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How To Address Time Off In Your Job Search

Dear J.T. & Dale: After receiving my bachelor's degree in 2010, I took some time for myself after being in school consistently since preschool. I lived off savings, except for a brief holiday job. Now that another year has gone by without working and I'm starting my job search, how do I address this time off? Is there a better way to word "took time for myself"? - Lauren DALE: It's not the worst answer ... that would be, "I was serving time for the attempted ax murder of my management team," or maybe "Aliens held me in their spaceship for testing." J.T.: Pay no attention to Dale, Lauren. I can appreciate your desire to take some time off. DALE: Yes, yes, me too. But I have a serious point to make: You need to assess each alternative explanation against the WPI, the Worst Possible Interpretation. Employers are skeptical of any problem with employment history, and tend to assume the worst. Sure, you'll meet some cheery brightsiders who will think, "That's great that you took some time - I wish I'd done that at your age." It could happen. But consider the WPI: You say, "I took time for myself after being in school," and the interviewer likely will be thinking that college is the best time of life and is a whole lot easier than working full time, so your answer will be translated as: "I found the pace of college life exhausting; I sure hope you don't expect me to work that hard here." J.T.: We get your point. Which brings us to what you say instead. As with any hole in your resume's timeline, your goal is to find a way to make the case that it prepared you to be a better worker. In this case, did the time off allow you to ... A. Get clear on what your strengths are? B. Identify a career path that you want to pursue for the long term? C. Realize that there is a problem you are passionate about solving? If so, these are ways you convince employers that you are ready to go full-time with gusto. It's the reasons we want to work that go beyond the paycheck and benefits that get the attention and respect of employers.

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