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David Baxter PhD

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The Employment Gap Explanation: How to Frame Rehab in Job Interviews

by David Sherman, MD, Sana Lake Recovery Center
August 2, 2019

Spending time in rehab and recovery inevitably leads to gaps in your resume. Sharp-eyed employers will want to know why you’ve had periods of unemployment. Do you know what you’re going to tell them?

The time you’ve taken to heal yourself is essential – but how do you frame that for potential employers without risking your employment opportunities?

This guide will help you decide how best to hone your approach to answering tricky interview questions about your recovery period. Once you’ve considered the points below, you’ll be ready to provide a confident employment gap explanation that any employer will accept.

The Big Question: How Do You Give an Employment Gap Explanation After Rehab?​

Before we look at ways to gain confidence for your post-recovery job interviews, let’s tackle the elephant in the room first. Employment gaps on your resume will be obvious to any potential employer: they’re guaranteed to ask about them.

How do you navigate such a tricky subject without damaging your employment opportunities?

Option One: Tell the Truth (But Not the Whole Truth)​

You don’t have to go into detail if you’re not comfortable or think it may harm your chances of getting the job.

The most important thing about explaining any employment gap is to put a positive spin on it. This will show employers that you are an optimist and likely to be a solution finder instead of a problem-creator.

You can tell your interviewers that you spent a period facing ill health and that you’re now fully recovered. Alternatively, explain your absence from work as a family crisis that needed handling but is now over.

Both of these options are the truth – but they still cover your privacy. Addiction is a legitimate illness, and it causes family crises, too. You’re not lying by keeping the detail as minimal as possible, yet offering some explanation will put employers’ minds at ease about your employment gap.

Option Two: Be Totally Honest​

If you feel comfortable, be totally open and honest about your employment gap. This may depend on the type of employer you’re trying to land a job with, too. With a little research, you’ll get a feel on their approach to employee addiction recovery.

Some jobs may even benefit from a completely frank approach. For example, if you want to use your recovery experience to help others by working for an addiction center or community program, your real-life experience is essential to understanding clients.

If your addiction has affected your criminal record, make sure you’re up-front about this. If you don’t admit to a record and you’re hired, but your employer later finds out, they can fire you for misconduct.

How to Get Through Your Post-Recovery Job Interviews​

When you’ve decided how much you’re going to say in your interview, it’s time to think about how to use your experience to bolster your application. Keep these things in mind to give you confidence in your interview.

Think About Other Activities Completed During Recovery​

Consider the activities you did as part of your recovery program. Did you take up meditation? Perhaps this helped you learn how to keep a level head. Perhaps you joined a team sport to improve your fitness and social skills. This’ll look good to employers seeking team-oriented workers.

If you’ve taken a cookery class to learn more about healthy eating in recovery, this is a new skill that demonstrates multi-tasking and time management. If you’ve taken up an art class, it shows creativity.

Think about the hobbies you’ve taken up during your recovery process: you are guaranteed to have developed new skills valuable to any employer.

Don’t Flat-Out Lie​

It’s tempting to simply extend your employment dates on your resume to make it seem as if there are no gaps at all.

You might even want to make up a job to put on your application to cover up the gap.

Don’t do this! Your employer could check out your background and, if they find out you’ve lied, won’t consider your application further. Employers won’t take on dishonest employees – but they will consider those who own their mistakes openly and honestly.

If, however, a potential employer pushes you to answer in-depth questions about your recovery, you don’t have to share with them. If you’re not sure how to respond, try this answer: “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to go into such personal detail at this stage of the interview process”.

This makes it clear that you feel the interviewer has overstepped boundaries, but if you were to reach a second or third interview stage could be something you discuss in more detail. This gives you more time to consider how you’d like to approach these questions before the next interview.

Remember the Law is Your Friend​

While proving discrimination at the interview stage is tricky, it’s not impossible. If you feel – or have had direct feedback confirming – that you didn’t get the job because of your addiction, act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against anyone with a previous substance abuse problem who is no longer using drugs. If you’re passed over for the role specifically because of your previous addiction, you have grounds for legal pursuit.

While you may not wish to start legal proceedings against a company, it’s worth knowing that the law is on your side.

Weigh Up the Benefits of Sharing Your Experience​

Disclosing your addiction and recovery journey with a potential employer opens up help from them further down the line.

The Americans with Disabilities Act gives you an entitlement to access help from your employer with ongoing recovery activities. This may include therapy, counseling, or further rehab.

How to Stay Sober When You’re Working​

Once you’ve given a satisfactory employment gap explanation, the next step is to accept a job role. This is a fantastic step forward in your lifelong recovery.

However, going into employment again can risk a relapse. New working hours, added stress, and juggling family responsibilities can make you feel like you need to use again to cope.

That’s what intensive outpatient programs are for. They’re designed for working professionals who need the support of a rehab program but who can’t give up their job to become an inpatient.

Read about intensive outpatient programs to find out how to stay sober and succeed in your new job.


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