What to Say About Why You Quit Your Last Job

Caroline Potter
Everyone makes a big fuss about having a gap on your resume, and most folks are fearful of getting fired because of this very reason. But what if your current state of "underemployment" is your own doing?

A bad boss, crummy coworkers, or poor working conditions may have led you to walk away -- but you don't want to reveal that in an interview. However valid your reasons may have been, such factors can be turned back on you, causing you to be perceived as someone who couldn't handle directions, work well with others, or wasn't willing to do whatever it took to get the job done.

So, how should you discuss the fact that you quit your last job without scaring off recruiters? Read on for four tips.

1. Blame It on Burnout

The best tactic for talking about why you quit -- for any reason -- is to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. Most folks understand that people are susceptible to burnout in today's world. Explain to your interviewer that while you enjoyed your job, you wanted to take time to recharge your batteries, physically and mentally.

If you have no other gaps on your resume and have been working continually for a lengthy period of time, this is quite plausible.

2. This Time It's Personal

If you quit a job to spend quality time with a child or a sick family member, by all means say that. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) doesn't necessarily provide workers with all the protection or time they need to be present for family members if childcare or eldercare becomes necessary. Only companies of a certain size are beholden to the FMLA, which offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period.

3. You Finally Examined Your Unexamined Life

This approach is effective for industry changers in particular. Simply tell your interviewer that you took time off to re-examine your priorities and passions and realized that you wanted to work in another field. Even if you're applying for a job similar to the one you'd held, this will work if your target employer is in a different industry than your former employer. Also, if you're seeking work with a "green" company, a nonprofit, or another very worthy organization, you can mention how working for a socially and/or environmentally conscious employer became important to you during your discovery process.

4. Play the Consulting Card

Focus on the fact that while you weren't employed at a full-time job, you were consulting (if, in fact, you were). Consulting, you might say, gave you a chance to focus on a particular area of interest in your profession. This ability to concentrate on one facet led you to pursue positions such as the one for which you're interviewing. If you haven't yet started consulting, do so -- even for free at a charity or community organization. This will help keep your resume current and allow you to be truthful about your recent professional experience.

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Bad Interview Behaviors To Avoid

Caroline Potter
Would you ever ask an interviewer for a cigarette? Or send your sister to meet a potential employer in your place? Or arrive with a bird on your shoulder? Probably not, but job seekers have done each of these things -- and worse -- according to a new survey released by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing firm.

The folks who committed these professional faux pas probably didn't intend on doing so, but because they didn't follow the four rules below, they made themselves susceptible to bizarre behaviors. Remember these tips -- or be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

1. Be Prepared

Before any interview, you've got a considerable amount of homework ahead of you. Make sure you carefully research the company at which you're interviewing and try to learn as much as you can about the position and your interviewer as possible.

One executive revealed to OfficeTeam that a potential employee was so unprepared that he "got his companies confused and repeatedly mentioned the strengths of a competing firm, thinking that's who he was interviewing with." Another called his interviewer by the wrong name throughout the entirety of the meeting.

Always give yourself a few extra moments to prep for your interview, either on the train or subway, or while you're waiting in the lobby. Review people's names, the company's focus, and your potential responsibilities and go in with a clear head.

2. Be Mindful of Your Body Language

Even if you're nervous during an interview, you must avoid displaying any behaviors that might make you appear so. Another respondent revealed, "A job seeker gestured with his hands so much that he sat on them to stop it."

Also, make sure you're focused and alert. Interviews can go on for a long while, so go in well-rested with enough food in your system to go the distance. One unfortunate interviewee fell asleep during an interview, according to OfficeTeam.

3. Dress Appropriately

The best bet for almost any interview is a simple business suit. As long as it's appropriate for the office, you won't look like you're trying too hard -- or not hard enough. A hiring manager told OfficeTeam, "Someone showed up for an interview in pajamas and his hair not combed, like he had just rolled out of bed."

Also, whatever you're wearing, check to make sure it doesn't need darning or cleaning. Adds another interviewer, "[A] candidate had a big rip in the back of his pants."

4. Choose Your Words Carefully

You've got to think on your toes during an interview, regardless of how prepared you are. There are always a couple of questions even the most savvy professionals fail to anticipate. If you're caught off guard by a question, take a deep breath, reiterate the question, and answer slowly and thoughtfully. Shares an interviewer, "[One] applicant was doing really well in the interview until she got to the reason she left her other job. She told us everyone was out to get her."

Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam, says, "Although extreme, these examples illustrate the importance of interview basics. To be considered for a job, candidates must prepare well, dress appropriately, and provide compelling information about themselves."

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10 Ways To Take A Necessary Vacation

Tom Musbach

The slowdown in the U.S. economy is threatening a necessity for workers: vacations.

According to the annual Yahoo! HotJobs vacation survey, 51% of respondents said they plan to skip taking a vacation this year, opting to save money instead.
Not a Frivolous Matter

"Vacations are usually the first thing to go when people feel job or economic pressure," says Joe Robinson, a trainer in work-life balance and author of "Work to Live." He continues, "We're programmed to believe that free time is worthless, a frill to shove aside, but vacations are as important as watching your cholesterol or getting exercise."

Skipping a vacation can also be bad for your employer.

Milo and Thuy Sindell, founders of Hit the Ground Running and authors of "Job Spa," say, "You are not helpful to the company and your coworkers when you are not operating at full capacity. Vacations help you to get rejuvenated to come back to work at full capacity."
Make It Work With Less

For those tempted to skip vacation this year due to financial worries, experts recommend the following tips:

* Remind yourself: Vacation is not a luxury. "You owe it to yourself, your family, and your company to take care of yourself by stepping out of the office for at least a few days at a time," says Liz Bywater, president of the Bywater Consulting Group, which helps improve organizational performance.
* Put aside some funds each week. "Even $50 a week [or less] can add up and make your trip happen," says Robinson.
* Plan leisure activities near home. "Stay at home and read, garden, hike, jog, bike, or whatever you like to do but never have enough time for during the weekends," say the Sindells. "Or be a tourist in your own city."
* Try home-swapping. You can swap with someone you know in another city, or use an online service, such as homexchange.com or even vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner). "It can have the look and feel of a vacation at a much more affordable housing cost than paying for hotel or resort lodging," says Michael Haubrich, president of Financial Service Group and an expert in financial planning for career issues.
* Keep the itinerary simple. Travel columnist Donald D. Groff recommends selecting a destination within 200 miles (a three-hour drive) from your home. If you're traveling by plane, fly nonstop whenever possible. "The sooner you get to your destination, the sooner your relaxation begins," Groff says.

Stress-Busting Strategies

The economic downturn is also adding to workers' stress levels. Nearly a third of the respondents (31%) are worried by how the economy is affecting their workplaces, and 34% said they feel pressure to improve their performance for fear of being laid off.

With 55% of respondents admitted to being "burned out" by work, stress and fatigue add another threat to vacations. Experts say you can prevent the threat in the following ways:

* Start small. "Start with an afternoon off to do something you really enjoy, even if it's just a walk at the beach or a visit to a farmer's market," says Beth A. Levin, author of "Making a Richer, More Fulfilling Life a Reality."
* If planning is a burden, don't. "Instead of planning a vacation, just take time off to be at home and figure it out each day as you go," the Sindells suggest.
* Enlist back-up support. Ask a trusted coworker to back you up while you're away and offer to return the favor, Bywater suggests. "It's much easier to relax when you know someone's got you covered."
* Choose according to what you need. You may need a peaceful retreat from stress, or you may benefit from something more active and exciting. "Avoid the kind of vacation that will leave you even more exhausted than before," she adds.
* Give yourself a deadline. "Stop thinking about it and just do it," says Bywater. "Think of it as 'doctor's orders.'"

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