Starting Over After a Long Employment Gap

CN_Marc_v1_eA reader recently asked me some questions about how to start over after being unemployed for more than a year. Sometimes I get comments like this asking for help, and I know that the real answer would include things that I wasn’t asked — and would take many conversations.

In this case, there are multiple hurdles the out-of-work job seeker will have to get past, even beyond her interesting and unique question about a deaf reference. But much of what she faces, such as the gap and quality of references, is common for many unemployed folks.

So I hope this will help other readers, too …

Reference problems, employment gap & more!

Here is some of what the reader, Michelle, wrote me.

Besides her main question about a specific unique reference toward to end of her comment, l added some topic headings (in bold red) for your convenience to her actual comment to highlight various key issues that can also get in the way of a job offer:

Dear Ronnie Ann,

I’m having several concerns about my references and I was hoping you might be able to give me a little direction. First, some background information about me:

I have been unemployed for over a year now. At first it was to recover from a car accident but it just sort of drew out another 6 months after that.  <= Long employment gap

It was so easy for me to just stay home and take care of the house and bills and such.  <= No strong reason for not looking for the last 6 months

I have never had trouble finding anyone who is willing to be a reference, but unfortunately they are not often very solid. Never management, for one thing.   <= Weak references

Often they are coworkers from a job so long ago and so different from what I’m trying to do now that they can’t really comment on my abilities today.  <=  Old references with unrelated skills

To be precise, I am looking for a position in the field of environmental services, but most of my references are from a movie theater or a call center.  <= Looking to change career fields

I used to have a tremendous difficult time being on time for work. I know if they are asked, old references will have to say that I had attendance issues (unless they lie, of course, which I would never ask them to do).  <=  Lateness issues

So my question comes to the one truly strong reference I believe I have. The problem is, she’s deaf (she prefers that term to hearing impaired). I have tried to list her as a reference before but employers don’t want to have to go through TTY or texting or e-mail. It’s very frustrating and I don’t know what to do.

Thank you in advance for your time!


My response

As you can see, Michelle’s single comment revealed more than one major problem that can make it hard to get back competitively into the job market. Since I don’t want to overwhelm or discourage her, along with answering her main question, I also tried to at least point her to the issues she will need to pay attention to:

Hi Michelle!

So sorry for all you’ve had to deal with. There are a few hurdles you still have to go through, but your future starts this very moment. We just have to figure out how to frame the past in the most positive way and deal with your references issue.

You ask a very interesting question about your reference who is deaf. Not sure my suggestions will help, but here are some thoughts.

First, if you use a format like this one, you can add some important info about about your reference.

=>    Sample References Sheet

You can explain that she is deaf in a note, but that you can provide a written reference if they don’t want to use TTY (a wonderful option if permitted) and if email/texting is also not ok. Explain that she is very eager to support you in this effort. You can’t force them, but the right employer may be the one who is the most open.

Also, perhaps your reference will agree to have an interpreter with her while she is asked questions by the reference checker.

You can also try to find another more current reference. I know that may not sound easy, but sometimes all a job seeker can do is start now to bolster your chances.

Any volunteer work? What about a part-time job or temp work or consulting work of some sort, say with a local business or a friend / family? I’ve known people to get someone to hire them for a while and then they become a current reference.

Remember:  References can be created fresh at any point.

As for dealing with older references who will mention your timeliness issue (that happens), you need to have a story for the potential employer that shows how you’ve learned from that weakness and overcome the problem. Again, volunteer work or even some temp work can offer that.

Also, you need to be able to connect the dots between the “transferable skills” of your former work and where you want to be now.

That’s a lot to take in at once, so I went on to offer encouragement …

I know that’s a lot, Michelle, but if you set your mind to it and work on each piece, you will get to where you want to go. Sometimes it takes a hybrid step (such as a job that touches on the old and new) or even something from the old that allows you to start fresh and build up great habits and references.

Finally, don’t forget the power of networking and informational interviews with folks you already know and ones you find online using search engines, notices of conferences in your new field, LinkedIn, etc. Be creative. It’s how these things get done. You only need one good ally.

Set your mind to a picture of you in the future doing exactly what you want. And then find the steps to get yourself there. Even with obstacles. please don’t give up. With patience and determination you can do it. I’ve seen it again and again!

I wish you much luck, Michelle!

~ Ronnie Ann

A few more thoughts on starting over

When someone has that many key job search issues, especially after a long employment gap, you can’t provide a complete answer in one comment. I did try to isolate the areas Michelle needs to work on most (while still offering encouragement), but for more comprehensive advice, here are a few more links to help:

=>   How to find a new job

=>   Networking tips checklist

=>   References dos and don’ts

=>   Career change help


=>   ALSO:   12 Often-Asked Interview Questions (& How To Handle Them)