Starting Over Your Career When the Past Must also Trail Behind



The past trails behind-testing your strength![/caption]

In The Man from America: Pains and Gains of Starting Over, I explore the concept of starting over with two stories. One is about Miss Page, the main character in The Red Shoes and the other is about the lonely returnee to Nigeria from America. I use both stories to elicit the internal and external challenges we face when we are confronted with the choice of starting over.  While I have some knowledge on the idea of starting life over in general, I’ll defer to our elders from African immigrant communities who would be bringing their thoughts in this forum to expand on the subject and to nudge us into making informed decisions if and when we need to start over life in general.

So let’s dive into starting over with career

In career, when we are faced with the choice of starting over, the knowledge of where we are heading is very important. Not just the short term, but also the long term goal should be clear and well articulated. But while knowing the destination is crucial, where we are coming from is equally vital. Okay, I know that the overall idea of starting over is calling us to forget the past and move on, but that is not necessarily so career wise.  Unless you are an heir to a company, everyone applying to work at a certain place must have a history-a story of the past on what you’ve done, when you did it, and how long or how well you did it. This history -whether it’s presented by resume, dissected by headhunters from your online profile, or assembled by the people who know you and could or couldn’t attest to your talent, ability and skills- is the past that you can’t somehow leave behind when starting over.

The good news is no matter how ugly the past, you can still market your skills for a good price if you get the ‘packaging’ right. Employers don’t really need your story either good or bad. They need your ability to do the job and the promise to do it well. 

Junctions of Career Start Over:

  • Involuntary Termination- happens when we are:
  • a. Fired
  • b. Laid off
  • Voluntary Termination-This comes in several ways – (i.) when you are thinking ‘I can’t take it anymore!’, and you quit, (ii.) when you resign to trail behind a spouse or a family that must relocate (iii.) when you feel unfulfilled at a current job and decide to yield to an inner call by doing something different and totally outside your field, or (iv.) when you are just getting back into workforce after a long time.
  • Re-entering the society after a period of incarceration
  • When you decide to return and live permanently in your home country.
  • When you travel from your home country to live permanently in another country such as from Africa to America.

In exception of the last point among the bullet points where we are very excited and can’t wait to start bagging all the dollars we’ve been told they fly on America’s street (though we later get the gist once we smell the coffee:)), each moments of career start over carries its baggage of vulnerability and a hundred pound butterfly in our stomachs . Shame, doubt, fear, or lack of deep reflection applies, by and large, to the circumstances around these aforementioned junctions.

Here are my suggestions on handling each junction listed above:

Involuntary Terminations (Fired): If this is a termination that follows disciplinary actions, be careful on how you allow such history to follow you around.

  1. If you’ve only been doing the job for less than a year, you need not put it on your resume. Your next employer is interested in a job experience that is over a year anyway. (I once guided a client to remove two job experiences of 3 months respectively from his resume, and to cover the gap with his recently acquired transferable skills. His reference was cleared and he got the job!). Just because you are fired at a job doesn’t mean you are a lemon. Stuff happens!
  2. If you’ve been doing the job for way more than a year, decide if it worth listing on your resume. Understanding that there are always two sides to the story of termination, only bring it up if there are other respectable parties that could attest to your character and performances at that job.
  3. Do list that job experience on the resume if you rightly believe it’s a story that any potential employer would like to hear or it’s already a headline in the news (if it’s already a public knowledge, why hiding?).

Involuntary Terminations (Lay Off):

If this is a termination that comes with lay-off, include all your acquired skills at the job even if you’ve only been there for two months unless you are scrambling for space on your resume. This helps create a chronological flow and eliminates gaps on your resume.

-Don’t list multiple histories of lay-offs (it would look weird if your resume shows a history of lay off twice or more. Only a few employers would understand even if these lay-offs occurred during the greatest recession in history).

Voluntary termination is packed with layers of dynamics; each with its own suggestions on how to handle the moments. Starting over a career when one re-enters the community after incarceration or when  you relocate from home country to the United States is equally packed with good amounts of tips that we could put to use. I’ll provide some of these suggestions on my next blog. I’ll also compile a list of local staffing agencies that someone in these situations might consider checking out.  Until then, please send me your thoughts and opinions and lets’ keep this two-way conversation going.

Thanks for reading.

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