In Part One of this article (reposted on Next Wave from the Fall 2000 issue of AWIS Magazine), we defined resume holes and discussed the fact that some resume holes can be skirted altogether, while others cannot. We also discussed the importance of determining what kind of "filler" you can use for a resume hole--that is, your career direction. Once you have determined your career direction, the best way to exercise your knowledge, learn new skills, and simultaneously fill that resume hole is to volunteer. In recent years, employers have looked upon volunteerism more favorably; they are beginning to recognize that volunteer positions provide a valuable means of maintaining current skills and establishing new ones during an extended period of unemployment.
There are many places at which a scientific professional can volunteer, including science museums, public schools, or nonprofit agencies. If you are not aware of the nonprofit agencies located in your area, find the Encyclopedia of Associations in your public library. This book provides contact and background information for profit and nonprofit associations throughout the country. If the nature of your extended leave does not allow you much time outside the home, you still may be able to fill that resume hole with a volunteer position. With the advent of the Internet, people who otherwise would be unable to leave their home to volunteer on-site may be able to arrange a telecommuting volunteer position.
If you are unable to volunteer at all, try to exercise your knowledge by keeping current in your field. Prospective employers may look more favorably upon a job candidate if (s)he shows the initiative and drive to keep current in the face of a family or health crisis. If you are able, maintain your subscriptions to professional journals. If you cannot afford to maintain your subscriptions, try to locate the journals in a university library or use the Internet as a link to online journals (e.g., PubMed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi). Try to attend national meetings in your field. If you are unable to attend national meetings, make advance contact with the society sponsoring the meeting, and find out if it is possible to obtain videotapes or recordings of selected seminars. If all of these suggestions sound as though you would be grabbing at straws to fill your resume hole, you're right--but straw is better than empty space when you are applying for jobs. Sure, the interviewer may see space between the straws, but at least the main cavity is filled; and if you pack the straw tightly enough, the interviewer may decide that your resume hole is not so deep after all.
Once you have filled the hole, you need to create or re-create your resume in a way that will emphasize your new or sharpened skills and de-emphasize the size of the hole. Rather than creating a standard chronologically organized resume, try creating a skill-based resume. Of course the duration of your employment in any particular job will be included in a skill-based resume, but the bulleted list of your skills included in such a resume should focus the reader on your skills rather than on the length of your employment. Simply filling a resume hole probably will not be enough to land a job following an extended period of unemployment, however. To step past the resume hole into a good job you will also need good contacts. The effort it takes to maintain regular contact with graduate or postdoctoral mentors and old colleagues is minimal compared to the benefits reaped in positive references, job tips, and employment contacts. If your particular situation or location does not allow you to have lunch with an old lab mate once in awhile, contact her/him by telephone or email every so often.
Regardless of how you get an interview--whether it is from your contacts or from your resume--knowing how to step over a resume hole during an interview will be the final key to getting the job. If the hole in your resume was the result of a disability, become familiar with your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) before you interview ( www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm). Discrimination against the disabled still occurs, so it is important to understand exactly when it is advisable to disclose a disability to a potential employer. Plan your interview strategy well. Decide in advance what you will say if the interviewer brings up the subject of your resume hole. Review your skills. What skills did you have prior to your period of unemployment, and what new skills have you added since then? How will the combination of these tools be helpful to your potential employer? Think about the fact that you are a motivated individual with an intense interest in your field. How did that motivation and interest drive you to keep current and/or learn new skills regardless of any personal difficulties? If your interests have changed, be prepared to explain why. If you have not interviewed in some time, it is advisable to practice answering questions about your resume hole with a friend well in advance of the interview.
Overcoming a lengthy period of unemployment to fill a resume hole can sometimes require very little effort--just an interview or two before leaving on a long trip. Sometimes all that is required is a working knowledge of your rights under the law. More often than not, however, a great deal of courage, creativity, and diligence are required to fill a resume hole. Fortunately, as a scientific professional, you already embody these characteristics and therefore should have no problem filling the gap.