Domestic violence can complicate every aspect of a survivor’s life, including their professional track. Maybe an abuser forced you to quit working or made things so difficult for you at your job that you were fired. Or maybe now that you’ve escaped a horrific situation, you simply want to start anew and follow your professional dreams.
“Think of it as a new period of life and a time to start fresh,” says Dana Martinez, director of shelter services for A New Leaf in Arizona. “Now’s the time to focus on yourself and think about what kind of work you would feel good about doing.”
Other indicators that it might be time to think about a career change include:
● You’re not passionate about the work
● You feel burned out having the done the same thing so long
● You no longer feel challenged
● The hours aren’t flexible and are making your life more difficult
● There’s no chance of promotion or increased pay, no matter how hard you work
● You don’t respect or get along with your coworkers or boss
If you enjoy what you’re doing, but feel you need to leave from a safety perspective, you could consider at least changing venues. “If you are, say, a nurse and you’ve always worked at the hospital, try finding a job at a doctor’s office,” she says. Now’s a good time to review your network—who do you know and where do each of those friends or acquaintances work? Are they companies you have an interest in? Can they introduce you to someone there?
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Not sure what you want to do? That’s OK, too. You don’t need to make any major decisions right away. “Maybe this is your chance to go back to school. I’ve known a lot of [survivors] who have been encouraged by being able to go to school, and there are foundations and programs that provide scholarships and tuition assistance,” Martinez says. One such group is called The Sunshine Lady Foundation, which offers a scholarship program for female survivors of intimate partner abuse.
“Or get on with a temp agency and try different jobs so you can see what you like,” says Martinez.
When creating or tweaking your resume, it’s no longer considered a requirement to list your address, which could be especially important for survivors who have moved to escape their abuser. You can’t be sure who might see the resume, where it could end up or even if there’s a chance your abuser has a way to spy on your email correspondence. On that note, if you change your email address, make sure you take careful consideration to choose a professional one—your first name and last initial is always a good fail-safe. Avoid addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org” which can come off as unprofessional. Use spellcheck on your resume and anything else, such as a cover letter, before submitting them. You can check out some resume examples here, and find a tool to help you build your resume.
Finally, make sure the outgoing message on your cell phone’s voicemail is professional, in case potential employers call you back.
Landing the Job
Once you’ve identified a job you’d like to go for, do some research on the company and the position. And practice for your interview by having a friend ask you sample interview questions and offer advice on how to fine-tune your answers. You can find even more job interview tips, including how to dress for success and make a good first impression, here.
You may also consider talking with a domestic violence advocate or working with a life coach if self-esteem is an issue.
“One of the biggest challenges for survivors is that their confidence is shaken, especially if the abuse was fairly recent,” Martinez says. “One of the things I recommend doing is some confidence-building work. You’ll need to portray confidence in order to get a job offer.”
Prepare for the interview and gain confidence in talking about how you are the best candidate for the job by reviewing the job posting, or job description if available. Before the interview, list the qualifications, experience, and other skills the employer is looking for in one column. Next to each, list what you can provide or have done in other jobs relative to each of those requirements. This will help provide you with talking points to use during your interview.
In the interview, be honest about your work and educational history, but remember you don’t have to divulge any information you don’t want to. For instance, if you left a job unexpectedly because you were fleeing an abuser, and an employer asks why you resigned, simply explain that you had to move and the job wasn’t conducive to your new location.
Keep in mind that interviews go both ways. You should be evaluating whether a company and job is right for you just as much as they are evaluating whether or not you’re right for the company. Here are 12 questions you could ask at the end of an interview (though we recommend choosing just one or two you find pertinent).
Before accepting a job offer, consider the employer’s location and premises both during the day and after dark. Is there on-site security? Is the parking lot well lit? Does the building restrict access to employees? Do you have safe and reliable transportation to get to and from that location regularly?
“If you feel comfortable, HR may be a good resource for helping you safety plan at work,” Martinez says. “After all, safety should be your top priority.”
For more information on safety planning at the office, read “On the Clock: How to Protect Yourself at Work.”
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