Stephanie R. on July 13, 2021
Resume Building and Writing
Dear Ms. Flora,
I am a refugee attorney and former Foreign Affairs Officer who worked steadily as a human rights Staff Attorney for a DC-based NGO, UNHCR Legal Consultant in Argentina, Uganda, and the Caribbean, and State Department Foreign Affairs Officer for approximately 20 years. I left the State Department in 2016 for a variety of reasons. I had reached a career wall as a Civil Servant and felt there was little room for growth, and was also considering a career change. I decided to pursue an 8 month journalism fellowship as the possible foundation for that change, but found that print news journalism didn't come easily.
In the meantime, my father, who had been ill with a rare blood disorder, became sicker. After completing my fellowship, I spent several months assisting him and after his passing, assumed increased responsibility for my intellectually disabled adult sibling for whom I became co-guardian. (My mother passed away from ovarian cancer several years earlier. )
For a time, I was overwhelmed with responsibilities related to my father's estate and given the losses and challenges I faced, the time period that followed was one of the most personally challenging of my life. I decided, eventually, to continue to pursue a career change in Atlanta, but after several months concluded that the change was unrealistic and found a temporary position similar to the Staff Attorney job I held at the beginning of my career. (I also interviewed and was offered an attorney position in Atlanta that I turned down, feeling that it would be unfulfilling, which I now view as a mistake, since it is always easier to find a job when you have a job.)
Since that time, Covid struck and I have been unemployed for about a year and a half. Luckily, my financial situation was stable and I was able to continue my job search when, a few months ago, in February 2021, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Since my diagnosis, I have been pursuing my job search whenever I can, a process I hope will be easier since I learned yesterday that chemotherapy will end a month early. I have been pursuing consultancies, international development and humanitarian assistance opportunities and related positions both in and out of government, but have not yet found a position. While I recognize that my professional background is presumably strong, I also feel crippled by my career gap (since the Interim Attorney position ended in 12/19), and the fact that I am no longer a young applicant (though this fact eluded me completely at the time I left my job).
My question is what approach would you suggest to address the multiple challenges that contributed to my career gap and what advice you would give me regarding pursuing my next role?
Nicole Jarvis, LMSW
Jul 14, 2021
Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:
Thanks so much for submitting your question. I will pass along your message to our career coaches and you should have a response soon.
In the meantime, I'd say that at this point in time, a resume gap is not as big of a red flag as it once was, given the way 2020 and the beginning of 2021 played out. With mass layoffs, furloughs, and people needing to quit their jobs for a multitude of reasons, a gap in work, particularly in the last year and a half is likely less impactful than in the past. With that said, it's not a bad idea to start thinking of some ways to talk about your gap in the event it does come up. You can make the decision around what, and how much, you'd like to share. You could speak to an interest in exploring alternative career paths and interests, taking the time to add to your skillset and pursue various avenues.
In terms of your diagnosis, I'm not sure if disclosure is a concern of yours at this time since you did not mention it in your message, but it's always a good idea to be aware of decisions around disclosure, especially when looking for work. I'd encourage you to take a look at our article on Managing Disclosure When Looking for a Job to get a better sense of how you might approach it. Additionally, putting in time to prepare for interviews can really help instill confidence and also help to ensure you don't accidentally share information you didn't intend because you felt put on the spot. Check out some of our resources on interviewing to identify some tools and techniques to be best prepared for interviews, including how to answer questions about resume gaps and more.
Hopefully some of those resources help and you can find some useful information as you wait for a response from a career coach. Always feel free to reach out to Cancer and Careers at email@example.com if you have further questions or would like additional information and/or resources.
Nicole Jarvis, LMSW
Assistant Director of Programs
Jul 14, 2021
Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. Very helpful to have some suggestions to consider while awaiting a response from a career coach. Hope you are right about the career gap and Covid. Still plan to prepare as much as possible and will take a look at the attached links.
Jul 16, 2021
I hope you are encouraged by Nicole's reply, because she is absolutely spot on when it comes to a career gap in this employment environment. COVID put more than 11 million people in a state of employment suspended animation, 4.5 million of them women who stopped out or were furloughed or found themselves on the front lines of caring for loved ones during the height of the pandemic. I know it may sound odd to see that as an advantage, but it means that no one will look at that gap of yours and wonder about it. Gaps are happening everywhere these days.
That said, it is perfectly OK to mention that you spent the last few years caring for family members, but now are able to refocus on your career. Your experience is stellar, and in light of what was occurring in the State Department from 2016 until now, it is unlikely that a future employer would be concerned that you stepped down to care for family or sought a change out of government at that time. That does not preclude you working to reestablish your government career or pursuing like challenges in an NGO or consulting firm.
What is most important is that you are clear on your objectives, can articulate your strengths and accomplishments and are able to explain why your experiences will add value to the organizations you are seeking to join. I know you are up to speed on how slowly the government hiring process moves, so please don't get discouraged. Just keep plugging away, networking like crazy with old colleagues and friends, and touching base with hiring managers and recruiters in the organizations you are targeting. You can expect that the hiring process can take up to 6 months...hopefully enough time for you to clear the chemotherapy hurdle and experience substantial recovery from any effects you may be experiencing.
Believe it or not, there is a tremendous talent shortage in this market. Employers at all levels are struggling to find the right individuals for the roles they have open. With your professional credentials in law, NGO's and State, your profile will definitely attract attention. Be sure to create an up to date LinkedIn profile with an attention catching lead. Be sure to open it up to recruiters and employers to view by making it public. And, be sure to take advantage of our resume review services, then post your resume on USAJobs.gov, as that is a rquirement for many federal positions. Glassdoor.com, salaries.com, flexjobs.com and other search sites can assist with information on who's hiring and what the organization's culture is like, including pay ranges, interview questions etc. Use everything at your disposal and soon the interviews will start coming in.
Finally, be sure you are comfortable interacing via online communications, including Zoom, SKYPE among others. Chances are your initial and often final interviews will be online rather than in person, so be sure your set up and background is workable for you and pleasing to the eye.
I wish you so much luck in this search. It is an exciting stage for you, and one that will throw a few curve balls from time to time. But I am certain that you can manage those bumps in the road and soon will be back to doing what you love and do best.
Do send your resume /vita in to our review services and let us know how things progress in your search.
Jul 16, 2021
Thanks so much for your advice. I am definitely encouraged to hear you confirm that in the current climate, a resume gap is not the major hurdle I feared. Thanks also for the positive feedback; it is reassuring to hear (It's easy to forget your own strengths in these times!) I had not thought about checking Glassdoor and the other sites you mentioned to get a feel for who's hiring, so will definitely do that. I am on LinkedIn, though not sure how attention-getting my lead is. I think the potential career change issue has led me to try a few different descriptions (from Foreign Affairs and International Development professional, to Attorney and Foreign Affairs professional with the occasional journalism credential tacked on). Will work on it. I believe I have already received feedback from a volunteer on the resume review team, so will be sure to review it. I also hope to make use of the time between now and my surgery (about a month) to get applications out and research consultant firms.
It has been very helpful to get your advice and the benefit of your experience in Washington. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply and for offering such helpful suggestions.
post a commentPlease sign in to post a comment