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Managing a "Wavy" Employment History

By Rosalind Joffe

For most of the 20th century, a person took a job expecting to retire or even die there. But not true, now.

It's not unusual to lose one or more jobs for all sorts of reasons. 

Job Loss Is Common Now

These days, people lose their jobs because of down-sizing, mergers, acquisitions - and poor performance. Job security and the resulting job loyalty are a thing of the past.

This is good news for you if you have a "wavy" career history for whatever reason - and especially if you live with chronic illness.

"Wavy" means that you:

  • Have been or are currently under-employed.
  • Have periods of unemployment.
  • Have changed jobs frequently without career improvement.

Chronic illness often leads to this kind of career path because it typically limits what a person can do.

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This increases a person's insecurity around competence and skills.

Many of my clients, folks living with chronic illness and worrying about their jobs/careers, get stuck here.

They're unable to look for a job because they're scared about having to explain their history.

2 Considerations

It's easy to understand being concerned that having an imperfect employment could be difficult to explain, but ask yourself, "What can I do with what I've got?"

Here are two things to consider:

First, how can you use the market changes to your advantage?

It's increasingly common for someone to opt out of traditional employment to raise children or to be self employed. There are organizations where this might be perceived as a lack of commitment. There are clearly places that want a square peg in a square hole.

But, like the parent returning to the workforce or the self-employed worker looking to get back into the corporate setting, your best bet is to look for the organization that sees opportunity in your background. Ask yourself: how can I apply this to my situation?

Second, how can you expand your search beyond the obvious?

Just recently, a client with a wavy and diverse background landed a job that she describes as "beyond her dreams." She had spent several years to become trained in Medical Billing Coding.

After a few months of searching for a job that had the flexibility she needs, she landed a job teaching medical coding. She hadn't thought to look for this kind of job until it showed up on a job board and even then, delayed applying because of her background. But her professionally prepared resume, years of volunteer work speaking to groups, and her training in this highly specific skill got her an interview. The rest is "history."

3 Major Pitfalls

Over the years, I've identified 3 pitfalls to avoid in your resume when you live with chronic illness and have employment gaps:

  1. Don't include anything about illness or even visible disability on your resume - unless you are absolutely clear it is an asset in getting the job.
  2. Don't lie or even stretch the truth, but consider what tasks during unemployment could be viewed as career-building activities— even if you rarely left your house!
  3. Don't let your shame or disappointment in yourself stop you from applying for a job - even if you don't believe you have a shot.

Bottom Line

Like anyone who has strayed from a traditional career/employment path, you can explore how to focus on what you are capable of doing now and what you believe your future holds. In most situations, your resume is your shot at wedging a toe in the door of a prospective employer. It must showcase your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

More Information About Employment Gaps in Your Job Search:


About the author...

Rosalind Joffe is a recognized national expert on chronic illness in the workplace. As a leading career coach specializing in working with the chronically ill, she has been quoted in numerous national publications and media. Rosalind holds a Masters in Education, is a certified Mediator, and has completed the Corporate Coach University certificate program. Rosalind's website ciCoach.com (Chronic Illness Career Coach) offers advice and resources for people working with chronic illnesses.  She also publishes a widely read blog, WorkingWithChronicIllness. In addition, find more of Rosalind's insights at Facebook.com/cicoach and on Twitter @WorkWithIllness.


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