It’s every potential employee’s worst nightmare: sitting down at an interview and hearing, “So I see you have a gap on your résumé. Can you explain that to me?” This was me, almost two years ago, when I first interviewed at Chicago Cares. I graduated from college when the economy wasn’t the greatest. My friends had jobs but I was struggling to get my foot in somewhere, anywhere. I spent most of the day at home with my roommate’s cat, applying to job after job “to whom it may concern.”
One day, I realized enough was enough. I needed to get out of the house and do something. I had seen a few flyers in the neighborhood advertising a food drive for a local pantry: Lakeview Pantry. I Google-d around to find out where it was and found that it was relatively close. The next day I walked in and was surprised at how small the place was. A nice elderly lady helped me inside and asked me if I needed food. I said I was just there to help out and she got me started right away. I was unloading boxes, sorting produce, packing bags… and I was there a whole day before I realized that this wasn’t Lakeview Pantry at all, but Common Pantry, a small site located in the back of a United Church of Christ. They distribute their food on Wednesdays and sort produce and donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
All of a sudden my week had structure. I had something to get out of bed for, and my pile of jobs to apply to began to look far less daunting. I was talking to people, and I was humbled by the stories of those receiving food. At first I thought I would be sneaky and try to work at Common Pantry, but I realized with only one full-time staff person (the executive director) that would never happen. I didn’t even really meet a lot of people to network with. But what did happen was that I was able to take a step back from my computer screen and endless e-mailing of résumés and cover letters… and have some perspective. I was able to realize that maybe I wanted to look harder for not just “any” job, but a job in a field that I cared about, like improving the quality of life for others. And I was definitely able to say something more than “catching up on my telenovelas” when the inevitable “what have you been doing during the gap on your résumé?” question came up.