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Recovering from a career setback

Picking up from where you left off can be hard

Gulf News

There are many events that could disrupt the best laid out career plans. From unpredictable layoffs to personal crises that don’t allow people to dedicate themselves as much as they would wish to their jobs, things could happen and lead to extended unemployment or falling behind professionally.

When these situations are over, people may find themselves in a situation where picking up where they left off is hard. Employers are often spoiled by choice, and the market becomes even more competitive if you have to explain special circumstances and complex career setbacks.

That doesn’t mean that one crisis could spell the end of your professional life. But how you handle this crisis and its aftermath could set you back on track or further complicate matters. To avoid the latter, you must keep in mind the following.

Employers see red flags

It is good that you’re aware of your special circumstances. Now, don’t hide it. If you have not been hearing back from employers, it could be because of how your experience does not fit the job requirements or how employers are seeing red flags related to your experience.

Whether you were fired, stuck in a position for too long, or missing critical experience that is expected at your career stage, you must be sure to address this clearly in your initial communication with the company. Simply explain what happened and why. You recognition of the problem will bring it to employers’ attention, but it will also provide your side of the story, which could help you get past the initial hurdle of getting through screening.

Be honest, but

If your personal life took a toll on your career or your health put you in an unfavourable position, just let employers know that was a phase and it is now over. Having said that, don’t get into details of your past problems. You may think that providing a detailed account of the circumstances would help employers understand what led you to set your career ambitions aside. That rarely helps, however.

Have your explanation as concise as possible. Was a death in the family? A divorce? Marital problems? You can mention the event without getting into the details. People do know what these events involve, and will appreciate that you shared as much personal information.

Remediate problems quickly

Identify the biggest problems that are turning into roadblocks in your career, and remediate them immediately. Have you suffered a lengthy unemployment period that are triggering employer concerns? Take a job, even if it is not a perfect job or a perfect pay. Were you fired? Collect recommendations from past employers’ supervisors and coworkers who can vouch for you online and in print and send them along with your resume.

If something beyond your control led to your career disruption, you can simply include this in your cover letter. Being laid off or let go as result of company restructuring or downsizing is easy to explain. Having said that you must again work on framing the circumstances in a factual manner that don’t reflect bitterness or incompetence.

Avoid another crisis

If you have been laid off, fired or fallen behind professionally because of any other reason, try to maintain professional advancement as soon as you get back on track. Now is not the time to quit your job to make a statement, hop to a new opportunity to make some extra money, or taking any other additional risks. Try to get a few solid years of experience in one place where you grow solid connections and experience. In the long run, this experience should balance any blemishes on your record.

In addition, while recovering from one setback could be tricky, two consecutive setbacks could be detrimental to your career. A complicated story to tell about your career is not a good start to get employers’ attention.

The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor.

Career setback

Provide explanations and don’t hide problems

Don’t get into details of past issues

Take immediate actions to improve your status

Don’t create a pattern of career problems

— R.O.

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