Informal sabbaticals can haunt you


August 05, 1991|By Joyce Lain Kennedy | Joyce Lain Kennedy,Sun Features

Dear Joyce: I spent 10 years selling and managing in the consumer-products field for Fortune 500 companies, earning up to $60,000 annually. Two years ago my division was dissolved. Disillusioned, I found myself collecting unemployment compensation and took the lack of employment as an opportunity to organize my small real estate investments and spend time with my terminally ill mother.

I must begin a serious job search and would like your advice on how to overcome the "sabbatical" in a competitive environment. Also, what do you think of my resume? P.L.V.

Dear P.L.V.: Your letter shows why I don't recommend informal sabbaticals, which can come back to haunt you. But sometimes a break is necessary or involuntary. When explaining it, always focus on a reason an interviewer can relate to or, even better, a reason that can benefit the employer. In your case, being with and caring for a terminally ill mother is hard to fault.

One reason that's often acceptable is that you needed time to regroup your thoughts and reassess your life view; now you've done that and you're sure of your direction (the job under discussion is part of that direction).

If you can document additional education or training during your time off the track, so much the better. Explain how your new knowledge can help the employer. Consulting, unless you can provide specific names of clients, rings hollow to sophisticated employers.

Here's the trick when you've stayed away too long. Practice your response with a tape recorder. Listen to it the next day and if it sounds self-serving or unmotivated, recast your response to benefit the employer, or at least to make you sound like an industrious individual.

As for your resume, sorry, but it is awful. It inappropriately opens with your education at a well-known "career college and finishing school," popularly thought of as a charm and modeling school. Your impressive experience is a mere listing of employers, job titles and dates. Read a resume book and do it over showing your accomplishments and results. Delete jobs you held for one month -- use the salvaged space to tell the reader how valuable you are. It's surprising how many people are still tossing off bare-bones outlines for resumes.

Dear Joyce: I keep sending out resumes with no response. Why don't companies reply? R.R.

Dear R.R.: The short answer is they're too busy or don't care.

A soon-to-retire military officer tells me he may have solved the no-response problem. After researching companies to evaluate future needs and corporate directions, he bought as little as one share of stock in 30 companies and sent each a resume with a cover letter that began, "As a shareholder, I understand you are moving toward XYZ market and I think I can make a contribution as a member of your sales team." To research, the officer used a stockbroker's resource, Value Line Investment Survey, plus Standard & Poor's Register, but other references can be used for the same purpose.

Results? He received 15 positive replies -- a 50 percent return rate -- and several were very encouraging. It's his guess that the shareholder approach received more attention than a straight employment application. Perhaps. But, remember, a gracious response to a shareholder is not the same thing as a job offer. I'd like to hear from readers who've had experience with the shareholder approach.

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