I was honored to be part of the 3-member team representing the Columbia Career Coaches Network (network of coaches recommended to alumni by Columbia University for job seekers) in volunteering at the recent “iRelaunch Return to Work Conference” on October 2.

The job search conference was virtual and intended for women returning to the workforce.

Job seekers could ask me anything, and they did. However, the three most popular career coaching questions centered on the following:

I did not get a job offer from my last position

One of the job seekers had done a short career relaunch program at a top investment bank for women returning to the workforce. She was nervous since she did not get the job offer and knew that no job offer is a red flag to potential employers.

There are more/less aggressive ways to handle this job search question for this career coach.  The middle of the road answer is that the position was not a good fit for her and her interests/background. She did not get a job offer since she did not want a job offer. The program really did not give her wide exposure to different departments.

She would then have to explain in a job interview exactly why the fit was not a good one, complimenting the program, but saying that she wanted to go in a different direction. She then would need to discuss a clear career direction.

I like this answer because it allows her to take charge of the situation.  You always need to take charge and show control. Even if the interviewer does not believe her, she told a story that shows guts.

I have a career gap since I was taking care of my kids for the last 10 years

Although raising kids is more difficult than working outside the home, a gap implies stale skills especially in technology, management, and other technical requirements of a job.

When I asked her if she had been doing any volunteering or other activities outside the home, she told me about the leadership positions she held at various charities. She raised money, coached many volunteers, went door to door canvassing support for various causes, etc.

I suggested that for her resume and LinkedIn profile, she shows “Family Leave” or “Volunteer” in place of the name of a company.  More important is that she shows this position as “start date – Present”. Without the magical “– Present”, many HR systems will not let her resume through and recruiters will run the other way.

For resume and LinkedIn presentation, she should break up this “job” into three themes

  • Leadership
  • Fundraising
  • Marketing

She can then go on to describe her activities and successes with the various charities by putting bullets and sub-bullets under each theme above.  This is the format I use for most of my resumes. If it looks like a job, smells like a job, it was a job.

 I have a very aggressive target compensation even though I have a 15-year gap

Another job seeker wanted market compensation despite her gap.  Sometimes the answer is there is no answer because the question/request does not make sense.  I work hard for my clients; however, some clients simply have expectations that are beyond reality or reality that can be created.

I told her that she needed to get some career credentials, maybe complete a course, and adjust her expectations.  She then asked the obvious “How much should I expect then”.  I offered to use my network to find professionals in her boat that could give her honest feedback.

How else do you counter an unrealistic career expectation other than giving her third party market feedback?