A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Explaining a Gap in Employment
Dear Sue: Two years ago I quit my job to care for my mother, who
was unsuccessfully treated for cancer. I expected it to take six months or
so, but my father was diagnosed with cancer a month before my mother died,
and I cared for him another eight months. I was forced to make a choice
between my job and my family, because my workplace would not give me a
leave of absence. At the time I had considerable savings, and was able to
dedicate myself to their care. After their deaths I administered their
estates (which turned out to be unusually complex) and disposed of
property, investments, etc.
I am currently and actively seeking work, and am concerned about my gap
in employment. I wonder how much I should try to explain what I have been
through. I tried to turn my role of estate administrator into a job, since
it did involve accounting, law, filings, record-keeping, real-estate
transactions, etc. However, I became concerned when I made a follow up
call to a hirer about my application when I overheard him refer to me as
the "dead-family guy."
I have learned that people are uncomfortable with illness and death and
that it is difficult for someone to understand this type of experience
unless they have been through it. Most of my interviews have been with
very young people who probably have never experienced anything similar to
my experience, and I wonder if their discomfort with illness and death
creates a bad feeling after talking with me. In fact, many of my business
acquaintances didn't know what to say to me and avoided me after the
deaths of my parents. The people who remained friends had either suffered
their own bouts with severe illness or dealt with family tragedies
You might think I am not positive in interviews, but I really am. I
don't come across as morose or weepy, just factual. I've been careful to
be honest without dwelling on what has happened.
I've continued to attend training and certification courses so that my
skills remain up-to-date and have been working part-time on a freelance
basis. I am in my mid-thirties, a very fast learner, personable, and
creative. Now I just have to figure out how to get hired, especially in a
competitive market. Can you help me?
Sue Says: My condolences on the loss of your parents. I do not
want to minimize your personal tragedy, but do think it is important for
you to know that you are not alone. It may help you to know that most
people looking for work question their experience, and wonder about their
changes of being hired.
People looking for work must assess themselves, which typically causes
some worry and concern, especially when offers fail to come. Everyone has
their own perceived inherent disadvantages; some people fear they are too
young and inexperienced, while others worry about being too old or over
qualified. People often focus on the things they can't control such as
disabilities, health, background, etc.
Although you have a gap in employment, it is for a justifiable and
important reason. I can't imagine anyone holding it against you. The fact
that you have been working part-time is a plus, so focus on that if
necessary. You are bound to run into apathetic, out-of-touch people, but
are even more likely to connect with people who will be sensitive to all
you have been through.
You have learned a lot about life and people, and this alone has added
dimension to your personality. From what you have told me, you have a lot
to offer a company; you are not too young or too old, you are healthy,
experienced, knowledgeable, positive, a quick learner and have a great
work ethic. Don't let one person's negative perception influence you.
Address what has happened when in an interview and move on.
Hang in there, be true to yourself and trust your judgment. There is no
reason you shouldn't be able to find a job eventually. Good luck
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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