Question Proposed on LinkedIn: How Do You Address An Unusual Situation On A Resume? I’ve seen discussions regarding gap fillers for clients who have dealt with a dying parent, took leave for child care, etc., but I have a somewhat different and sensitive matter that I need to address. My client had steady work as an attorney for 9 years. Tragically, his wife and son were killed in an accident and he needed to take a year off to grieve. He spent the year playing tennis competitively, kept up on industry news, and worked through his grief and is now ready to go back to work. I find this a difficult topic to address on the resume (not nearly as uncomfortable addressing it in the cover letter). I can’t decide if I should just leave it out of the resume altogether and have his experience ending in 2013, or try to address it. Here were my preliminary thoughts on what to put in the resume, if anything:[Scheduled one-year sabbatical to recover from unexpected family deaths. Worked through healing process by engaging in competitive tennis, winning several tournaments. Remained current on law license and legal industry news.]Also thought to place at final paragraph under the profile summary rather than starting off professional experience with it. Or should I put it in Experience with dates (2013 – Present) for ATS purposes?

Others’ Responses:

– Judith, a career pause from 2013 is a huge difference than someone with a gap from 2000. As a recruiter, I don’t feel that a career history ending in 2013 is a big deal, especially if your client is going back into the same industry (no career transition). As a resume writer, I would consider:

1. If his career history and education are strong, I might not address the gap. My client would need to be comfortable with this.
2. To address the gap, I would simply add a one liner to the summary section something like, after a tragic family event, ready to practice law again. Very simple, gets the point across, and reveals enough information. I would not put this in the career experience section.
3. Put it in the cover letter and summary section of the resume. Make the cover letter and resume one document – not separate documents. The cover letter will have a better chance of being read if they are together. If you do address it in the cover letter, I’d keep it simple.

I suggest leaving the competitive tennis out of the cover letter and resume. It is a situation of it doesn’t belong and throws off the flow. My first impression – he had to take a year off to grieve but had the motivation to get into competitive tennis. From a compassion standpoint, I understand it. On paper, it is hard to explain.

If you do not address the gap, your client needs to prepare to be asked over and over in phone interviews and face-to-face interviews about the past year. Is he prepared to talk about it over and over? Addressing it in the cover letter and resume will minimize the questions from potential employers / recruiters and will give him more control over the situation about discussing the details or not. As a recruiter, I would ask about the last year, and I always relay information to the hiring manager and interview teams. Especially tragic or sensitive information that the candidate doesn’t need to relive with each interviewer.

– I was wondering if your client played. tennis competitively prior to the accident and, if so, would it be widely known within circles he would find himself interviewing in.Also, when you utilize the sabatical sentence, I might also use a phrase like ‘tragic family accident in which he lost his entire family’ describing what he went through, which makes his decision to compete something almost necessary to get by, rather than narcissistic or self-involved and the year off, in my opinion, should be listed in the career history to keep continuity.I don’t really think it even needs to be in the cover letter and if you feel that it should, be brief.

– I’m not sure where ATS talk comes from and I constantly ask people to back up their claims about ATS. To date, I haven’t received facts from anyone. From my experience as a recruiter, consulting for multiple companies, all with different ATS, I haven’t come across one company that uses the ATS to automatically screen out applicants.Few points:1. It is important for applicants to have the correct response to qualifying questions on job applications. The ATS can identify candidates who answered the qualifying questions favorably or not. If an applicant doesn’t answer favorably, applicants might be auto rejected and or manually rejected without being reviewed.If your client is in the same industry he was in, I don’t think he’ll have a problem with the qualifying questions.2. There are so many candidates with gaps. It is not uncommon. Therefore, a one year gap is not a huge concern – as long as their career history is strong. If their career history is not strong and/or they have multiple gaps and/or are job hoppers, this scenario will present a problem.3. Compliance laws and the business risk using an ATS to screen out applicants is huge. Every applicant must be dispositioned and this is the reason companies do not use an ATS to automatically do that for them. A disposition tells why a candidate was rejected. An ATS cannot make that judgment. The candidate answers qualifying questions, therefore, the candidate is taking themselves out of the running. The ATS is simply identifying them.Judith, if your candidate has a strong career history, I wouldn’t be concerned about the 1 year gap. A recruiter would know enough to call him and ask about the gap. I had a friend with a 3 year gap and he didn’t address it on his resume or cover letter. He sent out one resume and landed a position. In the interview, they asked about the gap and he explained medical issues. The key – his career history and education was so strong that it didn’t matter.Your candidate will be asked about the gap. Death of a wife and child come with strong emotions. If he is prepared to talk about it over and over, then don’t mention anything. If he wants a little buffer, I would mention it but subtle and simple. If his career history is strong, that will trump if employers think he is recovered or not. People have life events and people are compassionate and I don’t see it as a hindrance to mention it.

– I got cut off by a phone call so I don’t think the last message got thru. I think that you will only be dealing with a gap that is from 2013-14 in a long, stable career. When u have an occurrence like this take place there are legal, insurance and sometimes grief counseling matters to be settled and most firms will understand that and find it reasonable.I don’t think during interviews it would be a good idea to play up the tennis thing too much and from what I understand about ATS, as long as the gap is not at the top of the page you should be ok. ATS picks up keywords (but I’m no expert), it should pick up words and phrases like “death in the family”

– Just to let you all know what we decided to do, I suggested to the client that we begin the Employment section with: “Strategic one-year sabbatical taken due to unexpected family tragedy. Remained current on law license and legal industry news. Wholly prepared and enthusiastic to return to full-time employment. (2013″Present)."I thought it didn’t convey too much personal information and would act as a placeholder in case an ATS system would reject the resume due to the gap. It also would hopefully forestall interviewers from digging too deeply into the reason for the break. I preceded this with a strong profile summary section emphasizing the client’s work ethic and integrity, etc. and several glowing quotes from performance reviews with his last employer (to make it clear he left of his own accord).Client loved it! Let’s hope it works for him. Thanks again for all your input!

– I would not address it at all. Look the question will come up anyway and I would rather address it in a follow up note.You could hint at the tennis activity by boldly listing it and hopeful this person did volunteer work associated with grief management. In other words I would coach them to add some key volunteering and get active now to cover some of the time and look like they are on the comeback trail.Most reasonable people will overlook this so called gap but I say it is an audience by audience decision. So I suggest you tell them that you will work with them through separate communications as they get themselves out there and you should charge extra for the maintenance and extra involvement here.

– I’m late to this but just want to say I concur with Amy’s advice 100% – and hope that your client will script and practice his explanation for his time off – the right response will be informative enough to satisfy the question without opening the door to more personal probing and painful conversations.I, too, would like confirmation that ATS can be set to automatically reject a candidate who is not actively working – if that is the case, that is the most ridiculous criteria I’ve ever heard of for vetting quality candidates. Eliminating someone who, for instance, worked for a company that was sold for a gazillion dollars because they are not currently working is a very stupid idea. As a career recruiter, I actually have a preference for candidates who are not working – they are often more motivated, more flexible, and there is no chance of a counter-offer.

– I would not mention that he played tennis. First, I don’t think it’s necessary to disclose what he might have done during that period. Second, playing tennis might not sit well with some readers of his resume. All he needs to say is talk in general terms about the tragedy, that he took time out, that he maintained his credentials, kept up to date professionally, remained physically active and that he is now ready to resume his career.Whether he played competitive tennis or took up chess or SCUBA diving or learned to play the guitar is not material.I suspect that most hiring managers and recruitment consultants won’t want to delve into the situation too much because (a) many are not equipped to manage that conversation and (b) it’s not really any of their business to dive into a person’s private affairs. I think most hiring managers and recruitment consultants will focus on whether he is ready to resume his career.

– I might just say One Year Sabbatical – Personal family tragedy and leave it at that.

– Judith something as terrible and personal as losing family members is not something that should be on a resume or cover letter. I feel that situation to be infinitely more important than what goes on a resume.There are more tactful ways of showing a gap in work history than mentioning something like that to complete strangers.There is only one way I could see mentioning something as terrible as this for your clients benefit. If your client is a strict adherent to a religion where it is required to be in mourning for a set period of time. Then it probably will be required and understood correctly by the employer because likely he or she is also an adherent to the same religion.

– I have listened to two excellent webinars on the ATS systems. There are 2 major types of ATS systems. The more sophisticated systems can determine years of experience by dates and allot lower scores for earlier experience, typically found on page 2 of the resume. I don’t know how it deals with gaps. The seminars didn’t answer all the questions I had. That would be impossible, But I did come away feeling I had a better handle on things. These seminars may still be available through their respective organizations.The seminars I listened to were Wendy Enelow / Louise Kursmark together ( Writing ATS-Optimized Resumes)! and another one by Pat Criscito, CPRW (The Latest News onApplicant Tracking Systems- NRWA). Their presentations were both based on interviews with ATS manufacturers, so they went straight to the source on how they work.ATS systems simply use keywords, some in more sophisticated ways then others, to find those candidates that are a match. Those resumes with the highest score go to the top of the pile. If the candidate doesn’t have the right key words, they lose out on an opportunity. These systems are finicky and formatting can hurt a candidate as well, such as if they don’t use recognizable headers (such as summary, professional experience, or education), the system will think that type of information is not provided and bypass it, therefore losing points that should have been given for the section.Hopefully you can check out the seminars. There is so much more to it. Right when you think you have it straight, you learn something new. Plus, each system is different and they can also be customized by the employer, so tough to keep things straight.

– I like the sentence but would leave out – Wholly prepared and enthusiastic to return to full-time employment. By stating "Remained current on law license and legal industry news” it is assumed you are willing and able to work. If you want you can add that on LinkedIn.You may also want to consider changing new to practices which is more relevant. That would be like a CPA saying tax news vs. Tax laws.

–  write resumes for a living and have had this question asked plenty of times. I wrote an article explaining how to explain those gaps in simple language without looking like you are trying to hide something:“That dreaded hole ” the one where you were out of work for several months, or years, through no fault of your own ” the glaring employment gap when a full time student as a mature adult to get through the degree faster. How do you explain legitimate absences without getting ‘dinged’ for a spotty work record? How do you handle gaps in your employment resume? Simply state the truth. Use words that don’t lie, but don’t push the information blatantly at the hiring manager. You want to at least get an interview to explain the gaps personally.Job seekers may be nervous about gaps and write a functional resume versus chronological. When asked to rewrite a chronological resume, this makes the gaps obvious. You can use wording to fill in the missing dates on the chronological resume that would still pass muster for hiring managers.” (see link for the rest of the article with examples and suggestions).

– Judy, I scanned through the answers. One thing I did not notice and this is important either for the resume or interview: What did your client learn as a result of the grieving process and the competitive tennis? How are these lessons, these experiences, going to make him a better attorney? Why after a year of competitive tennis is he returning to law? Why is that preferable to playing another year of tennis?Knowing the answers may very well assist you and your client on deciding the best approach.There is also another option re. the resume and that is to use a combination format, where all the legal experience is listed together and all the non-legal experience is listed together.Also, may I suggest that the decision to include or exclude the grieving and tennis is not a decision that is best made by a resume professional or career coach alone. After research and consideration it might be best to bring what has been learned to the client and let him make the decision.

– I agree with Perry. The less said in the resume and cover letter the better. Let the subject come up in the interview, which is what the cover letter and resume are for. Your client should be well prepared to discuss the subject in as little detail as possible during the interview, only alluding to the family tragedy without describing all the details. I would leave the tennis playing out of the picture altogether.

– I agree with Lynne and think the question of adding a comment to the resume or cover letter should be considered by the client. If he’s able to discuss the issue over and over again, he may choose to omit it and face that possibility with each interview. If he’s still emotional about it, would an employer consider him ready to return to work? And I’m like many of the other experts here, I’m not familiar with ATS booting out clients based on specific keywords or employment gaps. I, too, will research that.When I was confronted with something similar to this, I simply included a comment “Took a personal leave of absence based on family needs. and the related dates. It was comfortable for the client and employers saw why there was a gap. It seemed to work well.

– Judith, have you discussed your client’s job search strategy with him? Is he looking for a position as an in-house counsel with a large corporation, where he might be applying on job sites. Or is he applying to law firms where he is more likely to be networking his way into a company? From my experience, attorneys are networkers. And, therefore, ATS software may play no part in his job search at all.And I still contend that what he gained from his year off that will help him to be a better attorney is extremely important in determining the best approach, not only on his resume while networking and during interviews. Does what he learned affect his brand and his value proposition? Is he going back to the same kind of law in the same kind of organization as before or has it impacted either of these?

– UPDATE: I am thrilled to report that this client has landed a very good position and tells me "No doubt that the wonderful resume you helped me draft was a factor.” So happy for him, especially in light of his difficult circumstances! Thanks again for everyone’s input!

My Response:

I would include something about tragic family deaths and how he handled it in the cover letter, such as improving his skills and playing tennis. I wouldn’t even put it on the resume. Dealing with the loss is for the cover letter to explain the gap in employment. Unless competing in tennis is part of the job, it shouldn’t be on the resume.

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