In the U.S., over 19 million Americans suffer from substance abuse issues. The road to recovery is long, filled with lifelong trials and tribulations—yet many people encounter one major challenge: reentering the workforce after achieving sobriety. And a lack of employment and career prospects is a leading cause of relapse.

Although reentering the workforce after treatment can be difficult, your past does not dictate your future. With perseverance and diligence, you have every opportunity to build a career that brings you fulfillment. Throughout this guide, we’ll provide you with valuable insights and resources to drive your job search forward.

Job Search Tips For People in Recovery

Job seekers in recovery face several unique challenges that can impact employment prospects and career advancement. If substance abuse issues affected your performance in previous roles, you might lack references to help with the job search. You may also encounter unconscious biases from hiring managers if your struggles with addiction are revealed during a background check.

Despite these obstacles, achieving your long-term career goals with careful planning and diligence is more than possible. Taking the time to develop the right job search strategy will significantly improve the strength of your application and maximize your chances of landing the interview. Below, you’ll find expert tips for a successful job hunt as you recover:

Identify your career goals

The first step in the job search process is taking time to self-reflect. Were you happy in your previous position? Did the stress of your job contribute to substance abuse issues? Can you see yourself working in this field five years from now? If the answer is no, you may want to chart a new career path as you reenter the workforce.

For many individuals, unhappiness with their employment prospects and stress from a poor work-life balance were contributing factors to reliance on drugs and alcohol in the first place. Although transitioning to a new field is rarely easy, it can be worth the time investment if it means finding a job you’re genuinely passionate about.

One path you can take is to continue your education. Going back to school full-time may not be an option for everyone, as you’ll likely need to find employment immediately to meet your current financial needs and obligations. That said, investing in your education can positively impact your future career prospects, and a vast array of online programs are available that you can balance effectively with your schedule.

If you were happy in your previous career, you could take steps to find a position in your current field. Prior connections within your industry can help you find openings, and you could also consider obtaining additional certifications to bolster your skill sets and enhance the strength of your application. This will also show prospective employers that you’re passionate about further developing your industry expertise and could help alleviate concerns related to an employment gap.

Utilize your network and connections

As you reenter the workforce, you’ll want to leverage your connections, professional network, and support groups to identify potential job opportunities. If you still have contacts within your industry from previous jobs, you’ll want to connect with them first to find opportunities matching your current skill sets.

You can also seek guidance from sponsors and connections you’ve made in your support groups. These individuals understand your challenges and can provide valuable insights to help you reenter the workforce. You may find that a connection you’ve made during recovery may have a contact in your field. Your support network may also be able to guide you in obtaining coaching from a career service professional or finding job fair events. Although it’s never easy to ask for help, remember that recovery is a complex process and a burden that no one needs to shoulder alone.

Manage your expectations

It’s important to manage your expectations and avoid becoming discouraged as you begin the application process. Finding the ideal position takes time, especially when recovering from addiction, and you’ll need to remain patient to find the ideal position for your long-term goals. If you receive rejection after an interview, use it as a learning experience to improve. There are many reasons hiring managers may choose to select another candidate for a position, and you don’t want to allow a rejection to impact your confidence or optimism during the job search.

Resume Building Tips for People in Recovery

Once you’ve identified your career path, you’ll need to create a compelling resume to generate interview opportunities during the job search. Even if you have a gap in your employment history, you can still make a positive impression on the hiring manager by featuring a compelling overview of your career accomplishments and prominent skill sets. As you craft your content, you’ll want to tailor your document toward individual job applications carefully.

Take the time to evaluate the organization’s needs and draw attention to aspects of your industry experience that align with the company’s goals. For more guidance, we have numerous resume examples across all professions and industries to help you build your document.

  • Craft an accomplishment-driven resume that highlights the most relevant achievements from your previous employment with an emphasis on metrics, numbers, and end-results
  • Create an eye-catching professional profile that draws attention to prominent skill sets and industry expertise that organizations are looking for
  • Provide accurate employment dates but avoid providing a direct explanation for gaps, as you want to keep the reader’s focus on the positive aspects of your career experience
  • Tailor your resume towards individual job descriptions and Applicant Tracking Systems by incorporating specific key terms that match the position requirements

Addressing employment gaps on the resume

If you have a significant gap in your timeline, it’s likely to draw the attention of prospective employers during the application process. Although it’s almost certainly something you’ll need to address during the interview, drawing the reader’s focus towards the gap by including an explanation on the resume will only invite more scrutiny.

In most instances, it’s better to leverage your professional achievements, industry expertise, and relevant skill sets to demonstrate why you’re qualified for the position rather than draw more attention to something negative. If the hiring manager thinks you’re a strong candidate, you’ll have the opportunity to explain the break in your timeline later during the interview.

Remember to update your LinkedIn profile

After building your resume, you’ll want to create a LinkedIn profile to apply for positions and explore additional networking opportunities by joining online groups. You’ll also be able to include content that you wouldn’t typically feature on the resume.

One aspect that makes the LinkedIn profile distinct is the About Section. Here, you’ll be able to create a more extended professional summary that draws attention to your core professional values and industry expertise. If a hiring manager is interested in bringing you in for an interview, they’ll likely search for you on the platform to evaluate your profile, so you’ll want to ensure that your profile is compelling and adds value to your job search.

Interview Preparation for People in Recovery

It’s natural to be nervous prior to an interview, especially if you’ve taken a significant leave of absence from the workforce while seeking treatment. Many people in recovery feel anxiety about employers asking about employment gaps or negative biases stemming from their substance abuse disorders.

Preparing responses to sample interview questions or conducting mock interviews with a career coach can help you feel more confident when conversing with prospective employers. You’ll also want to dress professionally for in-person and virtual interviews, as you want to make a positive impression on the hiring manager during your first meeting.

How to explain gaps in the resume during the interview

Substance abuse issues and rehab can result in significant employment gaps. If the gap is substantial enough, it’ll draw the hiring manager’s attention, and you’ll likely be asked about it during the interview. Although you won’t necessarily need to disclose that you were receiving treatment for substance abuse issues, you will need to explain why you were unemployed.

You could tell the hiring manager that you had to step away from your previous job while dealing with a personal issue or medical condition that has since been resolved. If you were let go by your last employer, you don’t need to reveal this information directly. Instead, you could explain that your skill sets didn’t match the organization’s needs or that the previous position didn’t align with your long-term career goals.

What Are You Legally Required to Disclose to Employers?

Job seekers with a history of substance abuse are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In most cases, you won’t need to tell the hiring manager that you received addiction treatment. The only situation where you’ll need to confront this issue head-on is if something in your legal history may come up on a background check. In this situation, getting ahead of it and having an honest conversation with prospective employers is better.

Many companies will have empathy and even admiration for taking steps to seek help and improve your life. By telling your side of the story, you have more control over the narrative, whereas if a prior legal charge comes up in the background check, the employer may feel that you were hiding information. Although it’s rarely ideal to discuss a personal medical issue with the hiring manager, it’s better to have an open dialogue with employers if the background check will reveal the information.

If you need to disclose your struggles with addiction to employers due to a legal issue, you can still frame your recovery journey in a positive way. For instance, you could explain to the hiring manager that overcoming these challenges would make you a valuable member of their team. If you choose to tell your story, be sure not to overshare, as you always want to keep the focus of the interview on your qualifications for the job.

Maintain Your Support Network During Recovery

Overcoming substance abuse and addiction is a lifelong journey. No matter how many years of sobriety a person has, there’s always a risk of a relapse. During the early phases of recovery, your chances of falling back into addiction are often much higher. Jay Westbrook, an award-winning clinician, notes, “Researchers are accumulating evidence to support a theory that substance abuse is caused by, more than anything else, either a lost sense of connection or never having been able to find a sense of connection.”

One way to find a sense of connection is to listen to and observe the shared experiences of other people in recovery by continuing to attend meetings in a 12-step program such as AA or NA. You could also find support in your family, friends, and loved ones. Finding your passion for a new job, hobby, or healthy activity is another avenue for building and maintaining a positive sense of connection in your life. Whether you choose to attend meetings with an organization or rely on your close relationships, having a strong support network is essential to moving forward in recovery.

Resources for Recovering Job Seekers

Thousands of non-profit organizations across the country offer valuable resources to job seekers in recovery. These organizations can help you find job fairs, update your resume, or get career advice to move forward during your job search. Recovery presents a number of unique challenges to the job search process and leveraging these available resources can help you gain an advantage. Below, you’ll find a list of ten national organizations offering career services to people in recovery:

Career One Stop

Sponsored by the United States Department of Labor, Career One Stop is a national organization with a variety of valuable resources for job seekers in recovery. This organization features an online portal where you can take self-assessment surveys on your current skill sets to aid you in identifying the right career path. Career One Stop also provides resources in finding job fairs, career coaching services, resume writing help, and job training programs.

Recovery Career Services

This non-profit organization was founded by Ty Reed, who overcame substance abuse issues to become a prominent career coach and thought leader. Recovery Career Services offers valuable resources to job seekers in recovery, including coaching and professional development programs. The site also features articles and a YouTube series providing insights into the challenges of reentering the workforce after treatment and advice on overcoming them.

Rehab Centers, State Programs, and Unemployment Offices

Many rehab centers offer career services to people in recovery to aid them in obtaining employment after completing a rehabilitation program. Another option is to explore non-profit organizations within your state or connect with a state department to get additional resources to aid you during the job search. For instance, Massachusetts offers a state-funded program, Access to Recovery (ATR), which provides MA residents with six-month treatment and employment services.

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