How to divert attention away from gaps in employment
April 14, 2018 5:43 AM   Subscribe

I've been underemployed for close to a year after my newspaper went under due to financial reasons. A position for a press officer is open but I'm not sure exactly how to explain the last few months. More details inside.

Said position is a foreign embassy post for which I meet all the necessary qualifications. It would build on my linguistic strengths and knowledge of political and economic issues involving both my native country and the foreign gov't. The job application is fairly terse: a CV and cover letter. These past three months I've applied to think tank and academic positions, generating a few interviews.

Yet, it's been a harrowing 10 months following the end of my last full time job. Sudden deaths and troubles in my family both immediate and extended, a short lived attempt working at an NGO and a continued uphill struggle to find a job in academia have made me appreciate the fact that I'm doing relatively well physically and coping better than expected mentally.

I'm sure employers see this in candidates a lot; I'm wondering how I can best address these challenges (slight gap in employment, will note freelance work) without bringing attention to them.

Finally the application asks about my last salary, which I'm not so keen on disclosing. Does this tip have any currency?

Thanks for any tips/insights!
posted by wallawallasweet to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1. Don't answer the salary question. I believe we are very close to that question being illegal.
2. Some people are partially employed by CHOICE. You had a lot going on, so I think it's reasonable to say something along the lines of, "I've been focusing on some other areas of my life in recent months. I'm glad I had the opportunity to do that, but now I'm ready to dive back in."

This makes it seem as if you have great financial security (read: you've been successful enough to be partially employed).
posted by Dr_Janeway at 5:46 AM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, we've been sold this idea that any sort of resume gap means we are Bad Capitalists and owe employers some kind of apology for it - see also having to apologize for "job hopping" in an economy where you're lucky to last 3 years in a position without getting laid off or having to leave in order to get a pay increase. But we are nearing, I think, the end of "full-time employment" (for good or for ill) and people just don't live/work that way anymore. If asked, you can certainly play the "welp, academia" card, but I think also playing it like a choice rather than apologizing is a stronger move.

I think government positions are particularly insistent about the salary question, but in your case if your highest salary is more meaningful than whatever you made doing part-time/freelance, use that. Or if you translated your freelance hourly rate into salary numbers (however creatively you might do that math) and it looks good, do that.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:30 AM on April 14, 2018

Freelance is freelance; you don't have to account for the hours.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:40 AM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you are dealing with people in a press office, they certainly will not be surprised or confused about the idea of a newspaper folding and a journalist being unemployed/underemployed. I would think they’d be more likely than most to just inherently understand the situation.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:59 AM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Be candid. Be truthful, let this tell your story about how the challenges have made you a better writer and reporter: I worked for X until they went under. Like many others in our industry, I've struggled to find consistent employment and that has afforded me the chance to hone my craft and freelance. I'll tell you, it is cutthroat, but my skills have improved, allowing me to diversify my writing styles whether it be 500 words on kitten aerobics or 650 words for front page agriculture articles on the impact of rutabaga cloning in Mumbai.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:10 AM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

I guess the question is which is the truth: have you been freelancing, or have you been unemployed? I would consider the former to be the truth if you spend a solid 20+ hours a week doing gigs and developing gigs (proposals, networking, etc.) and if you sold at least a few projects over the course of the time. If you have been freelancing, report that as your employment without any apology or explanation -- it's becoming the rule not the exception for all variety of media people, and you simply have no employment gap as a result.

As for salary history, embassies don't precisely have diplomatic immunity on employment of locals, but on the other hand they aren't going to be too worried about recent (and in the opinion of many employers, severely misbegotten) regulations on salary history disclosure. Failing to disclose means you most likely won't get the job.
posted by MattD at 11:00 AM on April 14, 2018

I'm sorry for your challenges. The other suggestions above are good, but since nobody has suggested you mention your family issues, I'll add that I think that's also a very valid approach. "I've been freelancing part-time and using the rest of my time to spend more time with my family. But I've been wanting to dive back in so I was excited to see this opportunity."

You can just say "spend time with family," but it might even be nice to add a detail if you feel you can, like "help my father close out my grandfather's estate," "help my sister out following the birth of my niece," or whatever. Details can sometimes make the picture more concrete (of course anyone who could get by on part time freelancing would love to spend time with their new niece) or hint at skills that you were developing (e.g., executing an estate requires organizing and business skills).
posted by salvia at 1:39 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

There were some sudden deaths in my family, so the flexibility of freelance was useful whilst I helped sort out their estate. Looking to get back to fulltime work now though.
posted by kjs4 at 5:32 AM on April 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

In a somewhat similar situation (very minimal consulitng/freelance work) during an extended period of time, I just listed the job title Consultation, self-employed, start date - present and then included an overview of the type of work and some examples. (Don't have to disclose what % of total the examples are).

In the interview, if they ask more about the freelance, you can also mention the other things that you have spend time on but I wouldn't put them on the resume or cover letter unless it would help you get hired.
posted by metahawk at 8:43 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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