Why Job Seekers in Recovery Have an Advantage

The person you have become is who employers want to hire.

Posted Apr 17, 2020 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels
Source: Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

As a person in recovery, you have a competitive advantage over other jobseekers.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

If my statement strikes you as counterintuitive, you are not alone. I’ve heard countless adults in recovery from substance use and co-occurring disorders express concern that they have irreparably damaged their careers.

It is true that launching or re-launching a career as a person in recovery can be challenging, but it is also true that the treatment and recovery process equips one with skills that are in high demand in just about any role.

Why you might feel at a disadvantage

You might feel 12 steps behind the job search starting line, embarking on a search with diminished self-esteem or fears of repeating past mistakes. You might also face practical obstacles, such as choppy employment or educational history. Perhaps you are dragged down by legal issues, or you’ve burned bridges with people who could have served as references or helpful networking connections.

You may find yourself asking, Who would hire me? Add to those challenges a global pandemic, economic recession, or other crisis, and your job hunt becomes an even more daunting challenge.

The importance of soft skills

The positive flip side of all this is that the person you’ve become (assuming you have actively engaged in treatment and are seriously working your recovery) is the sort of person employers want to hire. The soft skills you are likely to have cultivated are the ones most needed in today’s work world.

The top five most in-demand soft skills, according to a 2020 LinkedIn survey are, ranked in order of importance: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.

A 2019 survey of global recruiting and hiring trends found that 91 percent of the more than 5,000 respondents—talent professionals and hiring managers—consider soft skills to be one of the top three trends transforming the workplace. Ninety-two percent say that soft skills matter as much, if not more than, so-called hard skills when hiring.

This supports a 2016 prediction made by the World Economic Forum: 

On average, by 2020…social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.

That prediction was part of the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, and, as the saying goes, the future is now!

Your soft-skills advantage

Reflect for a moment on how you have changed as a person because of the journey you’ve been through to overcome addiction and related issues and to sustain a stable recovery.

What sort of person have you become?

Which specific words come to mind to describe you?

When I counsel job seekers in recovery or facilitate career workshops with adults in recovery or their family members, I ask those questions. As you would expect, the answers are varied and reflect the spectrum of physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual changes that take place on the recovery journey.

As I guide the discussion toward specific skills or competencies, before having revealed any data on soft skills and hiring trends, the responses start to sound straight from a recruiter’s wish list. Examples I’ve heard include:

I went from an “all-business” corporate executive to being much more empathic, hearing and “feeling” others’ stories in my residential treatment center.

I developed humility, realizing I’m not above scrubbing the toilets in my therapeutic boarding school dorm.

On my solo trek in the woods during a wilderness program, I had to be very adaptable to survive in nature.

I saw the true meaning of teamwork when a group of us in our outpatient program pulled together to support someone who had relapsed.

I’m not a creative person in the artistic sense, but I guess my creativity has flourished in that I’ve had to be resourceful and innovative, finding ways to spend my time to stay sober.

The process you have been through to get and stay clean and to address co-occurring mental health issues has involved being resilient, persistent, flexible, reflective, self-aware, and connected to others. The list of character traits, or soft skills, that you’ve had to develop, or take to a higher level if you already possessed them, goes way beyond the LinkedIn “Top Five.”

Taking your soft-skills show on the road

Make no mistake—I'm not saying that a job search in recovery is easy. And it’s even more challenging during a global pandemic or economic recession. I also realize that you are not necessarily going to use specific examples from your treatment and recovery experiences in a job interview as evidence of your soft skills, unless appropriate for the role or work setting you’re pursuing, and only if you are choosing to reveal this part of your life to prospective employers.

But by recognizing how you have grown as a person and cultivated skills that are in high demand, you may enter your job search with more confidence and with fluency in the language of soft skills. Like the character traits that soldiers develop in battle, your positive, marketable soft skills honed in the treatment and recovery “battle” will take you far.

© L. Michelle Tullier 2020