Reader Letters, Strategy, Unemployed

For Fear of Resume Gaps

Dear Will,

I wanted to give you a quick update and then solicit your advice on a resume matter. You’re far and away the best career guru I’ve ever encountered, and I thought you might be able to help.

To bring you up to speed, I now work at an exciting, young company in Boston. My wife and I left Chicago in August of 2013 after graduating from a Masters program. We then camped out with family for three months while applying to jobs, and then I started work in December. We moved to Boston for my job.

Boston, unfortunately, has not been kind to my fiance. She is a therapist, and earned her master’s degree in 2011. She worked for two years but has not been able to secure a position in Boston, despite considerable effort. She has a stellar resume and last found work in only 6 weeks. It’s been 7 months here which seems to be the terrible reality of Boston. The market is over-saturated, and Boston has continually reduced its mental health facilities. We knew Boston would be tough, but we weren’t expecting this tough.

She has grown quite concerned that she now has a year gap in her resume (Aug 2013 – Aug 2014). So my two questions are first, what does she do about the gap? She’s a talented individual who was off to a great start in her career, and we’re frightened this will impede her progress. Second, should she consider taking a job in another field, even if it’s unrelated? She has the opportunity to work as an administrative assistant at a university, and I could potentially get her a job at my firm. Would working at such a place also endanger her resume? In which case, which is the lesser of the evils?

I can’t thank you enough for your help and advice.

–Concerned in Boston
(Edited and anonymized)

This is tough no matter the angle we take at it. My wife is a therapist and I’m a trained therapist so I know a bit about the field. In general I would first encourage you guys to make a hierarchy of needs. Usually people get focused on and then isolate the career objectives from life objectives which can make taking action unnecessarily difficult. I generally recommend putting financial survival at the top which would therefore put any work at the top. If you guys are comfortable/surviving in Boston at the moment you have a few more options.

I’m assuming she’s been doing info interviews rather than just applying. In an over saturated market, relationships become even more important to distinguishing herself as well as gain good information and leads about where to apply her time and energy. Assuming that’s all true and she’s in occasional contact with 20-30 people at the agencies/practices she’d like to work in and they all say “not now”, then I’d recommend refocusing on plausible skill development in other domains.

As the time between pure therapy jobs grows it will be important to assemble a compelling narrative. She’ll use this narrative to explain/rationalize to those she’s doing informational interviews with a why she’s doing what she’s doing—essentially framing the situation as a productive choice in a given hiring context. The story could start with, “My husband got a great job in Boston which is why we moved here. Prior to that I conducted therapy for X years in BLANK and BLANK organizations where I specialized in… Since getting to Boston I’ve met with BLANK, BLANK, etc (proving networking effort and connections)… and have found hiring to be essentially frozen in the agencies/practices that align with my specialty. In order to maintain and enhance my skills I…”

And here’s where what she can be doing now can make a case for hiring her in the future by showing added value rather than a depreciation of skill. What she does can cover a wide range: volunteering at a nonprofit that aligns with her therapeutic interests or target population; starting or partnering with a nonprofit to start a therapy group (and make money); taking a job at your firm or another firm where she can learn skills that align with her long term therapy goals (perhaps even as broad as running a business effectively or marketing—which therapists are really bad at). Get creative here. Think about it in terms of a business model where her skills are the resource to be utilized and have services built around.

The meaning employers make about her recent work history will be shaped disproportionately by how she presents her experience in the near term and the kind of relationships she builds with the employer before a position becomes available. I strongly encourage her to keep networking (2-3 meeting a week would be a great goal) and to follow up with those with whom she has a connection (in terms of: population, passion, therapeutic orientation, or their network value). Look for ways to provide compensable value (helping with a group, other peripheral activities). But as I said at the beginning I’d encourage you to let your life goals make the first call at this point as you can always craft a story to get back on a track. Don’t let adhering to some old idea of resume purity put you guys in crisis.

Good luck,