Can you explain this gap in your employment history?
If your recovery has included time away from your career, this interview question can sound like a non-starter. You have a lot to be proud of in recovery, but how do you explain time off for self-care? Or even termination from your last job?
The truth is that, as a person in recovery, you actually have an advantage over other applicants. Practicing recovery requires a degree of introspection that many never achieve. Your self-awareness gives you unique insight into what you offer as a candidate and the kind of life you want moving forward. There are several ways you can use this knowledge to highlight your strengths and set yourself apart.
Be mindful of your triggers. Our jobs take up a huge chunk of our lives and can be a major source of stress. Whether you are choosing a new career or returning to an old one, reflect on what kind of environment is healthy for you. Look to career databases, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, to learn more about a career and assess whether it’s the right fit for you. Also, keep an eye out for companies that actively support individuals in recovery—this is a sign of strong work culture and values. The more confident you are that the job is the right fit for you, the more confidently you can promote yourself as the right fit for the job.
Decide ahead of time how much you will reveal about your recovery in applications. Dreading that employment gap question? Determine what, if anything, you will tell prospective employers about your recovery and at which point in the hiring process you will reveal this information.
- If you choose to talk about your recovery, come up with ways to turn an experience employers might perceive as a weakness into a strength of your application. What positive qualities have you discovered in yourself as a result of your recovery? How will these demonstrated qualities positively impact your performance as an employee?
Try using the S.T.A.R. interview technique to really drive the message home. S.T.A.R. allows you to demonstrate a positive quality you possess through a concrete past experience. The idea is that, by breaking a challenging past experience down into the essential Situation, Task, Action, and Result, employers will be able to determine your future behavior. What situation related to your addiction would you like to highlight? What task did you identify that had to be completed? What action did you take? What was the result of your action(s)?
You could use any of these strategies at one of several points in the application process. The cover letter and interview are both excellent opportunities to elaborate on personal details. If you need some sort of an accommodation in your workplace, it might be prudent to address this when negotiating the terms of employment.
- If you choose to keep your recovery private, you should, above all, remain truthful throughout the search process. Misrepresenting your history could win you the job in the short term but lose you the job in the long term. Consider what you might honestly say about the gap in your career experience that frames you in a positive light. What are your goals moving forward with your career and how do these goals differ from what your previous job offered? What else did you take the time to learn or do between jobs? You might even think about discussing factors that contributed to your recovery and the general life changes that resulted from these circumstances. Your goal is to pick a reason that frames you as an active and proactive candidate, rings true to your experience, and feels safe for you to divulge.
Once you decide what you’re comfortable disclosing, stick to that choice. Trust that you know what is best for you.
Use recovery-friendly career resources to get that dream job. There are a number of organizations that help people in recovery with their careers:
- The South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD) is a group with the broad-based mission of helping South Carolinians with disabilities “to achieve and maintain competitive employment.” Part of this program is dedicated to substance abuse treatment and career guidance.
- The South Carolina Recovering Professional Program (SCRPP) works specifically with recovering healthcare professionals “to provide an opportunity to save the professional’s license and career.”
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment through U.S. Veterans Affairs provides job- and application-skills training to veterans and service-members. This is an important career resource for those who have served, as over 20% of them struggle with drug/alcohol addiction or dependence.
- For those experiencing the added difficulty of job hunting with a criminal record, the National H.I.R.E. Network posts a list of resources organized by state that can help you to find and keep employment.
Know your rights. While addiction is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals in recovery still have some protections under ADA, including recommended workplace accommodations.
Job hunting is a difficult process for everyone, and job hunting while in recovery comes with extra considerations. Making your way through the application process is just another series of challenges and, with enough preparation and determination, the acceptance call is only steps away.