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Job search after a loss of a loved one

Q: I took some time off from my career to care for my mother before her death. Initially, I took a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Then, I left my job knowing that my employer could not hold my job for me indefinitely. My company reorganized and had lay-offs during the time that I took care of my mother. I have re-applied for my old job (which I really loved) but I don't think they will have an open position for a very long time. I need to return to work. I am still working through all the grief but I have a pile of bills to pay too. Do you have any suggestions for how to return to the workforce? Also, how should I explain this period of unemployment? I am reluctant to discuss the details of my mother's illness, hospitalizations and death.


A: I am very sorry for your loss. I can personally empathize with your loss. Losing a loved one is a devastating event. Quite often, after a loss, we are expected to dust ourselves off and return to our daily lives. This is easier said than done.

If you feel like your grief is overwhelming, you may want to consider therapy or joining a support group. Either or both could be helpful. The hospital that provided care for your mother before her death may be a good source for information and referrals. Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship may also provide counseling or referrals to appropriate resources. Discuss your grief with your physician to make sure that he or she is aware of your loss. Your physician may also refer you to counseling for your grief.

If you have not conducted a job search in the last few years, you should spend some time researching job search strategies. A job search today is much different than it was even five years ago. Boston.com has an entire section devoted to jobs. Visit www.boston.com/jobs.com. A few quick tips:

- update your resume, be truthful about your dates of employment and make sure that it is crisp, polished and professional
- develop a 1-2 minute "elevator speech" about who you are, your background, your qualifications, education and what type of role would be of interest to you (see a sample below)
- begin re-connecting with former colleagues, co-workers, friends, neighbors and others with the intent of letting them know you are looking for work
- use social media tools to help jumpstart your search (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can all be helpful when used effectively)


Your elevator speech should be authentic, truthful and succinct. Without knowing you or
your work history, I have developed an initial draft that you should review and edit.  It should contain accurate information and sound like your voice, instead of mine.

A sample:

I am a seasoned Human Resources Representative. I have worked with a number of well-known firms including ABC and DEF. I have more than ten years of experience in all facets of HR including recruitment, employee relations, benefits negotiation and administration as well as compliance. I enjoy working on the most complex and unusual HR questions and resolving them efficiently. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from LMO University. Most recently I was employed at XYZ in Boston, MA where I was an HR Rep for the entire eastern region. I absolutely loved my job at XYZ. I left XYZ in late 2009 to care for my seriously ill mother. Sadly, I lost my mother this past spring. I am now eager to land a new role in HR. I am looking for a role similar to the role I had at XYZ. Every day at XYZ was a challenge and I enjoyed my role there quite a bit.

With the sample elevator speech above, my goal is to be factual and also demonstrate the enjoyment that you mentioned in your most recent role. If you have a degree, it is often helpful to mention that information. Notice I discussed your mother's death but I didn't focus on it or provide details. Instead my last statement brings us back to your career interests and enthusiasm for your work.

Realistically, you will have to practice your own elevator speech several times before it is ready to be used in your job search. Practice in front of a few trusted friends or relatives. You will also want to make sure that you can speak candidly about your mother's death without losing your composure (another one of those "easier said than done" things). It may take time, but with practice, your elevator speech will become smoother and more authentic.

Why is an elevator speech important? It is a critically important component of a job search. When you have the opportunity to talk to a former neighbor, someone that you run into at your niece's soccer game or a hiring manager that picks up the phone when you call, you want to be prepared with a succinct and clear message. Most people give anyone a few minutes of their time. You want to make the most of that time and be able to communicate your message quickly and efficiently.

In 2002, my mother died after a lengthy illness.  My mother, who raised seven children, used to give me very good advice when I faced a daunting challenge.  Her words were simply, "YOU can do this!"  I encourage you to take my mother's advice with regard to your job search -- "YOU can do this!"


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