returning to the job market after depression

A reader writes:

My brother, after a two-and-a-half-year recovery period from severe depression, will be entering the job market this fall. He was working low-level clerical jobs the past two years while getting therapy and getting his mental health together. Now he feels ready to re-enter the professional job market once again and get his career started. He dropped out of graduate school in international relations as a result of the depression and was a downward spiral until family intervention became necessary.

His dilemma: how to explain to prospective employers the past two-and-a-half years? While he knows he is under no obligation to disclose his personal struggles with depression, he feels that the clerical jobs he took the past two years would need some explaining, especially if he is aiming for serious professional jobs in the international relations field this time around.

Is there any advice you can give him regarding getting a foothold in the job market in his chosen professional field? Any strategies and tactics he should take in reentry into the job market as well as formulating a script to answer the inevitable question of the past two and a half years?

I think I’d go with something like: “My primary focus was on some health problems during that period, but that that’s behind me now and so I’m ready to return to (fill in the blank with his field here).”

This is has several advantages: First, it’s true but it’s not over-sharing in a way that may make interviewers uneasy. Second, by framing it as health problems, interviewers are highly unlikely to probe for details. However, even if they don’t say it, they’ll want assurance that the impact is under control now, so your brother should proactively offer that reassurance as in the example above.

Best of luck to him!

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*


    Many thanks for answering this question. I guess the hard part is if he happens to encounter an interviewer who goes beyond the purview of the ADA guidelines and starts asking probing, illegal questions. For that I will try and coach him and practice responses if it ever happens

  2. Anonymous*

    A trained recruiter won’t do that, but alas, there are many untrained/crappy HR people roaming the streets. I would go with something like, “I don’t understand how that is relevant,” or “I am not comfortable answering that, as I find the question inappropriate.” While he might not get a job offer after saying one of those things, would he want to work there to begin with if the interviewer was asking such questions?

  3. Job*

    Try to find good reasons for the clerical jobs. Sugar-coat it a bit! Good opportunity to make contacts, even with foreigners etc.

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