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How to Explain and Overcome an Employment Gap While in Recovery

Those who are recovering from addiction are a brave breed who are looking to put their mistakes behind them and turn to a productive and successful life.

One of the ways to reach these goals is by finding a job and getting into the routine of life that will distract you from your past issues. However, obtaining a job after you have been out of the workforce for a while is often easier said than done.

  • What You'll Learn

In addition to the struggles of getting back into the work routine and battling the stigma of addiction in public life, you will also find that you have a gap in your employment that you will likely need to explain to a potential employer.

While this idea may be scary at first, don’t fret. There are ways that you can explain the gaps and set yourself up for success as you return to the workforce.

Be As Honest As You Can

If your resume has a sizable gap, employers are likely to ask about it. Don’t assume that they see a gap and think you are up to no good. They know that sometimes it can take some time to find a new job once one is lost, and they just want to understand the circumstances and whether they can rely on you to stick around once you sign the employment papers. Your answer could be the defining factor for their decision to hire you or not.

It’s best to be honest when asked this question during the interview. Under no circumstance should you lie to the interviewer. If you do, and they find out later on, they may not trust you from then on, and other job-related issues could develop. If you have gone through a detox and treatment, mention it. It can show that you did something to get better.

If you were fired from a previous job due to addiction issues, you don’t have to say that was the reason, but you also don’t want to fabricate your answer completely. A good response to this question may be that you were let go because you weren’t a good fit for that position.

When you are asked about the gap, and it is due to addiction issues, then explain that in so many words. You might say something like, “I was dealing with issues that required me to leave my current position temporarily. I now have that issue under control, and I am ready to return to work and excel with your organization.”

It may be tough to be honest about a troubling time in your life, but remember that you have a safety net under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As long as you are not currently using the substances, you have rights under the ADA that prevent the employer from discriminating against you just because you had an issue with drugs or alcohol in the past. This rule was put in place so that everyone can access the same opportunities, and you should keep it in the back of your mind when you interview.

Interview Preparation

Safety net or not, many recovering addicts will still feel uncomfortable when it comes to explaining gaps in employment, so pad that answers with your qualifications and great answers to interview questions.

In the days leading up to the interview, research commonly asked interview questions and practice answers that you can practice before the big day. Pay special attention to questions regarding skills and experience to show how great and productive you were at past jobs. They will likely ask about your strengths and weaknesses, how you overcame challenges, and your experience in that field. Take some time to think about good examples, write down your responses, and rehearse them so you say everything you need to when the time comes.

If you are going to be honest about your addiction issues, you could even share some of the lessons you learned while in recovery that can apply to your professional life. For instance, many people find a renewed sense of self-esteem while in recovery, which could make them more confident in a sales atmosphere. Others may learn that they are more resilient than they thought and that the ability to bounce back will help in their new career. Combine these answers with the commonly asked questions, and you will have a recipe for success.

Preparing To Return To Work

Once you have decided to return to work, you need to start organizing your resume and cover letter. If your resume has more gaps than jobs, you can try filling those spaces by listing your skills and accomplishments. While looking for a job, consider volunteering at a food pantry or nursing home. Doing so will give you bullet points to add to your resume and help you regain the customer service skills you may need for your next paying job.

Along with your resume, you should also include a cover letter for each application you submit. The cover letter should be specific to the company you are applying to, and you can use it to address the gap in your employment. So, along with your desire to work at the company, you could write about how you had to take time off for personal health issues but are eager to return to the workforce.

If you have trouble finding job openings, consider turning to social media and asking family and friends for help. As a start, create a LinkedIn page describing your accomplishments and desire for employment. To impress potential employers, your page should include a professional photo, a catchy headline summarizing your skills, and any professional referrals that can be reached if an employer is inclined.

While it may not always be easy, returning to work while in recovery is a great first step to getting your life back on track. Use these tips to explain employment gaps and impress interviewers; you could be working again in no time.




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Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he has learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.