How to Deal

Reclaiming Your Career

By Lily Garcia
Special to
Thursday, October 4, 2007; 12:00 AM

I'm 35 and have struggled with a low self-esteem. In 1995, I earned a bachelor's degree in German/French studies.

Due to my history of depression and substance abuse, however, I lack a clear direction and purpose. I've been sober for over four years now and am in psychotherapy. Unfortunately, I am still not sure how to map out my career path.

After overcoming my battles with substance abuse and depression, I am challenged with how to emerge and reposition myself for career success. My work history may come across as being all over the place to potential employers. I've worked in the education, property management, social work and nonprofit fields. If I were an employer looking at my resume, I'd have reservations.

What can I do?

First, dissect your experiences and figure out what you have to offer. Ask yourself a few questions: What have I learned over the past twelve years? What am I good at? What specialized skills have I acquired?

Next, decide which direction you want to take. You already mentioned having worked in the commercial property and nonprofit fields. This means you probably have some project management experience. And your social work and teaching background likely means that you relate well to people. All of which require some level of customer service effectiveness, a great deal of organization and dedication. In order to achieve career success, you'll want to select a path that allows you to express your passions while achieving some success.

Once you've figured this out, work on building a case for why a company should hire you using your cover letter. Remember to mention your unique skill set and what makes you an attractive candidate.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge is explaining your previous job choices. While random at face value, I doubt they were chosen that way. You'll need to make sense of these choices, but this does not necessarily mean letting prospective employers in on your past struggles.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company