A 2012 study found that getting a job after rehab is associated with lower rates of relapse and positive treatment outcomes. The same finding informs the work I do as a lead clinician for a drug and alcohol treatment provider. We know, for example, that 62 percent of our clients end up employed or in school after rehab. Tracking this information helps us continually evaluate and optimize the treatment outcomes that we deliver.
But it’s also common that people in early recovery face hurdles when looking for employment. Some of the more common barriers include:
- Large unexplained gaps in their resume
- Poor educational experience or skill deficits
- A criminal record
Such obstacles can be daunting in any job search—but they are also scalable. In fact, what we’ve found is that many employers want to hire people in recovery. Why? Because people in successful recovery often give back to their community at a rate that is roughly double that of the general population.
If you’re just out of rehab and looking for a job, take heart. The following tips can help you overcome the above barriers in your job search and maximize your job prospects.
Grow Your Network
Networking is key. But if a past addiction has kept you holed up at home and isolated from friends and family, it’s only natural to wonder where to start. I encourage my clients to make the most of the relationships that they’re forming within their 12-step or other support groups. Other peers in recovery, starting with your sponsor, may have job leads or even be willing to serve as references.
Additionally, many treatment centers have partnerships with businesses in their local community, including programs that, with the oversight of a case manager or other career counselor, can refer you to openings. Whether you’re an existing client in treatment or fresh out of rehab, these resources can often turn up promising leads and expand your network of contacts.
Let Go of Your Expectations
You may have to adjust your expectations or let go of them entirely. I like to remind clients that often our expectations can be hidden resentments, which are not helpful. Letting go of expectations may mean being open to jobs that you never would have considered before. It can also mean you should:
- Be willing to take an entry-level or part-time position and work your way up.
- Revisit any default assumptions that you may be making in your job search about what you can and cannot do.
- Be open to new people and new ideas.
- Be patient with yourself and the process.
- See the positive lesson in every interaction.
- Detach yourself from outcomes and practice mindfulness about the journey.
Volunteer Your Skills Regularly
Get involved in a service opportunity that gives you a sense of passion and purpose. Often these are areas where your natural abilities shine and can be used to help others. For example, if you love to sing, get involved in your local church sharing your gifts as a worship leader. If you’ve got a heart for kids, volunteer as a mentor in an afterschool program.
Prospective employers love to see that you’re engaged in volunteer work. You’ll also be building your skillset while prioritizing your recovery. In some cases, too, a volunteer commitment can evolve into a paying job.
Make the Most of Job Resources
There are abundant resources you can use to further your education and connect with prospective employers:
- Sites like America in Recovery post openings for people in recovery.
- LinkedIn offers free educational podcasts on a wide range of topics and can be used to find job openings.
- Meetup groups also host live workshops, trainings and other educational events.
- Many treatment centers offer free informational events for the recovery community.
Don’t Mention Your Recovery Unless You Have To
Your recovery shouldn’t be the first thing a prospective employer knows about you. Avoid inadvertently drawing attention to a past history of addiction.
If an employer asks about a gap in your resume, it’s not dishonest to say that you chose to take a “professional sabbatical” in order to reconnect with yourself. In some instances, you may have to be more explicitly honest but still succinct (that you once struggled with an addiction but are successfully in recovery, for example). You do need to be honest regarding a past felony or DUI that may be on your record, however.
Finally, know your rights with prospective employers, including what questions they are allowed to ask you.
Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. With a little hard work and some confidence, you’re bound to land a job you love.