Gaps in resume viewed suspiciously Downtime: If you must take a break, no matter what the reason, don't give hiring officer reason to worry.

Working Life

June 02, 1996|By Deborah L. Jacobs | Deborah L. Jacobs,CHRONICLE FEATURES

In today's hotly competitive workplace, people who take even a short time off from the corporate world can expect to pay a high price. And that's bad news if you want a break for child care, are having trouble finding a new job after a layoff, or need to relocate with your spouse.

Take the case of a reader from the New York suburbs who gave up a job in San Francisco last summer when his wife accepted a position on the East Coast. "Scott" had the financial luxury of taking the fall off, but since he started job-hunting after New Year's, he's struck out.

"It seems that interviewers have a hard time believing my downtime was my own choice," writes Scott, who unfortunately didn't mention his occupation or include a phone number where I could reach him. "They seem more concerned about the job gap than about whether my skills are applicable to the position."

He's right. As a group, corporate hiring managers have never looked kindly on employment gaps -- for whatever reason. In this case, they may even feel a twinge of envy about someone who can afford a six-month, unpaid "holiday." But other people with career downtime have gotten an equally chilly reception.

For years, women re-entering the paid work force have found that companies doubted their commitment to work. Many of these capable workers have had to accept less (at least initially) in terms of salary and responsibilities. For all the talk about accommodating work and family needs, it can be a long, tough road back from the sidelines.

Scott's first mistake is trying to justify his decision to, in effect, drop out of corporate life for six months. If he tells interviewers what he told me in his letter ("I took the fall off and puttered about the house"), they may worry that he's lazy or unmotivated. Instead, he should portray himself as doing something productive, like helping the family make a transition to the new place, finding a house, and getting the kids (if any) enrolled in school.

Being new in the area gives him a ready excuse to start building business contacts -- through the Chamber of Commerce, church or synagogue, and local trade groups. It also would be a good idea to get in touch with the alumni office of his college or professional school to find graduates living in the vicinity who might be able to help him.

Like other people who have been out of the career loop for a while, Scott should consider part-time jobs, temporary positions and contract work that could lead to full-time employment. He might start with companies that seem receptive to work and family concerns: those with significant numbers of women in upper management; those with part-time or flextime policies; smaller companies and start-ups. To identify these places, he can look for stories about them in trade publications, business magazines and daily newspapers.

Even if these contacts don't immediately lead to the kind of job he wants, Scott should consider himself self-employed, rather than unemployed.

Another reader, who was downsized from a senior-level banking job, has used this approach to pick up some valuable experience while he continues to job-hunt. One year ago, he started a home-based consulting business to help parents of college-bound students get the best possible financial-aid package. Although he still craves the security of a steady paycheck, he is not waiting around for a corporation to give him back a work identity.

Instead of losing career momentum, this reader has expanded his options -- and his resume.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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