Monday, July 15, 2013

Frantically Filling the Resume Gap

I am coming off two weeks of wonderful, relaxing vacation.  It was a vacation where I did my best to leave all my cares behind, to be stress free, and to live in the moment.  And in many ways, I did just that.  But there's always the wretched reality of coming back.  And today, with my husband back to work, two kids with fevers, and a variety of freelance and part time gigs that are all coming to a head, I am feeling that reality.  The feeling that I am taking on too much is flooding in.

When I left my job at a law firm over two years ago, one of the burdens hanging over my head was that of a resume gap.  The notorious resume gap!  It seemed to be the number one concern of those I spoke to at the time: What are you going to do about your resume gap?  How long will the gap be?  Make sure you don't have too long of a resume gap - you'll never get another job - ever, ever, ever!  

I tended to roll my eyes at the time.  In dealing with the change and shock of going from a full time worker to a stay at home mom, a resume gap wasn't a short term concern of mine.  In addition, on principle I resented this.  I am who I am today, and I will be that person tomorrow.  Of course, my skills and knowledge will get stale, and I expected that to be taken into account.  But to suggest that a resume gap would doom me, and render all of my previous accomplishments moot? Bullshit, I told myself.

But I'm not going to say it didn't occur to me.  After all, I had been a resume builder extraordinaire for most of my adult life.  My resume went linearly from 1996 on - with no gaps, and with many prestigious internship enhancements, awards, and recognitions.  I made many a decision with the reasoning of, that will look good on my resume, and as a result, it was a pretty good resume, if I do say so myself.  I had spent more than a decade perfecting this resume of mine, and there I was, abandoning it.  GIVING IT A GAP FROM WHICH IT WOULD NEVER RECOVER!

It only took a few months for me to start panicking about my resume's impending staleness.  Sure, I wasn't in full time employment, but that didn't mean I couldn't add to it!  Perhaps I should.  Yes, I should.  But how?

And ultimately, for what?

Over the past two years, I have managed to avoid that resume gap.  Not with full time employment, but with various freelance legal assignments, teaching gigs, tutoring stints, short term writing jobs, and other random positions that have befallen me.  I have, for the most part, not taken on this work for money (most of it doesn't pay that much).  I have primarily taken it on to avoid that ubiquitous resume gap that I once rolled my eyes at.  I have done this so I can still look at my resume with pride.  So that if I ever want to reenter the traditional workforce, that some man or woman in a suit somewhere will look at my resume and still say, Wow, that's an impressive resume.  

It dawned on me the other day that I may never submit my resume to a man or a woman in a suit in an office again.  I'm not saying it won't happen, but who knows?  Maybe by the time I am ready to do that, I will instead decide to write that novel I keep meaning to write and live the rest of my life as a best selling author (ha!).

Or maybe I'll decide to do something completely different.  Maybe I'll decide to turn to science or become a psychologist or a preschool teacher or something that has nothing to do with anything I've been doing at all.  And all of these beautiful resume entries will mean nothing.

Or maybe I will decide to go back into the law, or do something writing related.  Maybe all of these odd jobs will add up to some experience, and the man or woman in a suit looking at my resume will be pleased. She stayed at home for some years, but at least she kept her resume up to date, they would think.  But when I ultimately got to that job - whatever that job may be - would all of this experience I'm amassing really make a difference in my ability to do that job, and be good at it? Ultimately, probably not.  My intelligence, my work ethic, and my experience come from over a decade of work experience and life experience, and the random project I take on won't change that in a meaningful way.

Which goes back to my initial sentiment from back in April of 2011, when I left my job.  This resume gap business is all bullshit.  Or it should be, at least.

It's a farce that is put upon women (and men) that take time off that they should feel guilty for doing so.  That there is something wrong with it.  That displaying that gap on a resume - admitting it - is an embarrassment, a disappointment, a failure.  That all of a sudden, we're not like other workers - like the ones who haven't thrown in the towel, the ones who are able to tough it out, the ones who are able to make sacrifices.  Try to avoid looking like that at all costs!  we are told.  Fill that resume gap!

This isn't to say that women and men who take time off work shouldn't be affected by it.  Obviously, if I am out of the workforce for 5+ years, there are going to be some things I have to learn. Technology, for one thing, will have changed.  My skills would be rusty, and would need some fine tuning, and additional training.  Definitely, I should not be treated the same as if I had never left the workforce, but shouldn't that be reflected in salary and seniority?  Surely the notion should not be that once I am out, I am unworthy of reentering altogether.

There certainly seems to be a double standard in terms of what one does with one's time during a "resume gap."  I have known various big law exiles who, instead of jumping to another job, have taken a year or two off to travel the world.  They buy an around the world ticket and store their furniture and start a blog.  And it's awesome.  And when they come back, I find that if anything, this "resume gap" enhances their marketability in a job search.  They are interesting, you see.  Worldly.  They are more than just a lawyer in business casual clothes.  They have something to talk about.  The gap turns out to be an enhancement, not a weakness.

But when it comes to taking off time for family, the reaction seems to be different.  There are warnings, there are frowns, there are head shakes of disappointment and insinuations of a wasted education.  Because once you're out, you aren't welcome back.  And the attitude then becomes a reality - people in power look down upon women and men that take such time off, they aren't hired, and thus, the resume gap becomes a real weakness, when it doesn't have to be.  And yet here I am, living in fear, and helping to sustain the attitude that permeates the whole reason I feel pressure to avoid that gap in the first place.

I am very grateful for all of the opportunities that I have had since I have become a "stay at home mom," and for the most part, I like all the work I take on.  It gives me an opportunity to use my mind and develop my skills and see what interests me.  But the fact is, I think I have fallen victim to the pressures of resume gap avoidance.  I rarely say no when something comes my way - I see it not only as an opportunity for experience (and some extra money), but also as an opportunity to put yet another line on my resume - to avoid that gap.  And right now, as I juggle four separate "clients" and deadlines and take care of two sick kids, I wonder what it's all for.  If it's worth it, for the sake of my resume.

With baby #3 on the way, I think I need to admit to myself that I need to scale some things back. And that's okay.  IT'S OKAY TO TAKE A BREAK.  IT'S OKAY TO SAY NO.  My resume will survive.  And so will I.


  1. Thank you for pointing this out. I am wondering about the "gap" when you are just burnt out from Biglaw - and all you want to do is take a break. What to do, what to do.

  2. Sandra Day O'Connor took off like five years to raise her three sons and Nancy Pelosi took off a decade to raise her five kids. They both volunteered and went on to have incredible lives. There was a recent series in the Post about highly educated women stopping their careers to have children then resuming their climb after their children were older. You are still pretty young and will have had all of your children by the age 35. You are well educated and have excellent work experience. The world if your oyster and you are lucky and smart enough to play by your own rules. You have 30 plus years left to do whatever it is that makes you happy and fulfilled. Good for you!

  3. I've often pondered putting my child-rearing, household-running "stay-at-home-mom" time on my resume. Is that too weird? I certainly have learned things, developed new skills, and honed old ones during my "gap". We all put volunteer experience on our resumes, even if it is only marginally related to our profession, why not our family-management skills too? Being home with kids is hard work - hardly a "gap" in my view.

  4. @ 8:18, I have thought the same! Managing kids and schedules and all that comes with it certainly takes dedication, organization, patience and extreme coping skills. I totally consider it "work," and worthy of being on a resume!

  5. Hmmm. I don't know. I am a bit older and have a middle school aged child. I work FT and have never been a SAHM. I know a good number of SAHMs who have been out of the workforce for many years. Many of them very much want to go back to work now that their kids are older and they are really out of luck. All of them have been volunteering heavily, some doing PT gigs here and there, most of them have graduate degrees, all are super ladies with tons of work experience and a lot to offer. They aren't getting any love from the work force. Some can't get any job offers at all. The ones that do get offers are being offered positions far beneath their education and experience. The ladies I know who have had success hit the pavement hard and got back to work when their oldest started kindergarten. Those that have waited until their last child to hit kindergarten have been out of luck.

    1. I have noticed this too.

    2. Sometimes I wonder if it's that they aren't employable or is it the impression they make in an interview? I've noticed SAHMs lack a lot of confidence (possibly from feeling undervalued as a SAH? Or self-concious in the "working world" - ?) and this doesn't leave a very good impression to employers.

    3. I don't think it's that -- I recently met a big-firm litigator who re-entered after 3 years at home with the kids, and when asked how she ended up at that firm, she said it was the only one who would give her an interview.

  6. Thank you for this. I graduated from law school last May and have been unable to find a job. My husband was just offered a position that would require us to move to Amsterdam for 2 years, which is exciting, but probably would mean an even longer resume gap for me. I'm terrified of what employers will say when I come back and that I won't be marketable.

    1. Molly, that is so awesome!!! Congrats to your husband! It is one of my fantasies to have my husband transferred to somewhere in Europe for a couple of years. I would willingly uproot the kids and go - what an amazing experience. Don't let the resume gap keep you from going. And who knows, you may find some unique opportunity when you are over there!

  7. I am a working mom of two, and have not been on maternity leave for more than 2 months for each. When I was in my early to mid 20's, I got a "resume gap" from being ill, which forced me to pause my doctoral studies. I found it very hard to fill, and would rather not go through that again. Having said that, I think that we are different people. Maybe you will manage just fine, and times may have changed somewhat. I am not sure if this is ironic, but I believe that women in the workforce, such as myself, as they increase in number and power, will make it easier for women who want to return. As a mom, I can definitely appreciate the skills and energy levels required to be a SAHM.


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