By Caroline M.L. Potter
Everyone makes a big fuss about having a gap on your resume, and most folks are fearful of getting fired because of this very reason. But what if your current state of underemployment is your own doing?
A bad boss, crummy coworkers or poor working conditions may have led you to walk away -- but you don't want to reveal that in an interview. However valid your reason for leaving your last job may have been, such factors can be turned back on you, causing you to be perceived as someone who couldn't handle directions, work well with others or wasn't willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.
So, how should you discuss the fact that you quit your last job without scaring off recruiters?
Blame It on Burnout
The best tactic for talking about why you quit -- for any reason -- is to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. Most folks understand that people are susceptible to burnout in today's world. Explain to your interviewer that while you enjoyed your job, you wanted to take time to recharge your batteries, physically and mentally.
If you have no other gaps on your resume and have been working continually for a lengthy period of time, this explanation is quite plausible.
This Time It's Personal
If you quit a job to spend quality time with a child or a sick family member, by all means say that. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn't necessarily provide workers with all the protection or time they need to be present for family members if childcare or eldercare becomes necessary. Only companies of a certain size are subject to the FMLA, which offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.
You Finally Examined Your Unexamined Life
This approach is effective for industry changers in particular. Simply tell your interviewer that you took time off to reexamine your priorities and passions and realized that you wanted to work in another field. Even if you're applying for a job similar to the one you'd held, this will work if your target employer is in a different industry than your former employer. Also, if you're seeking work with a green company, nonprofit or another very worthy organization, you can mention how working for a socially and/or environmentally conscious employer became important to you during your discovery process.
Play the Consulting Card
Focus on the fact that while you weren't employed at a full-time job, you were consulting (if, in fact, you were). Consulting, you might say, gave you a chance to focus on a particular area of interest in your profession. This ability to concentrate on one facet led you to pursue positions such as the one for which you're interviewing. If you haven't yet started consulting, do so -- even for free at a charity or community organization. This will help keep your resume current and allow you to be truthful about your recent professional experience.