Q: How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide?

Q: How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide?

Q: After working in city libraries for more than ten years (and before that, a work life spent mostly in book stores) I found myself in [moving back home] because of my mother’s advanced age and fragile health. I had three years of Interlibrary Loan experience from my most recent job and I was able to secure a position in the Interlibrary Loan department of the health sciences library at the university.

My work record at the time was excellent and I was very happy to find the job I’d wanted the most. It was a very busy department and I was responsible for lending. I approached my job with energy and enthusiasm and worked hard; I even kept current with “the literature” (Library Journal, etc.) but my boss never stopped casting everything I did in a negative light.

I managed to maintain decent performance reviews by scrupulously documenting everything I did; but in the end, I saw an EAP counselor who helped me to plan and set up meetings with the director, my boss, and other concerned parties to try to bring about a more equitable workplace (as this was affecting my health). After almost nine years at this university, my supervisor wrote an entirely false performance review which despite my response (written at the director’s urging) with documentation to refute her assertions, I resigned after being placed on a disciplinary program that no one in that library’s history had been put on before and the full details of which were not written down anywhere.

No investigation was done. I hired a lawyer and the university’s response to his letter was “the worst thing he’d seen in thirty years”. No reference, severance, or unemployment insurance benefits. I looked for a job for 8 months; customized my resume and cover letter for each position I applied for. Not only was I not contacted, other positions included; when I attempted to contact the HR person, no one called me back.

Since my resignation, the university I worked for has been beset by scandals; ranging from mismanagement of large grants to the dismissal of a student without due process. How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide, that was spent doing excellent work (our borrowing institutions regularly sent notes of praise and, of course, the work was reflected in our statistics!) but is entangled in an institutionally- sanctioned lie?

TA: After reading your question a couple of times, there are a couple of things that come to my attention that I think would be helpful to point out in an attempt to move ahead. First, it’s clear you feel very hurt and betrayed by the situation with your supervisor. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone in the situation you’ve described to feel this way. However, and this is the second thing I noticed, you also seem to express yourself in a way that hints at feelings of resentment, maybe even hostility. Talking about how your lawyer thought the University’s response was “the worst thing he’d seen in thirty years”, but not talking about any successful litigation feels like a worthless jab. The same goes for your reference to “an institutionally-sanctioned lie.”

As an outsider looking in, and with only the information you’ve provided to me, here’s the situation as it seems to me: you worked for many years at an institution with a challenging supervisor and in challenging work conditions. By your own accounts, you had some successes in the position, but when it got to be too severe, you resigned from your position. Now you’re looking for a new position and you aren’t getting many responses. What do you do now?

First, you need to figure out a way to talk about your experience at the University that does not criticize or come across as negative. When you’re describing your work experience in your cover letter and resume, talk about your successes. Mention your increased, and sustained, usage statistics. Talk about successful partnerships and collaboration within the library and beyond. Do not talk about how you managed to survive despite the oppressive supervisor, or the challenging circumstances, or a University “beset by scandals.” That’s really just too much drama for anyone, especially a prospective employer. You may also want to ask a couple of colleagues for written letters of reference that you can attach to your application materials. If you take this approach, make sure they are current letters, and the colleagues speak to your professional experiences and talents. Do not turn these letters into you-versus-them detailed sagas of your University experience. The letters should describe how the colleague knows you, in what context and for how long, as well as his or her description of your work experience, knowledge and strengths.

Second, choose your references carefully. With such a long tenure at the University, it might seem conspicuous to not have a reference from that institution. However, given your relationship with your supervisor and director, you probably don’t want to list them as professional references. You should think carefully about other colleagues, maybe even folks with whom you worked at the University but they too have moved on, and consider if they could serve as a reference for you. And of course, colleagues, supervisors, department heads, directors, etc… from other institutions of employment would be good to include as well.

Third, when you get an interview, be prepared to talk about all of your work experience, including your time at the University. Again, leave out the drama and negativity and find a way to talk in a positive way about what you learned and what you gained from the experience. If you’re asked a reason for leaving, since you resigned, you can simply say that you had been at the University for a number of years, but were also dealing with an aging parent and needed to resign for personal reasons.

Just because the University is still struggling with some issues doesn’t mean you need to be swept up with it. Your focus needs to be on you and your future, not anchored to the past and a very difficult situation.

Q: How do I get back into the workforce after an illness, and being a stay-at-home parent?

Q: How do I get back into the workforce after an illness, and being a stay-at-home parent?

Q: I have been out of the library field for awhile. I relocated, then was diagnosed with cancer, then decided to have a baby. Meanwhile, I was job searching locally but nothing worked out. I have worked, just not in libraries. Now it is time to widen my library job search geographically. So how do I explain – or do I need to explain – my absence? I am very aware that I cannot mention cancer (passed my five-year mark, odds are in my favor, thankyouverymuch) or motherhood (my child is getting close to school age).

TA: Welcome back to librarianship! Congratulations on motherhood and passing your five-year mark. For most us, even without a diagnosis of our own, cancer touches our lives through family, friends, or acquaintances, so kudos to you for your strength and determination to fight and overcome.

It’s encouraging to hear that you’re ready to get back into libraries, and you’re wise to consider a gap in employment as something you need to address. In my opinion, you want to address this head on, but keep it brief, simple and not overly personal. I would suggest one or two lines in your cover letter, something along the lines of “After a period of time off for personal reasons, including relocation with my family, I am enthusiastic about returning to librarianship, and I’m especially excited about this opportunity at XYZ Library. I feel confident that my education, experience and skills make me a strong candidate for the position of XYZ Librarian.” The statement is brief, slightly personal but not too much, and is optimistic and confident. You address the gap without going into too much detail.

Beyond your cover letter, there are a couple of other things I would recommend. First, have a really nice resume. Part of the resume is work experience, which as you say, is not work in libraries, but look for transferable skills. If you have worked in public service, customer service, web authoring, organizing volunteers, etc., think about these things as they relate to libraries (and to the specific position you’re applying for) and highlight them in your resume. Even volunteer work counts as long as the experience you gained directly relates to the position for which you are applying. It’s your job as the candidate to do all the work for the committee – show them how you meet the qualifications of the position and how your experience relates. You are your own best advocate.

Second, stay connected professionally. Be sure to join listservs, read blogs, attend workshops, join professional associations, etc. By staying connected, you’ll not only stay aware of current issues and trends in the profession and be ready to discuss those during an interview, but you’ll also begin to build a network of other professionals who will be able to support your job search. Additionally, potential employers will see that you’re active professionally as you build your resume with professional development and professional memberships. Furthermore, take advantage of technology training and be sure to keep these skills current – that’s another great thing to highlight on your resume. It not only shows initiative, but it’s also one less thing for a potential employer to worry about with someone who’s been off the job market for several years.

And finally, when you’re called for an on-site interview, be sure to stay open, positive and optimistic. Don’t shy away from or downplay the experiences you’ve had outside of librarianship. And if you feel that you’ve developed a rapport with the interviewer and feel comfortable sharing a little more personal detail than you’ve included in your cover letter, you can do that. I would still keep it fairly brief (this is, of course, still an interview, not speed dating) but at least in person you are able to judge a reaction and tailor your responses accordingly. At the cover letter stage, it’s just you “on paper“; during an interview, it’s you — the real you, the healthy you, the professional you — “in real life.”

You say that you are

“very aware that I cannot mention cancer … or motherhood.”

This statement, although understandable, is somewhat disconcerting. It shows your fears and reluctance to put yourself out there again. Gaps in your resume will stand out; and if they are not explained, they will send up red flags and leave the potential employer wondering what you were doing for those missing time periods. Don’t let them wonder, explain yourself first, eloquently and convincingly, and make them believe that you are ready to re-enter the workforce. You are certainly aware that your family decisions and your illness have impacted all aspects of your life, including your professional life, and you are trying to get yourself back into the profession that you want to be in. Make sure that your self-esteem is ready as well.

Be tactful, sincere, professional, and bold when addressing gaps in your resume. Keep the wording and tone optimistic, confident, and slightly personal in your cover letter (as Tiffany mentions above). In the interview stage, expect that you will be asked about the gaps. This is when you can say a little more, if you feel comfortable, without setting off alarm bells (as you might fear).

Be tactful when talking about personal matters – you wouldn’t go on and on about a painful divorce, or about losing a job, so make sure that you keep your personal matters still slightly personal. In your case, you have a few things to celebrate – a healthy outcome, and a child. These are not things to be ashamed of in any way, and have most likely made you a stronger person. Use this strength in your job search, and promote yourself and your experiences confidently.

I can appreciate and understand your unwillingness to mention an illness and protectiveness of your decision to stay at home for a few years, which many new parents make. And, it can be extremely difficult, not to mention uncomfortable, to discuss personal decisions with people you’ve just met. Having said that, I’m not advocating that you actually have a discussion about why you chose to stay at home to raise your child, or provide details about your battle with cancer. I only mean that you should be as honest and up front as possible without getting too personal. Hiding information will only hurt your chances at getting a job.

When you get to the interview stage, remember that you are interviewing them as well. You need to find a workplace that you will be comfortable in and a workplace that suits your needs. Your interviewers can not (or should not) ask you certain personal questions, but you can share as much or as little as you like. How much you share will depend entirely on the situation, timing, and comfort level. Just remember, if your interviewers feel that you are hiding something, or that you are closed up, they will project that into the workplace and wonder if they can work with a person who is, or may be, overly guarded. Collaboration is a major part of librarians’ roles, and you will most likely (depending on the job you are applying for) have to prove that you can work comfortably with others in a collaborative environment. A large part of any in-person interview is finding a good fit for the library, so personality, sincerity, and rapport with key people are very important.

Finally, be bold – ask your interviewers if they have any concerns about hiring someone who has been out of the workplace for a few years, and if so, find out what they are and see if you can address them. This is your chance to shine and to alleviate any fears they might have, while (hopefully) leaving your own fears behind. Best of luck!

Related articles:

Gaps in Your Resume: Addressing an Interruption in Your Career Path” by John Lehner

Mother’s Hone Leadership Skills on Career BreaksUSATODAY

Tips To Handle Employment Gaps” by Nathan Newberger

How to Handle a Gap in Your Job History” by Cynthia Wright

When Stay-at-Home Fathers Return to Work (Elsewhere)” by Julia Lawlor
Workforce Re-entry for a Stay at Home Mom” by Stacie Cathcart

Coping With Chronic Illness When You’re on the Job Market” by Mary Morris Heiberger

Q: How do I get my career back on track after staying home for two years to raise a family?

Q: How do I get my career back on track after staying home for two years to raise a family?

Q: I got my master’s degree in information studies two years ago. After completing my degree, I worked in a company as a library assistant for only three months, when I had to relocate with my spouse. After the move, I stayed at home for almost two years with a new baby. I’m now in the position to begin working again, and I want to start my career right away. Can you give me some advice on where and how to start?

TA: Well, welcome back to the professional workforce! It sounds like you are quite eager to return to the field of librarianship – and I hope you will convey that enthusiasm in your cover letter and resume when applying for professional positions. It seems to be a daunting task, retooling yourself to re-enter the workforce, but just know that you are not alone. Every year people just like you take a period of leave from their work for many reasons, and then successfully return to the profession. Here are a few things to think about as you set your course to return.

While you are at home and during your job search

Take some time to assess and refresh your skills. Assessment will help you when you are looking for positions, as well as when you are crafting your resume. And, if you need to “beef up” your resume, refresh your skills by taking a class or two or by participating in volunteer activities. When you talk about your volunteer activities on your resume, be sure to put them in a professional context (e.g., talk about the computer skills, organizational skills, communication skills, and interpersonal skills involved with the work).

Also, stay involved and stay connected. Although it may be tough, keep in touch with former colleagues and classmates to maintain your professional network and to also stay abreast of current issues in the field. Things as simple as sending an e-mail or inviting a colleague out for coffee will go a long way in keeping you connected to the work you left behind. Attend conferences, monitor lists, and perhaps even take on some part-time work if you are able.

Focus on your cover letter and resume

Probably the most important thing you need to do right now is build an excellent resume. You want to accentuate the positive and minimize your weaknesses. Organize your resume so your most marketable skills and experiences are clearly evident and minimize the weaknesses (in this case, your dates of employment) by not drawing attention to them.

Some would recommend using the “functional” resume format, but, in my experience, search committees and hiring managers are savvy enough to guess that you’re trying to hide something (usually dates). They also often find functional resumes confusing. Instead of frustrating them and making them think you are trying to conceal something, give them the information they need, but present it in a format that sells your strengths and limits your liabilities. Format your resume so that the reader’s eye is drawn to job titles and career experience, not the particular dates of employment. Perhaps include the dates after your job title, but before your list of responsibilities; bold your job titles, but not your dates of employment.

Also, use your cover letter to explain gaps in employment. Be direct and up-front about it. There is no need to make apologies. If, as in your case, you have been out to care for children (which is more challenging than just about any job out there!) say something as simple as: “After spending two years at home caring for my child, I am eager to return to librarianship and believe I am excellent candidate for your position.” Then, tell them why you are the best candidate for the job. Emphasize that you are eager and enthusiastic to return to the professional workforce. As I’ve said before, your cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself. It is also your opportunity to sell your candidacy to the search committee. Be up-front, be honest, and give them the information they need. Never make them guess, especially about gaps in employment.

Things to consider when returning to work

While your situation is not uncommon, there are still employers out there who prefer to see a consistent track record of employment. Upon re-entry, you may have to take a lower-level position than when you left the workforce. View it as a way to re-establish yourself professionally, and use the opportunity to reconnect and rebuild your professional reputation.

Also, be sure to consider the costs of returning to work: daycare, commuting, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance, just to name a few. When considering an offer, look for flexibility in the position and carefully examine the benefits package. Does the employer offer vacation leave and sick leave? Are there other types of leave that support community and child involvement? Is job sharing, flex time, part-time work, or telecommuting an option? If you do choose one of these options, just be sure the boss knows what you’re doing. Give weekly status reports on your work and volunteer for special projects so you stay on the radar. And put in some “face time:” if you’re working from home, come into the office for important meetings; if you’re working part-time, be the first one in the office, make the coffee and say good morning to everyone. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind.”

Just know who you are, what you want, and what you have to offer. Good luck with the job search!

Additional Resources:

“Be Direct When Explaining that Gap in Your Resume,” The Houston Chronicle, August 19, 2004, Section C, pp. 1-2.

Isaacs, Kim. “Handle Your Work Hiatus on Your Resume.”

Lehner, John. “Gaps in Your Resume: Addressing an Interruption in Your Career Path.

Marrinan, Michele. “Returning After a Leave.

Matuson, Roberta Chinsky. “Continue to be Corporate or Stay at Home?

Topper, Elisa F. “Working Knowledge,” American Libraries, March 2004.

Yahoo’s Librarian Stay-at-Home Moms Group.

Q: How do I go about re-entering the workforce (part time) after taking five years off?

Q: How do I go about re-entering the workforce (part time) after taking five years off?

Q: I’m considering re-entering the library/research world after five years off as my children begin school. I was formerly a manager at a major company library, but I’m not ready to go that route again. I want to find a rewarding (as in pretty good pay per hour) part-time job in the reference/research area, but would like to just work about 20 hours a week. I did have an information consulting business for a while, but I’m not ready to take that step again.

I’d like to see what ideas there are for folks like me who are:

  1. qualified and ready to go (even with five years away from it all, I’d be up-to-speed very quickly)
  2. determined to make family my first priority – so not a big commitment in terms of time and responsibility

What sort of libraries or companies does it make sense to approach, and would they consider a well-thought-out offer to do research on a part time basis?

New Mom Returning to the Working World

SN: With your children in school, it sounds like you’ll be restricting your search for work to your immediate geographic area. It would be a good idea to send out resumes to libraries in your local area where you think you might like to work – public, academic, corporate, etc. Explain in your cover letter that you would be interested in speaking with them about a possible part-time position, and ask them to keep you in mind should any opportunities come up. It may be that in the beginning you’ll find that you’re working a small number of hours in more than one location, but this can improve over time. My previous library (a medium-sized college in the Boston area) never had to advertise for part-time librarians, because we already had a small pool of potential hires to draw from. It wasn’t uncommon for us to receive unsolicited resumes from qualified librarians who were interested in part-time work.

RSG: You’re actually also re-entering the job market at an opportune time for part-time job seekers. As library budgets dwindle and institutions employ cost-cutting measures wherever they can, many previously full-time positions have been broken into two or more part-time jobs, saving the library from having to pay out benefits. Hourly pay for part-time jobs may also be higher because the savings on health insurance and other benefits are so great.

You’ll want to be able to explain the gap in your work history to any potential employers. If you ran your consulting business during these last five years, for example, emphasize this on your resume to show that you have kept your hand in during the time you were not in a formal library position. Mention association memberships you have kept up, workshops you may have attended, or anything else that shows you have remained professionally involved and have taken the time to keep your skills up-to-date.

Also, be wary about mentioning in cover letters or interviews that you’re not looking for “a big commitment in terms of time and responsibility” – while you can certainly limit your search to part- time, flexible positions, you will want to avoid giving the impression that you lack commitment. You can be upfront about the hours you are available to work, etc., but be careful to word your comments in a way that shows you are also enthusiastic about the potential position.

SN: Networking with other librarians can help you remain professionally involved, and it may also help you find the type of position you’re looking for. You can make yourself more visible by attending the annual conference of your local/state library association, ACRL chapter, or SLA chapter, as appropriate. Even if you don’t find any relevant jobs listed at their placement centers, you may run into someone who does. Most associations, even smaller ones, have e-mail discussion lists through which you can make some contacts. Call or e-mail other librarians you know, asking them to let you know if they come across any leads.

RSG: You might want to take a look at the Association of Part-Time Librarians’ job hints page, and don’t discount general job banks and local online job-hunting resources. While many posted openings are full-time, there are always a number of part- time openings listed. Check http://www.lisjobs.com or http://www.libraryjobpostings.org for ideas on where to start. Keep an eye on the HR pages of local companies that seem likely to operate an internal library or research facility, as their openings may not necessarily be listed on general sites. Also remain open to less traditional ideas – online “virtual reference” services, for example, occasionally seek part-time personnel and need coverage at all hours of the day.

Lastly, consider going through a local employment agency. If you inform them of your requirements and abilities, they may be able to match you up with an appropriate employer. (Some are listed at http://www.lisjobs.com/temp.htm.) You may be able to do temporary work through an agency while waiting for a more permanent position to open up, which would also give you more material for your resume and help you re-sharpen your skills.