19

I recently quit my job to deal with burnout. I am in a field where people with my skill set are in great demand, so I am often contacted by recruiters or job offers, whom I fend of with a polite declination such as "I am currently focusing on personal projects, feel free to contact me at a later date".

I hope to return to one day recover and return to the field, but for the moment I am mostly goofing around, to be honest.

How would I address the issue of a voluntary gap in my work history? From what I see, I have these options:

  • Tell them I've been working on personal projects. I imagine this will lead them wondering why I am now abandoning those projects, considering I quit my job to focus on them, and would maybe even like to see what I made. I have several minor pet projects, but none substantial enough to explain my absence from the general job market.
  • Tell them I wanted to reeducate myself. I am in a field where many people (myself included) are autodidact – but it sounds rather extreme to quit your job to do so. Even if I will spend some time learning, I don't think they will buy it as a main reason.

  • Tell them straight up about the burnout. I fear this will lead to follow-up questions about the cause, which might be hard to answer. Or perhaps they won't ask, and simply assume it is caused by me being stressed out due to my own incompetence in my former role or lack of adaptability or flexibility.

Quitting a job without taking a new one is probably considered an erratic move, and I don't want to give them the impression that I am mentally unstable, incompetent, lack drive or ambitions or am likely to /ragequit. But it might also look very fishy that I have no personal projects or other work to present.

EDIT:

I have created some points to flesh out my specific situation, however to benefit future visitors, try to make your answers general.

  • I had been working for three years with my last employer. The first two was ecstatic, the last year was absolutely miserable.
  • I had tried mediating with management and HR. Explaining why I was unhappy, asking for reduced hours, working from home etc. I didn't just ragequit.
  • I fear that if I stayed there any longer, I would permanently lose passion for the job. Thus I felt time off was needed to recharge and formulate new goals.
  • I live a spartan life and can afford an extended hiatus.
  • I say I'm just "goofing around", but that's not exactly true. I have freelance projects and personal projects. I just don't put in regular hours and my personal projects have little "market value" (I do them to learn and have fun, not to make money).
  • All of them are true to some degree. I try to reignite my passion by learning new skills and working on projects I think are fun. I do invest some time in those things, but far from a full work week, and it's not the primary reason I quit. – Nix Feb 28 '14 at 21:52
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    As someone who has done hiring, I have to say that quitting your job to deal with burnout is usually worst solution. Unless you are so burned out you end up in the hospital, this is something that is very unimpressive. Stick-to-it-iveness is far more important than technical skill and you just showed that you run away when the going gets tough. Why would I want to hire that? You need to show me why you can be relied on not to leave me in the lurch when things get stressful. If you think it will look fishy that you have done nothing with your time off, you are right. So go do something. – HLGEM Feb 28 '14 at 22:44
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    On the one hand, it is never good to quit before bridging to another job and as you can see in the comments some folks will judge that harshly. On the other hand you're going to be more productive at whatever you choose to do if you're not teetering on the brink of burnout. I think the important thing, now that you're out of there, is to truly get over the burnout and find what you want to do. After that, it is a matter of authentically engaging potential employers. – Angelo Mar 3 '14 at 14:58
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    It would be useful to know how long is the gap. Anyways, I would certainly not tell them that you quit to deal with burnout. Nobody wants to take on someone who already has issues, they'd prefer to create those issues in their employees themselves. Don't lie, but there's certainly a way to put a positive spin on anything. e.g. I decided to take some time to pursue some personal interests and the timing seemed right. Just be prepared to come up with a few examples, you don't have to have spent an inordinate amount of time on those personal interests to make it "not a lie". – Dunk Mar 4 '14 at 20:58
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    @HLGEM: In my experience too much "stick-to-it-iveness" is exactly what leads to burnout. Every time you fail to be productive you blame yourself and try harder, until one day you just break down completely. To prevent burnout you have to learn to recognize that sometimes the problem isn't with the effort you put in but with other factors. That said, I wouldn't bring it up either, people will see you as a risk. – RemcoGerlich Feb 1 at 14:27
28

Be honest, but put the best face on that honesty. For example:

"I achived a lot at company X over those three years and then decided I needed a break. I took some time off to work on some passion projects and refresh my technical skills. Now I'm ready to take on a new challenge, and that's where you come in!"

This is saying the same thing as "I burned out and then goofed around for a while," but accentuating the positive aspects of that and not using negatively loaded words (burnout, goofed) that imply unprofessional/unreliable behavior.

9

I recently went through a six-month job search after being laid off from a job that I wasn't really happy with anymore. (It was a great opportunity, actually!) During that time, I thought a lot about things, and it seems to me you're asking the wrong question.

You say you were "burned out". What does that mean, specifically? Your employer used you up and spit you out? You were a workaholic? You don't actually like doing what you've been trained to do? You have health or family burdens that overwhelmed you and you're drained or (perhaps clinically) depressed?

You say your skills are in demand. But that doesn't matter if you hate it, or if by "skills" you mean "education or training" but you're not actually good at what you've been trained to do.

So the question you need to answer is: what do you mean by "burnout", why did it occur, and why are you seemingly unable to get beyond it? If you can honestly answer that and do something concrete about it, your job strategy will fall into place naturally. Not saying it'll be an easy sell, but it'll be an authentic sell and you'll be in a good place, which is what any good employer is looking for.

If all you do is adjust your tactics for your next job interview, you're setting yourself up for another crash, and you'll end up in a hole that's twice as deep.

4

Be honest.

Acknowledge the burnout at the last company, and explain that you were doing some personal projects and re-education to help. Showing the willingness to work and learn is valuable in a potential employee. You should also offer some plans to help prevent burnout in the future. Just like the work ethic can help, showing that you can identify problems, deal with them, and look to prevent them in the future is valuable in its own right.

Though this assumes that you spend ~3 months or so out of work. More and you'll need to explain why it took so long to deal with the burnout.

4

I would not use the term "burnout". You can just say that you felt you had reached a dead end at that job and wanted to take some time out to rethink your options and regroup - and that's not really a lie.

4

If a potential employer brings this up (why there is a gap in your history) they are probably more interested in a position you may have held, attempting to find out if you are hiding an employer with an unfavourable opinion of you.

In that respect, saying you took an extended vacation because of burnout isn't that bad.

That being said, don't just say "burnout" and close the conversation: let the employer know that you've fully recovered (and that you aren't entering the field against your will for, say, financial reasons), it's a field you enjoy, you are eager to "get back to work", and highlight any personal growth done during your break ("I learned how to X") if it's relevant to the position.

Also let them know you learned from it, and will be able to avoid burnout in the future. Make sure you let the employer know that you can now handle it, and you strongly feel you won't burn-out again.

With all that said, your previous burnout won't be a liability but a valuable asset since you know how to deal with it, and that since you're recovered you will have that 'new employee excitement' but with years of experience to back it up.

1

I agree with @Telastyn... Be honest.

I guess I am looking at how long you had been working there. If you had been there for many years, you could honestly say that it was time to leave. I do not think anyone would question that.

If you had only been there for a short time (I will let you decide how long that is :-) you could honestly say that you had problems with the job without necessarily going into detail. Working on your own projects is a valid reason.

1

In a comment, you say "Ironically, I've been tied up with freelance work, which is why I've not been watching this space." Therefore, any gap in your employment history was because you were testing the waters as a freelancer. It's OK to say that you tried it and found it didn't really work for you.

Never lie when applying for a job. That doesn't mean you have to tell all the truth.

Edit: That was my story, and I successfully stuck to it.

0

I'll answer this from personal experience.

I did experience burnout from my last job, and I left that job when it got really really bad. When I started interviewing again, two questions arose: 1) Why did I leave my last job? 2) When I mentioned burnout, there was the obvious question of whether I had recovered and whether I had a plan.

Most of the answers above suggest not mentioning burnout at all, as it is a negatively loaded term. From the perspective of someone who has experienced it, it is indeed a negative thing to happen but it is also part of reality. When interviewing, I was looking for a place that would do whatever they could to avoid me being burnt out. That was a priority for me. You should think long and hard about whether this is a priority for you as well.

Based on me prioritising employers that were actively looking out for me, I mentioned burnout as early as possible in the very first interview. I did this purely to assess the reaction of the interviewer in front of me. It was a very real test to see whether or not they actually met my needs. Suffice to say, some failed hard and others passed.

Put in very simple terms: I do not want or need an employer that pushes me past the breaking limit just so I can pretend to be a superhuman. Those are the employers I want to weed out as fast as possible.

How to answer questions relating to burnout

Quitting a job without taking a new one is probably considered an erratic move, and I don't want to give them the impression that I am mentally unstable, incompetent, lack drive or ambitions or am likely to /ragequit.

Well, then simply state the facts

I fear that if I stayed there any longer, I would permanently lose passion for the job. Thus I felt time off was needed to recharge and formulate new goals.

This is perfectly fine because as you also mention, you have the means to take time off. Stress that you had a contingency plan which you are now dipping into. That is the opposite of being erratic. It's actually quite responsible to take care of oneself, because that is crucial to longevity.

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Ok, it's your life and your choices. Stop hiding it, stop letting the former employer tell the story through you. Own the experience. You wanted to search for new opportunities, you realized it wasnt a good fit, it was a hostile environment (was it?), etc. Be confident, be concise, and own the resume and win the next job. You aren't a slave, you are free to move on. Own it, sell it, it's your life, your resume.

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