four hours and then hanging out poolside. But it turns out you still need to put in forty hours a week or more of paid labor if you are going to make good money plus for every hour of paid work you need to put in an hour of unpaid work for self marketing, administrative tasks, yadda. It wasn't really that much freedom or money and I am ready to flee back to a steady paycheck."

That scenario happens all the time. People who are intelligent and talented with well paid skills get tired of their boss or punching a clock or whatever and decide to go it alone, only to find out that being a consultant/freelancer/entrepreneur takes more than just being really good at X paid skill. It in no way suggests you cannot do your job or have personal issues. People who make wonderful employees fail pretty routinely at an attempt to go it alone and then return to being excellent employees.

I just wouldn't bring it up unnecessarily. The less said, the better. But if pressed I think that's what I would go with: Constant self marketing is a drag, etc and I want off that treadmill. Steady paycheck here I come, if not with you then with someone else.
posted by Michele in California at 9:23 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of Michele in California's comment above:

You can definitely spin this to your advantage, if you are pressed on the point.

"While I enjoyed and learned a lot from the experience of being self-employed [insert something specific you learned -- time management; self-direction; client-facing skills], I realized that I missed being part of a team; and I was drawn to your company in particular because it seems like a place I could really settle into and do great work for the long-haul. [insert some specifics on what you could bring to the company]".

Really what you are going for here is to keep the atmosphere in the interview entirely positive, and not introduce any glimmers of discomfort. "Health issue" or "personal issue" might raise an ever-so-slight unease in the interviewer.

This shouldn't be taken personally -- many of us have had to step off the grid for personal and health reasons. We're humans, we get hurt and sick and lose our way. It's just part of corporate culture and etiquette to not volunteer that info.
posted by nacho fries at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

So you were freelancing in order to have a more flexible schedule to accomodate medical issues which are now fully resolved, but now that you are able you want to go back to a full constant schedule?
posted by WeekendJen at 10:37 AM on May 3, 2013

Wouldn't mention anything medical. If you need to say something say you were freelancing. But really you shouldn't need to volunteer any information. Do what Nacho Fries said and say you're wanting to be a part of a team. Plenty of people have gaps from 2008-2012 due to the crap economy and due to being humans. Not a huge deal.
posted by manicure12 at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2013

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