Permanent-Resident PhD Struggles to Explain Resume Gap


This posting is a guest entry from the Career Doctor, Randall S. Hansen, PhD: Reena writes: I got my PhD degree in microbiology a year ago. Since I am an international scholar, I had to wait for my immigration papers to get processed for my permanent-resident status (that I got through marriage to an American citizen) for a year. I was not legally allowed to work (earn any money) for a year. Now that I have got my permanent-resident status I have started sending out job applications, and I keep getting asked what work I did for a year since I got my PhD. I did do some volunteer work off and on during my year off, and I also did a lot of traveling. Do I need to explain my year off in the applications that I send out? How do I explain it? I am just afraid that potential employers will not understand this explanation since none of them had to go through this themselves (some of them are really rude when they demand an explanation).
The Career Doctor responds: While yours is a very specific question, I include it in the blog because there are some lessons here that all job-seekers should learn. Employers want to hire productive employees, and so any unexplained gaps on a resume or vitae send out a large caution flag to hiring managers. As a job-seeker, your goal is to show that you were productive during any and all gaps — pursing further education or credentials, volunteering or freelancing, in some way staying active in your career field. In your situation, newly minted PhDs are supposed to be at one of their most productive peaks, so appearing to take a year off of research would be very worrisome to prospective employers who want to hire a research workhorse. And those that don’t go to work right after the degree often to some post-doctoral work. I would avoid the whole immigration issue — mainly because employers never want to hear complications… they simply want workers who will show and work. So, I think you do need to show that you were somehow working during that year… perhaps through the volunteering, perhaps through some pending research or publications.