30 May [Case Study] Explaining a “Gap Job” and the “Tell Me About Yourself” Question (with 20+ years experience)
Sometimes, we find ourselves in jobs that weren’t part of our “plan.”
As high performers, a side-step or step-back can deal a crushing blow to the ego, self worth and overall professional pride.
When left unaddressed, this just compounds like a snowball heading downhill.
Worse yet, you can arrive (quicker than you think) at a point where you BELIEVE you deserve what you got.
Today’s post (and video pulled from a live coaching call) is about:
a) kicking that thought right out of your head
b) (more importantly) how to change it.
If you’re in a job you know that’s beneath you, it’s likely you’ve found yourself…
- Hesitating to share what you do because you’re a little ashamed of where you are
- Recoiling for networking because you don’t want people to know what you’re doing right now
- or maybe, like our client in the video below says, you took your job out of “desperation.”
And this has NEVER HAPPENED TO YOU BEFORE.
Whatever the case, we want to avoid having you in a spot where you start believing this is what you’re worth (it’s not) and get you out of there ASAP.
Watch the video as we talk our client through explaining and moving out of a gap job.
- The importance of positioning your current role in a proactive versus reactive manner
- How to incorporate “testing” into your narrative
- Shifting the mental guilt (and embarrassment) you may have about your gap job
And, if you have 20+ years experience, this emotional (because it’s not just professional) blow is even bigger.
It also tends to rear it’s head around one of the most basic (and treacherous) interview question out there:
“Tell me about yourself”
At the 6:24 mark in the video, we dive into this with our client
We explain how to take this open-ended question and turn it into an opportunity to STAND OUT.
- Adjusting and tailoring your response based on intel gathered beforehand
- “Reverse engineering” the behavioral interview (it’s easier than you think)
- The specific number of highlights so you don;t lose energy (and interest from the interviewer)
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Olivia: We wanted to give you the opportunity to listen in on a coaching call with one of our clients who’s in our Career Upgrade Master class, and one of the questions that comes up often is how do I go about answering the question about what I’ve been doing, or the gap in my employment. Maybe you’re doing something that is a lower level position than you normally would take, or you’re not as proud of it because it’s not in line with the trajectory you were on before with your career. We talk through how you go about answering that question in a concise way so you can then focus on really the positive sides of the conversation and what you want to share with either the person you’re networking with or the interviewer.
Then, another question, especially when you have twenty plus years of experience, this comes up a lot because often times professionals that are more senior struggle with the question, “So tell me about yourself,” and that’s a really loaded question because the last thing you want to do is go through your twenty year history of everything you’ve done and really walk them through all of that. You want to keep it concise and powerful. That’s not always easy to do, so you have to make sure you put some thought into this and that your answer and your story is really custom to what’s most interesting to that audience. That’s what we go through in this call. Check it out now.
Olivia: Next question relates to how should I address the gap between working at this institution which I worked at, I left them about two years ago and have been looking for an ideal full time position since then, but have done a little bit of contract for, I believe, there’s a company that I have been doing contract work since 2010, and I’m still working with them, and filled in private practice for a little while, so I haven’t been siting around.
Kevin: Right. I’ll be curious to get Olivia’s thoughts on this too. I think there are a couple of different ways to approach it and they all come form a positive aspect of, you know, is there kind of an inflection point where when you left two years ago you were trying to figure out what do you want to do next? I would be very careful about positioning any of it as lack of opportunity in the market place, but rather a, and this is one of the things when you’ve got twenty plus years it’s easy to say, and I’ve had a lot of clients who have taken the approach of saying, “Look, I reached this point where I thought maybe it was time to explore some other avenues and see if there was some other things in the industry that I wanted to do, or I’ve been financially prudent to save money, so I’ve taken some time and lowered my workload, but the reality is I want to get back to this. Then, this is what I miss, and this is what I want to do. You get back around the narrative of where you’ve delivered over a long and positive and growing career and re-engaging around that.
In my mind, you’ve got a lot of flexibility. It becomes, the reality is this, that in order to weave that story there has to be an element of truth in it. Otherwise it’s not going to sell. It’s not going to ring true.
Olivia: Just to give you a little bit more background, and probably the mental reason why I’m hesitant about answering this question, or dealing with it is when I took the position it was because of another gap in employment. I was laid off by a company that decided not to go forward with that particular site, and probably took this job probably out of desperation. It was probably a lower level job than I would have normally taken, but there was a promise of the director leaving the program, and they were looking for succession planning, and again, when I got there found out that they didn’t want to make any changes, and then the director started undermining me and et cetera, et cetera. Ended up in a meeting with H R and his boss, and I ended up getting let go that day, unexpectedly, just pack up your stuff and leave.
Olivia: I still have those negative feelings about the whole situation, but I would have left anyway considering the mismatch.
Kevin: Got you. What do you think Olivia?
Karen: Yeah, I’m glad you shared that, Karen. It helps to know why you did leave, so we know the emotional side that you’re dealing with here. I think, you know, if you think about it, it was a blessing in disguise because it wasn’t the right fit.
Karen: You can really frame it around ultimately when you decided to make a move, you were exploring the right fit, after everything you’ve done in your career you were looking for the next new challenge. Ultimately, that meant testing our different contracts and projects, and now that you’ve spent that time doing that you’ve solidified in your mind what’s most important to you in your next venture, and you’re ready to take that on now full time.
Karen: That’s the way I would say it.
Olivia: I wouldn’t go into any negatives because then they will read into it too much and people, unfortunately, don’t like authenticity in interview settings.
Karen: Mm hmm (affirmative).
Olivia: I think that some people are open to the truth, but at the end of the day, it’s risky, so I think you should focus on the positive side of what happened to you and what you’ve learned from it, and ultimately what you’re seeking, and what you bring to the table.
Karen: Um, that sounds good. That sounds comfortable.
Olivia: That’s good.
Karen: Also, in trying to get together all this information, I have three different responses for ‘Tell me about yourself’ [crosstalk 00:06:35] and I don’t quite know which one to use. I have one I originally made up, and then I tried to go along with the I, what is it? The worksheet that you sent out, Kevin, with ‘I help, I do’ and then …
Olivia: Right. I help, yes.
Karen: … so I did that, and then I think you said in one of the interview seminars that you had online, “I’d love to talk to you about my background in that, but as you know I have over twenty years of experience as a lab animal vet, and with that have covered a lot of ground. Could you tell me about the key areas that are crucial and the success of this position so that I can share my successes to help you best in determining if I’m the right fit.”
Kevin: Yeah, you know, I think I would take that, the last one, and even adjust it a little bit because you’ve got some intel on what the role is, and you understand it’s directing the program, it’s relating to research, and that’s where I think, if somebody asks you say, “You know? I’ve got over twenty years experience, but when I really get down to where I’ve thrived it’s in an environment that,” and describe the environment based off what you understand it to be there. You know, one where I’m able to interact and however you want to … I’m not sure you want say play a role in research, but the way to frame it out around what it is that they’re doing in terms of research and what your role in interacting would be, and really speak to the role. Then, that way you’re able to then pick and choose in terms of your background and match that up with some quantified and qualified examples of things you’ve done as it relates to the position. Then, moreover, to start telling some stories about how you’ve solved some problems, so you can figure out if, you know, it’s kind of reverse engineering, the behavioral interview, and find out if your style fits what’s going on there, and making sure that it’s going to be a good fit overall from a personality standpoint.
Karen: Karen, you said you wrote down some answers; do you feel comfortable sharing that answer with us?
Olivia: Yeah, the one that I’ve used the longest has been, “I’m a laboratory animal veterinarian boarded by ACLAM who has designed and directed animal use programs, and advised colleagues on animal model selection and study design in academia and the pharmaceutical industry. I have clinical experience with a variety of laboratory animals ranging from fish up to non-human primates. I’ve led preventative medicine, disease control, surgery, diagnostics, clinical care, and husbandry programs at a number of institutions such as the University of Michigan, Princeton, Pfizer, Cincinnati Children’s and Friedrich Laboratories.
In these programs we’ve focused on lean processes, standard operating procedures, and policies that advance research and develop goals while maintaining a AAALAC accreditation compliance with USDA regulations and institutional animal care and use committee guidelines.
Karen: Is that, that’s it? Okay, that’s it. Thank you. Wow, that was a lot, so you’ve got incredible experience over twenty years, and I think that’s why this question is so difficult for, I think, people to answer, because you don’t know what they want, what’s most important to them, but in this case, like Kevin said, you do know. You know what the main focus of the role is, so although I would lead in with your twenty years of experience and touch on the types of research you’ve done, I think having to re-key really compelling highlights to touch on, rather than get into depth of each role that you’ve covered. I think, you know what I mean?
Karen: Just, I think, brevity, and the more concise and the more confident and crisp, I think it allows for more dialog for them to ask the questions they’re most interested in, but tailoring it more to what you think, just like what Kevin said, because right there you cover a lot of ground. You talk about pharmaceuticals, you talk about process improvement lean, and that may or may not be critical hot buttons for them, so it sounds to me, what’s the most critical is the animal research. Right? If you could, really, maybe touch on the other stuff, but focus the most of the narrative and the highlights, maybe two to three, two to three awesome projects that you did, and highlight those around that, I think would be exciting. Also, gut it down to maybe I would say three to five sentences. I know that’s really hard, but it’s really powerful because then you’re forced to pick the best pieces of your headline that you really want to share, because right now is not about walking through your entire resume. I think what happens there is you lose the power because it goes on a little too long if that makes sense.
Kevin: Yeah, bear in mind, they have your resume sitting in front of them, and it is giving a high level view of things that are going to be most relevant for them. I totally agree with what Olivia was saying because that’s also something I think is a hard thing to recite without reading.
Olivia: Mm hmm (affirmative). I believe that I could do it though.
Kevin: Hey, I’m impressed. I …[crosstalk 00:12:38].
Karen: I would give a little bit more excitement in your tone.
Karen: I’m sure you’re way more energized when you’re in front of people
Karen: but it sounded just a little bit like you weren’t passionate, excited, and bring that energy. It’s hard to do because you’re really trying to make sure you hit all your key points there.
Olivia: Oh, it’s tough.
Karen: I think if you really make that shorter and more exciting, those top two to three headlines that are in line with animal research, you can touch on, “I have twenty years of experience in research in these industries, but the reason I’m so excited about this opportunity is because it’s right in the line of my strengths, my passion, and my interest, so let me tall you about my top three projects here. Here’s what they are, and here’s why I think it’s a perfect fit for us to work together.
Olivia: Mm hmm (affirmative).
Karen: It’s a more customized version of what you just showed us …
Olivia: Right, you are right.
Karen: …but also more concise and exciting with just headlines.