BLUF: I am seeking some advice for how to explain a gap in my work history (currently at 6 months and counting).

I am a good worker who is stuck in a bad place.  I resigned from an unrewarding position over the summer, and I have been out of work ever since.  I was employed at a mid-sized firm in a niche industry, and in a region where I do not have much of a network.  There are few other opportunities in my geographic area, and my skills are not easily transferred to other fields.  My brother-in-law offered a job but the opportunity never materialized.

Now I am struggling to get back on a career path, and my once-impressive record has been tarnished.  I do not know how to address this gap on my resume, in a cover letter, or in interviews.

There may be no "best" course of action left to me, so I am trying to figure out what is the "least worst" option.

What does success look like?  At this point, I would be happy with a job where I would work only 50-60 hours per week, and a chance to eventually get back on the corporate ladder.

Additional details

My description may sound exaggerated, but I promise that I am representing the facts accurately.

I was working 70-80 hour weeks (including 10-12 hours in the office every day, work from home before & after the office, and "on-call" on weekends).  I could not sleep, my health suffered, my friendships vanished, and my family ties frayed.

I endured this for almost 3 years, because I hoped to earn a promotion.  Instead, I became a "victim of my own success".  Despite all the pressure, I performed at a very high level.  But I knew that I could not last forever like this.

I became particularly concerned when junior employees were promoted to positions above me.  Nobody else was trained for my position, and I could not be promoted if nobody else was able to accept the responsibilities it entailed.  I cringed every time I heard "compliments" like you're indispensable and what would we ever do without you.  Once I confirmed with my division VP that there were no plans to "develop" me, I was sure that I was in the wrong place.

I quit after a coldly rational process that went on for more than a year.  There was no specific incident that triggered my departure (one of my goals was to leave <em>before</em> any such incident happened).  I organized my finances, gave my two weeks' notice, and left.

I discussed the situation with my wife before I resigned.  I only felt comfortable leaving because her brother said he would take me on at his firm.  The vacancy never appeared.  I have been searching for jobs in the interim, but it has been 6 months since the last time I was employed.  When I go on interviews, now I have to explain this gap in my work history.

I have been reluctant to detail exactly why that I left my last firm.  I state simply that it was not the right place for me, and that I left in search of other opportunities.  I realize that this may sound cryptic/shady, but I think it is better than the alternatives.  If I emphasize the harsh working conditions, I risk sounding like I am whining.  If I mention the offer from my brother-in-law, I risk sounding like I wanted a position handed to me.

I still believe that leaving my former employer was the "right" thing to do.  I actually think it was the responsible thing too, both for myself and for the company.  But I don't think that a recruiter/interviewer would (or even should) trust this self-assessment.

Solitaire's picture

It's fine to say that you left that role because you'd reached the "glass ceiling". In other words you were interested in developing further, but there were no opportunities at that company. You left there to take on a role at a family member's company, and things changed so that unfortunately there was no position available. Now you are looking for a new opportunity. You don't need to mention the pressure and working hours in the previous role.

I would recommend that you need to figure out how to avoid getting into such a situation again. i.e. thinking about what you could do and say to make sure that you don't get overloaded again and what to do if you feel this is happening, what limits you could set yourself and how to recognise the warning signs. I am not saying it is your fault that it happened, but many managers are oblivious to their staff taking on ever-increasing burdens until they shout for help or it is too late and they are off sick with stress or have handed in their notice.

Good luck,

gearhead86's picture
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I don't recall any specific guidance from MT, but is there some volunteer work that you could do for a non-profit/school/church/community group?

It could be something similar to what you've done recently or a job that you might like in the future.  I don't think you necessarily have to get paid in order for it to be work.

As an example -- suppose you led a work crew that helped clean up after one of the recent tornadoes in the South and Midwest.   You get practical leadership experience (either learning new stuff or keeping your skills relevant and fresh), help out others in need.  Who knows -- you might get a permanent position out of it.

You should be able to list that as work on your resume in my opinion -- particularly if you can use the Action - Result - method format.

Good luck in your search.


Jrlz's picture

I agree with Jane, nothing wrong in saying you left the company becuase you wanted to continue to develop.  Your original plan was to work for a relative, but that fell through.   A good lesson there - never resign until you have accepted and offer elsewhere (ethical issues aside).  

In your interviews make sure to keep your commentary positive about your previous employer.  Be professionally objective and leave the emotions out of it.  Difficult I know, but you dont want to appear bitter against your previous employer - even if you are.

I interview a lot of people and there are many people with employment gaps.  I dont knock them for it if they have a direct straight forward explanation, dont try to hid it from me and just say what happened.   I have interviewed people who were laid off and then took a much lower position "just to pay the bills".  To me that is not a knock, it is a badge of honor.

In your case I would point out that you wanted to continue to grow, you finacially planned for your transition, had a great opportunity to work with a realative and decided to leave to pursue that.  Unfortunatly, things did not work out as planned.  However, you have have adjusted your course and are looking for....

Keep your head up, things happen.  In time you will be back on the right track and can look back and draw lessons from your experience.

AmyKushner's picture

 I just started looking again, and its been 5 months--I have been telling future would be employers that I used that time to "reassess all important and concentrated on my family" and I have been given high fives over the phone, basically, admiring me for making such a bold decision.  I just started looking end of Jan/ beginning of Feb, and I have three interviews lined up this week- (all reinforced w/ the common good sense preached in MT and CT)- not sure if it works as well with a man, but its been a "door opener" on the phone with me.



mattpalmer's picture

I explained my 18 month disappearance from the IT industry (to drive trains) as being a "sabbatical" to allow me to step away from the day-to-day and take stock of where I wanted my career to go.  Didn't seem to cause any negative impressions.