Reentering the workforce questions and personal issues

There's one thing people reentering the workforce should know: People in the workforce don't really understand the issues.

They haven't been there, don't get it, and are often surprisingly ignorant of the reasons for reentering. You may find yourself explaining some very basic things at job interviews.

The employment industry is still in many ways surprisingly primitive in its attitudes to reentry.

There are any number of reasons for people to reenter, the most obvious of which is money.

Other reasons include parenthood, illness, personal commitments or crises like being a carer or having to stop work for family reasons, etc.

It's a very long list, very well known, and from tales from interviewees, you'd think it was all a surprise to job interviewers.

Actually, it isn't any surprise.

The interviewers have another problem.

They have to clarify any part of the work history of an applicant when they make a recommendation. So the apparent ignorance is really checking facts, when done by competent interviewers who know the story but have to confirm it and put it into writing.

So don't get too put out if you find yourself getting asked some fairly basic questions at a job interview.

A less common reason is the applicant with a work history comprised largely of holes, where the person has theoretically left the workforce, but the information provided lacks depth. Again, the interviewers have to know the facts before making any recommendation.

In these two situations, the reentry questions are somewhat different.

The person who's reentering after a variety of personal situations can simply explain the situations.

The person with the less straightforward reasons for reentry is really answering questions about gaps in the work history. (See our piece on work history for some tips on how to clarify your situation to interviewers) Parenthood or other obvious self explanatory reasons are simple enough. Just say what happened and when it happened.

We're dealing here mainly with reentry in the conventional sense, based on personal commitments.

When answering reentry questions, structuring your responses is particularly important, and has to be done meticulously.

The interviewers will have to have a more or less start to finish description to confirm your details in their recommendation.

So your answer has to tell the story very simply, and very clearly, giving dates, times, and easily understood versions of situations.

It's not that hard to do:

  • Start with the cause of your leaving the workforce, stating the reasons clearly.
  • Explain the intervening period, and why you were unable to work.
  • Explain the change in situation which has allowed you to reenter the workforce.

The cause of leaving the workforce must show a logical, understandable reason or reasons. This is important background information, and also helps clarify your present situation.

The intervening period, which may well be years, should be shown as a series of unavoidable commitments, which is in fact usually the case. Some applicants tend to overcomplicate their answers, giving details which are more confusing than explanatory.

Stick to a very basic story line, from the start.

This is all about clarity. If the interviewers want details, they can ask for them, but if they don't understand your basic situation, they're not likely to understand the details, either.

Your change of circumstances, where you can now reenter the workforce, also has to be made clear.

It's a reasonable question from the employer's perspective to want to know that the issues are now resolved, and not a problem if you get the new job.

Bearing in mind that the reasons for all these situations can be very traumatic. Some can relate to personal crises. You don't have to be too descriptive, if you're not asked, and you only have to say what's relevant, if you are.

So don't make it hard for yourself.

Figure out how you want to express your situation, and how you want to tell your story in advance.

Avoid complexity, and be absolutely clear about the sequence of events.

For example, this is a pretty typical personal crisis scenario:

A person with chronic depression and a very sick parent had to leave the workforce. He was the only person available to provide care for the parent. There were also marital problems, and some difficulties in the workplace. It was a pretty awful experience for all involved.

The parent died. The person, thanks to finally getting the medication right, made a full, if lengthy, recovery. The marital problems were ironed out eventually.

The story the interviewers need to hear:

I had a combination of problems, simultaneously. At the time I left work, I was suffering from chronic depression, and had a very sick parent who needed care. I was the only person available to give care, and of course I had an obligation.

For the next two years, we battled these situations. My parent died, unfortunately, but my new doctor and new treatment finally beat the depression. It's been a long haul back, but my doctor says I'm now OK to resume work, and I know myself that I'm definitely a lot better, and there haven't been any relapses.

Note what's left out of this answer, the big things that aren't even mentioned:

  • The marital problems.
  • The difficulty in treatment.
  • The type of care the parent required.
  • Two years worth of real grief.

This is a particularly complex situation. Too much detail, particularly with a lot of emotional content, (which the applicant would rather not even think about himself), couldn't help explain it.

The interviewers might have been sympathetic, but none the wiser, for a flood of information about a really lousy experience.

It doesn't really do to dwell on these things. You can upset yourself, and also sabotage your answer, by digressing into secondary issues which don't really relate to the question.

Remember: The interviewers are innocently asking a question they really have to ask about work-related matters. It's nothing personal, from their perspective, and you're entitled to privacy on the personal issues.

If you think about your answer in advance, and create a simple response that provides the information required, that's all you need to do.

Don't add extra stress to your interview in the process.

Most people reentering the workforce after personal crises have a lot of hard road behind them.

The interviewers know that. They just have to make sure they have their facts straight.

Stick to that line of approach, and you've answered the question.