Remember me! I figured out my interview problems. I've been Bulls**ting
March 31, 2022 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I have a gap in my employment history largely due to illness. I've been trying too hard to cover it up and have probably been coming off as disingenuous. I do have some business planning and volunteer work during my gap. Can I, Should I, and how do I include those in my resume?

You guys gave me some very candid and tough love criticism about several questions I've asked around interview failures. After some coaching and speaking to a few more mentor types I think I know the problem. I have not exactly been honest or exaggerating my accomplishments.

Part of this comes from self-esteem issues and imposter syndrome related to a mental health crisis.

Here is a run down and timeline:

I had a really good career in business development (15+ years) and wanted out so I went to grad school to get a degree in something science-related. It's a much better fit.

In late 2016-2017 while trying to do grad school and work, I felt some unusual stress building. I knew it was coming.

Due to this stress and some issues that accompanied it I lost a huge contract and along with extreme depression, my self-esteem took an ENORMOUS hit. It was bad, very, very bad.

I was supposed to receive my master's degree in May of 2017 but had to drop out to try and maintain my mental health and get through one last bust season at work.

I still had very limited work with my previous employer until the end of 2018, but graduated a year late in May of 2018. I went directly into business planning to be an independent consultant starting in October of 2018, did my planning and due diligence and decided my business was not sustainable and hd a health relapse. Everything said that self-employment was not an option at the moment and that I would be much better off with traditional employment in my new field.

I dropped my business plans in early 2019 and started applying for employment elsewhere yet I felt like I failed my business. The thing is, I really didn't. I did the proper planning and made an informed decision that I needed to pivot and change plans. That's not failure. The business never launched.

In late 2019 I took a retail gig to cover bills and shortly thereafter COVID hit and I had some govt support and went back to applying for jobs to move my career along. 2020 was very slow and at the end of that year I received some info that I used to correctly update my resume but also I started exaggerating my consulting experience and I think it's shown. In fact, I asked a question about this last year.

Technically, I've only been unemployed since early 2020, In my self-esteem damaged head I've felt like it's been longer and tried way too hard to cover it up.

Now I'm going 100% sincere and let it play out in a natural way. It's what I've got to deal with, BUT,..........

1. can or should I include my business planning as career activity on my resume? It was five or six months of genuine work and directly related to my new field or is it better to leave it off the resume and save it for an interview discussion?

2. I have done a lot of volunteer work on committees for the professional society in the new field. I have just over two years and have been published twice, started a quarterly column in the trade journal and have a few other wins. I have no idea why, but I seem to forget about this activity during my time off. I have these committees listed on my resume but on page two under additional activities and professional associations. Can I and should I move this towards the top of the resume as recent work experience? If so, how?

3. I'm hesitant to ask this at the moment, but I have been strongly considering being open to and prepared to disclose that I was out of regular work while dealing with a health issue that is 100% resolved. This field is psychology and deals directly with burnout and wellness at work. It's a safer space than most for open disclosure of these things, but also a small field in which I don't really want this info going around too far.

Based on this info, are there any suggestions about how I can structure this activity on my resume and sincerely take some attention off of my unemployment gap?

I need to just own the reality of my situation and see how it works out.

I appreciate it in advance.
posted by Che boludo! to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have done a lot of volunteer work on committees for the professional society in the new field. I have just over two years and have been published twice, started a quarterly column in the trade journal and have a few other wins. I have no idea why, but I seem to forget about this activity during my time off.
I don't know why people do this - volunteer work is just as valuable in skill development etc as paid work. There's no reason why this work should be an integral part of your experience timeline. I have volunteer work listed in my employment history as part of that timeline without mentioning that it is volunteer work and it's always been accepted as 'just work' (I think because I don't devalue it myself by identifying it separately).

If you feel that's a little disingenuous, just put (volunteer) at the end of those entries so you can feel you are being more honest.

Being open to explaining your health issues should be saved for an interview. Your resume is really just a tool to get you an interview and the fact is that some people (particularly HR people who are just looking for boxes to tick or cross) will devalue you if you disclose it too early. I would also save the business planning for an interview, just because it is hard to explain in a resume. Alternatively, list it as a 'position' in your employment timeline, but be ready to talk about how and why it didn't pan out at an interview. More along the lines that the planning itself determined that it wasn't viab le to go ahead or something rather than presenting it as a failure itself.
posted by dg at 2:58 PM on March 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

You had a health issue in your family that prevented you working full-time from 2017 until recently. You were able to finish school and stay engaged in the field through volunteer work. You are now ready to launch your new full-time career. Especially in the last two years, a gap isn't a big deal, everyone knows what happened. If you can demonstrate that you were consistently employed for a while before 2017, that's probably good.

I would not claim your time planning to be an independent consultant as a job, you can address it in a cover letter if it gave you relevant skills or knowledge. The first question anyone will ask is if you have references or can talk about a project you worked on, and you don't/can't.

Whether you want to showcase the volunteer work depends on how closely related it is to jobs you're applying to. What is taking up page one of your resume that is more important?

I would avoid saying that it was your personal health issue.
posted by momus_window at 3:01 PM on March 31, 2022 [11 favorites]

Your lived experience with your health issue may actually be a plus for some types of position if you would be working directly with people experiencing similar issues, or making related policies or procedures. If you decide to discuss this during interviews, prepare a script and/or practice talking about it until you can do so in an impersonal and matter-of-fact way without getting emotional or sounding the least bit defensive about it, or even "explaining" how bad it was and why it made you unable to work (which will come across as defensive). You could even use this to showcase your resilience in resolving the issue!
posted by heatherlogan at 3:15 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think it might be appropriate to address the health bit in your cover letter - I wouldn't say it was mental health related though, as there is still stigma there, even among (some) doctors - but as you're narrating your experience, I'd use a phrase like "While a health problem (since resolved) caused a gap in my training in [year], I have since...." or something like that.

Can you perhaps do a white-lie and claim the business planing relates to your graduate school? So, it might not fit anywhere in resume, but can be experience you mention in your cover letter.

As for where to put your volunteer work, like momus_window, I'm wondering what all is taking up space on page one.
posted by coffeecat at 3:55 PM on March 31, 2022

I had an extended period of unemployment during which I did a few very short-term paid projects and occasionally helped out a family member with their small business (unpaid). It would have looked extremely silly to list each of these as a separate job on my resume, so I combined these all together under a single job title "Freelance [Job Area] & [Other Job Area] Consultant," called the date range "[date of first project that reasonably fell under this umbrella] to present," then listed a few of the more substantive examples underneath as bullet points. I think you could either come up with a similarly all-encompassing title covering all your assorted volunteer work, writing, and "other wins" or at least combine all this stuff into 2-3 buckets max. Then put that on the first page of your resume. I agree with dg that if explicitly noting things as "volunteer" feels more comfortable, that's fine. I would lean towards leaving off the business planning, but it's a little hard to say for sure without knowing more about what exactly that entailed.

I know this is easier said than done, but please be gentle with yourself -- not only are employers almost certainly not judging your resume gaps as harshly as you are judging yourself (especially given that we've all been living through a pandemic for the past 2 years), but it sounds like you actually have a lot of good content to work with here and just need to dump it all on the page and get it organized. And once you do have that first post-unemployment job, you'll be amazed at how quickly that part of your life fades away from being a thing anyone gives a shit about.
posted by naoko at 5:13 PM on March 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The volunteer work is on page 2. Page one sstarts with my skills, then my "consulting" company and then my last full time position. The layout as it is is ok. I'm getting interviews, it's what happens next that ois problematic and that's all me.

Page 2 is the full time job before the most recent one.

After that is:

- Professional Affiliations and Activities (volunteer work falls under this)

- Education

The HR expert I'm working with suggests that I start one more section for relevant grad school work. I suppose the business planning can go there and is directly related. (also, some feedback I've received is that companies are not always thrilled about hiring entrepreneurial types). I think that settles it - the consulting company goes.

The volunteer work is actually the link between my previous career and this one. I agree that it is work. I keep getting asked to help with projects related to anything business development or market research. These are pretty unique skills in the new field, so that should be emphasized.

One thing I've learned and would like to share, they say if you ask 100 different people about your resume, you will get 100 different answers. Soooooo true. Also be very careful who you ask for advice. SOme inconsistencies came from following recommendations that I didn't quite think through
posted by Che boludo! at 5:19 PM on March 31, 2022

Response by poster: I know I'm not supposed to threadsit my own post, but the business planning largely used previous career skills and melded them with new career. Volunteerring is new career stuff but borrowing from old career so I can use this as a missing link to tell a more compelling story and show some more thoughtful career pathing.
posted by Che boludo! at 5:22 PM on March 31, 2022

With all due respect, it was clear you were bullshitting in your previous posts about this. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that you seemed like you were lacking self-awareness, blaming others, looking for escapes and excuses, and over explaining things to people like who don't really care other than to want the best for you, our fellow MeFit equal! Your tone here is really nice and refreshing. I like the you being more real! I don't have any other suggestions other than to support what others have said. Not every job is going to be the right fit but the more real you are, the better fit you'll find. And there are many jobs out there that will value you for your diverse experience and empathetic perspectives. COVID has sucked for all of us but one silver lining is that American society seems to be more understanding of career breaks and setbacks.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:00 PM on March 31, 2022 [12 favorites]

So - can you make the main section on page 1 something like "Professional experience" or "Relevant experience" (rather than "Employment") and then list in reverse chronology all your relevant jobs and relevant volunteer roles, put in there together? So, don't write the job and then the volunteering in separate sections, just write them all together in reverse date order, which might mean something like:

* Role 1 - blah blah
* Role 2 - blah blah (volunteer)
* Role 3 - blah blah (volunteer)
* Role 4 - blah blah
* Role 5 - Writing quarterly column
* Role 6 - blah blah

Possibly even leaving off the (volunteer) note if you felt comfortable with that. That elevates the experience you've got from your volunteering roles to the same level as the paid ones, and also helps give you that smooth chronology/transition that you're talking about.

Also, as someone who I think gave you some of that rather robust tough love in a previous thread, nthing that it's awesome to see your growth. I saw another interview thread in here recently and it made me think of you and wonder how you were getting on. Sounds like it's been a tough time, but the fact you're doing so much to work through it all and come out more reflective and honest, rather than being defensive at the feedback you received - and still enthusiastic and fired up about the job hunt - is genuinely impressive.
posted by penguin pie at 5:28 AM on April 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've never heard anyone suggest a psychologist being entrepreneurial is a problem. Is your HR expert familiar with that field specifically? Most people assume a psychologist will have a private practice at some point. (You said in the OP you got training in science and later mentioned psychology so I am assuming you got an MS (for an LPC or LMHC), PsyD or PhD degree.)

Generally speaking, candor and humility, taking responsibility, and discussing what we learned from something, will come across better than downplaying, sidestepping or inflating ourselves to compensate. That last one especially, if you're interviewing with people that have training in clinical psychology, is only going to hurt you. Unless you're applying somewhere that has a highly image focused company culture, the kind of place where dark triad traits lead to promotions. They love that stuff.

I'd suggest thinking about various ways you can involve the business plan in a PBI question for an interview. Think through to what positive lessons came from it. There is value in being a person that can make sound decisions based on data, even if that means stepping away from a preferred path.

I haven't read your previous threads but I'll also mention of you haven't gotten therapy to address that self esteem hit, that slow recovery, and the need to pad the situation, then I highly recommend doing so. Working through all those feelings of inadequacy will help you be able to show up authentically and with greater resilience so that you don't feel the need to massage the truth. And so you don't hurt so much in those kinds of situations.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:38 AM on April 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Another thought in light of your follow-up comments about your resume -- and please feel free to disregard if you feel this is off-base; you've noted that you like the layout as is, that you're already getting advice from an HR expert and others, and that you're getting a high response rate with your resume as it is, and also I know that resume advice is completely infuriating in how contradictory different people's recommendations are -- your resume format sounds really spread out to me. I theoretically understand having a two-page resume when you've had so much professional experience (I'm a frequent job changer and career changer myself, and I've finally given up and allowed myself a two-page resume), but it doesn't sound like your 15 years of pre-grad school jobs are even on yours, so I'm confused about what is taking up so much space. I think that, in many cases, a resume that spreads out a small amount of content over two pages can create the impression that the applicant is the sort of person who exaggerates or puffs up their experience -- and that is precisely the impression you're hoping to avoid right now. I'm wondering if you can rearrange things so that experience (in reverse chronological order, including the volunteer work, as has been discussed in the above comments) and education fit onto a single page, and skills can maybe go in a sidebar or something so that it's taking up less critical real estate. Like I said, feel free to ignore if this is going too far afield.
posted by naoko at 9:59 AM on April 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

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