This column is the first in a two-part discussion about resumé "holes." Part II will appear in the Winter 2001 issue of AWIS Magazine and will also be reposted on Science's Next Wave.
Usually, a resumé will show a chronology of a professional career that is almost continuous. But what if the unexpected happens, and you are left with a "resumé hole"? A resumé hole is a large period of unaccounted time in your resumé. Resumé holes can come in many shapes and sizes. Suppose you decided to travel following your second postdoc. That hole might be only six months deep. Maybe you had to quit your job to take care of a family member going through radical cancer therapy. That hole might be a year deep. Resumé holes due to childcare, eldercare, or disability may dig a hole three, five, or even ten or more years deep. Regardless of the size of the hole, never accept the outdated dogma that science moves too quickly for a scientific professional to find a career when (s)he wants to return to work after an extended leave of absence. If the hole in your resumé swallowed less than a year, there are techniques you can use to lessen the impact of the hole, or it may be possible to skirt the issue altogether. If the hole in your resumé is larger, however, don't despair-there are tools and techniques you can use to improve your chances of employment in your field following a prolonged period of inactivity.
If you are contemplating taking that trip to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro after finishing your first postdoc, you can skirt a possible resumé hole by applying and interviewing for positions before you leave. Many employers are willing to wait for a new hire whose knowledge and skills match their needs and would be happy to secure you as an employee even if the employment contract has a start date that is six months down the line. Or perhaps you submitted the final revision of the last paper for your dissertation and then succumbed to the urge for a cup of coffee-on a Peruvian hillside. You can still reduce the impact of that five-month resumé hole by the tactical use of your Peruvian experience during your interview. When discussing with a prospective employer the period you spent abroad, emphasize how your travel experiences would be of benefit to them. Demonstrate how your time in South America fostered independent thinking and built your self-confidence. Perhaps you are now bilingual and can provide a much-needed linguistic component to a prospective employer's workplace. If you are able to make your potential employer understand the benefits of hiring a traveler, that little hole in your resumé could be paved over in a matter of minutes.
You may be contemplating extended leave for more serious reasons. If you need to leave work to care for a family member or to recover from an illness, it may be possible for you to return to your position under the conditions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), thereby avoiding a resumé hole altogether. If you are eligible for FMLA, you can receive 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave in a 12-month period, protection from discrimination as a result of taking the FMLA leave, and you will be restored to the same or equivalent job when you return to work. Therefore, when you update your resumé, the three months you spent nursing and bonding with your first child will be absorbed within the context of the position you had while you took the FMLA leave. To find out more about the benefits and your eligibility for FMLA, contact the Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration. If you or a family member have a major medical crisis and 12 weeks is not enough time to recover, you may be able to extend your leave by accepting donated leave from individuals from within your organization once you have used your FMLA and sick leave. Each employer has different policies with regard to donated leave, so check with your human resources department before you plan to take advantage of it.
What if you are in the middle of extended leave that will last over a year, and the nature of your leave will not allow you to skirt the hole? There are many ways you can fill a resumé hole while unemployed, but the essential point is simply that you fill it! Helen Hayes once said, "If you rest, you rust." This is particularly true if you are a scientific professional; your theoretical knowledge requires exercise if you are to retain it. Before you actually fill the hole, however, it is important to decide what you will use for filler. Have your interests changed since leaving the workforce? If so, and you have no idea of your career direction, try a career counseling service. An outstanding example of such a service is the Career Action Center (CAC) in Cupertino, California. If you cannot afford a career counseling service or if you do not have one in your area, you may wish to try the self-help route. Richard Nelson Bolles' What Color Is Your Parachute? is a wonderful book and is essential for anyone who is reentering the job market or unsure of their direction. For the past 30 years, Bolles has updated the book annually to keep pace with the changing job market.
This concludes Part One of a two-part article on resumé holes. In the second installment, we will discuss how to fill resumé holes and how to step over them during an interview.
Adrienne Horowitz Kitts, the new Careers Editor for AWIS Magazine, started her scientific career at the University of California, Davis, where she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Animal Science. She then went on to Cornell University where she spent three years working toward her PhD in Animal Science, specializing in reproductive physiology. The PhD never materialized, but the experience helped Adrienne realize that her love of science and teaching need not be restricted to the academic arena, so she took her talents to industry where she spent three years as a technical support specialist at a gene discovery company. Adrienne met her husband at work and later followed him to Maryland when he received an appointment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At this juncture, Adrienne decided to reassess her career; she used most of the techniques in the following article to make decisions about her future career path and fill in a resumé "hole" of many months. Adrienne is now a science writer for the National Center for Biotechnology Information at NIH.