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How to Address Employment Gaps for Mental Health

by Ellie Williams

If you’re returning to the workforce after coping with mental health issues, you might worry employers will consider you too much of a risk to hire you. However, in some cases you don’t even need to address your prior health problems. If you do need to address them, you can often frame them in a way that focuses on the future instead of the past.

Use a Functional Resume

The traditional chronological resume format emphasizes employment gaps. A functional or skills-based resume, on the other hand, directs the reader’s attention away from your work history and toward your skills and accomplishments. Devote most of your resume to a skills summary, where you list three or four skills or qualifications required for the job you’re applying for. Describe how you’ve used these skills at previous jobs. List your work history underneath this summary, including only job titles, location and dates of employment.

Only Say What You Must

You’re not legally obligated to disclose a current or previous illness to prospective employers, and under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 they can’t inquire about your physical or mental health. If you don’t want to discuss your mental health, you can offer another explanation for your gap in employment. Don’t lie, because the employer might find out. Instead, explain that you took time off to take care of personal issues. You can also say you were unable to work for health reasons without offering specifics.

Downplay the Gaps

In some cases, you can minimize the appearance of gaps in your work history. When listing dates of employment, include only the year and not the month and day. If you were unemployed for only a few months at a time you can hide some of these absences. If you can’t disguise a gap, depict it as a voluntary break and describe what you did during this time. If you were well enough to care for your family, take classes or pursue hobbies, describe these pursuits, what you learned from them and how you can transfer this experience to the job you’re seeking.

Put It in the Past

If you tell employers you were unemployed because of health reasons, stress that you’re now recovered and looking forward to re-entering the workforce. Discuss how your time away gave you time to reflect on your career progress and evaluate your interests, skills and goals. Mention that thanks to your break, you now have greater clarity regarding what you want to do with your life. Explain how the job you’re applying for fits in with your new goals and describe why you’re excited about the possibility of working for the company.

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