Help me make my story short and sweet, for those who might hear it.
February 10, 2014 7:37 PM   Subscribe

I don't have a career counselor (and there aren't any in these parts) or anyone to turn to for this, so I'm seeking help on the green. Re-acclimating to life at home, career path indecision / lack of direction, lack of opportunities and illness and death in the family have left their mark on my recent professional and life history, and I want to be able to summarize it all to a prospective employer / networking contact without sounding like an indecisive drama queen. Plenty of snow here, if you haven't gotten enough this winter.

It's just the last 3-4 years of my life have been quite a mess and I don't see how I can explain it all to someone only half-interested and judging me with every word I say.

So we're heading back to 2010, the year I returned back to the US. The 6th paragraph of this askme explains what I was doing before then, but seeing as that was so many years ago, that probably doesn't matter much anymore. I flew back home in July, and it took me the rest of the year to even begin feeling comfortable driving again. On top of that, I moved back in with my parents, which was a major life adjustment in itself. So the last half of 2010 really ended up being a non-productive, life-readjustment year.

Can't say 2011 was much better. Of course, I had heard about the recession before I came back, but as naïve as I was, I thought I would have a decent shot at finding some work. Ha. A contact of mine was teaching Chinese at my high school alma mater, and she asked me to take care of her classes while she was on maternity leave. So I substituted for her for several months and ended up substituting for the Chinese department as needed.

So I continued looking for something that seemed both my alley and full-time, but there wasn't anything to be found. In 2012 I was chatting with a friend back in China about starting an international business together, and that summer I took a trip back to discuss this with her. The day after I returned my mom was put in the hospital, so naturally with the shock of her having such a serious illness (my family is rather healthy) and since she is after all my mom, I put everything on hold. Fortunately I was able to find work doing interpretation and language tutoring that year, but one was only as needed contract work and the other was just a weekly side job. I also kept up with the substitute teaching, but of course that was also as needed.

Part of the reason that I've had such career indecision is that I've been struggling with the question of family vs career... I even asked about it here. At the time and even now, my work interests lie in places other than here, and I've really struggled between being close to my family and being professionally successful.

My mom passed last year, and it was really hard. In the time that I was helping care for her, those business ideas with my overseas friend fizzled out. I've spent the past year cleaning out the house of her belongings, helping my father with the estate, and generally growing accustomed to not having a mother anymore. I have kept up with the interpretation work and the tutoring work, but as for substituting, the school is across the street from the hospital and I haven't felt ready to head back there. Along with my mom's stuff, I've been cleaning out my things as well, as I've kept nearly everything since we moved into this house when I was 4.

tldr; How can I explain my lack of career, lack of full-time work (or even stable work), and everything that has been happening in my life in a short 2-minute response to "Tell me about yourself"?
posted by ditto75 to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like this question is "How do I explain a couple years of unemployment to a prospective employer?"

I'd go with something like "I came back from China at the peak of the recession. I kept myself busy with substitute teaching and planning a business idea, and then there was a major family emergency that's resolved now, but consumed all my time for a year."
posted by colin_l at 7:52 PM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Kinda sorta similar situation to you - I returned to Canada at age 33 after spending 10 years in Japan. I managed to find a job about 3 months after I returned.

Employers are not going to be interested all that much in what you have been doing. Period.

If I were you, I would worry more about finding potential employers, and try looking for potential employers who are *not* going to ask this question.

All you have to say is that you spent some time overseas, and you have been managing some family affairs for the past little while. Or something.

But I can tell you that, in your mid-thirties, it is going to be *really* hard to find that job you're looking for.

Entry level positions are going to go to people 10 years younger than you.

At mid-career, what you really bring to the table is energy, savvy, leadership, and a social network.

I don't think your position is hopeless at all. But, you will likely not find a job the "conventional" way - calls for resumes and a selection process.

Instead, you are going to have to do some research, pick up the phone, and start building a professional network.

You're going to have to analyze your "transferable skills", figure out your value proposition, and find out who is hiring people like you.

And you are going to have to cold call. And meet people. And attend networking mixers.

At mid-career, getting a job is not about the resume, it's about the personal network. And creating a personal network is not a passive thing. You have to reach out and join the community.

PS - Just don't mention China all that much. Total red herring. You want people to remember you for something that is relevant.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:59 PM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Since you returned from China you have been running your own business as an interpreter, translator and teacher. Name it something like NOTABLE LOCAL LANDMARK LANGUAGE SERVICES or whatever. They don't need to know how many hours you worked.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:25 PM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Holy hell, I've shared many of your experiences, at exactly the same times (also returned in 2010, to a dispersed and weak network [and an industry on its way out] and nada. Yeah, the recession was a kick in the butt, wasn't it).

Agree with KokoRyu -- few people this side (whatever your side is) really want to hear about what you did overseas, for a variety of reasons. A mix of Snarl Furillo and colin_l's responses will work for the backstory. However, people (I assume you mean employers?) will want to know what you're doing now. (It's the same for non-employing regular people, though.)

KokoRyu is right about everything -- you are going to have to hustle. Your old network may no longer exist, I understand completely. So you will have to build a new one, as KokoRyu described.

The key to this, I think, is to be decisive. I think it's best to use your existing experience as a base -- pick a direction, brand it, and go for it. It's tempting to keep your options open, but a sharp focus will help you in your search and guide your commitments and networking. If you're wishy-washy, a) people you do meet will have no idea what to do with you, even if they know about jobs or b) you'll end up where people put you.

Another alternative is to upgrade your skills with a short qualification that carries value with employers, either building on what you have or making a change that's a cautious bet - something with good prospects, in a field in which age will hurt you less, that also makes some kind of sense for you. (I am doing the latter, partly for fulfillment, absolutely, but also because my background was fairly zig-zaggy in addition to a chunk of it being foreign. I did not have enough capital to use, or I couldn't make it work, anyway.)

Want to reiterate the need for decisiveness. I lost* probably a year (after the one that went to emotional sense-making) to not knowing what was going on in my local market or how I could even theoretically fit into it. Overshooting, then undershooting; playing with possible selves; once I'd thought one was ok enough, assuming HR staff would be willing to follow my logic / arguments for even a slight career shift. (They didn't.)

The playing with possible selves bit is -- man. Hard, existentially necessary (yolo etc ([!] -- too true, wtf). Costly, if you let too much time go by. Give yourself a time limit (months, not years, and fewer months if possible) and work hard at this process.

Although, if there are jobs in teaching or translating to be had near you, I would really think about building on that instead of changing streams altogether, if you can. There's lots of different stuff to do in education -- policy, educational tech, curriculum development, adult ed (training in private companies) -- options obviously locally determined. Since there are still teaching jobs in your area -- could you sub in another town? Is switching complicated? Maybe the change of scene would be useful.

*I am only now talking about earning time. It wasn't "lost" in many ways. I learned a ton, even through painful parent stuff, and had fun sometimes as well.

I am guessing you have learned important things, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:10 AM on February 11, 2014

I'm with Snarl Furillo, you returned home from a fantastic teaching position in China to aid with a family emergency and have been running your own language business during that time. Now that the crisis has past, although you really enjoy your work, you're interested in working in a corporate environment.

That your business has been part-time is irrelevant, and not worth mentioning.

What you bring to the table is a career in teaching both English and Chinese to a myriad of people of different ages.

Is there a large immigrant community where you live? If so, perhaps you might be able to parlay that part of your experience into something like social work in a hospital, or with a city, state or federal agency.

Penske in Greenville has a Sales and Operations Management Training Program job opening. This might be a good fit for you (driving a truck might be a stretch, but stretching is good for you.) You get your foot in the door with this, and then you never know, with your language background, you might work your way into HQ stuff.

Stop thinking that you have to decide on a career, just get a job for now. You're as qualified as anyone else out there. I'd say 60% of all employment is learned once you get the job. If you can learn, and you have good interpersonal skills, a week on their systems will train you to do most any job there is.

You also need therapy. Your fear of driving, your delicate sensibilities (unable to return to work because it's near the hospital) will prevent you from being effective in employment. You have to toughen up, and if you suffer from anxiety, as I do, you may find that getting treatment for it will open you up for all kinds of great opportunities.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on February 11, 2014

You've been consulting and pursuing personal projects.
posted by spunweb at 7:43 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Low income prenatal/maternity care in Las Vegas.   |   Identify this object from *House of Cards* Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.