When Sheila Hageman was 25 her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Hageman had worked as a stripper for seven years, and her mother's illness led her to ask, "What am I doing with myself and my body and my life?"
She decided to quit. As she planned her return to more mainstream work, she knew her resume would require a little cover-up, a few euphemisms. So she called herself an actress or a dancer or "an exotic dancer," she recalled. She quickly landed a job as a waitress and enrolled in college, where she studied English.
Anyone who's ever worked in a racy job, whether as a police decoy or a pornography promoter, must grapple with how and whether to show that experience on their resume and professional profiles. They have to decide what to tell a recruiter, how to answer questions during a job interview, and what to say after they are hired.
Some millennials take offbeat part-time jobs during college or just afterward to cover student loan payments and keep themselves afloat. Generation Opportunity, which advocates for youth employment among those ages 18 to 29, estimates the youth effective jobless rate at 15.8%, which includes discouraged workers and off-the-books jobs. Not all have danced naked, as Hageman did in clubs in New York City, but many worked as bouncers, phone sex operators, or other jobs that can sound unsavory and unprofessional.
Of course, plenty of former insider trading convicts -- such as Michael Milken, Martha Stewart, and George Soros -- now run think tanks, foundations, and successful enterprises, so career reinvention is certainly possible.
The ranks of career changers may increase this year as the job market strengthens and the U.S. economy's growth is predicted to be the strongest since the recession. A lower jobless rate could entice more people to rejoin the professional and business classes.
"Honesty is usually the best policy, but you've got to be careful not to hit them in the face with it," says Judi Wunderlich, co-founder of Wunderland Group, a Chicago area talent and recruitment firm.
She suggests that individuals need to accept their past and not show embarrassment or shame. "If they're ashamed of it, I'm going to wonder, 'why are they doing something that they are ashamed of?'"
Some years ago, Wunderlich says she saw a potential client, a young graphic designer and father of two, who worked as a stripper to earn money between jobs. He was candid about this when Wunderlich spoke to him on the phone, and she intended to invite him in for a longer in-person interview. Then his portfolio arrived and inside were photos of himself "in various stages of undress." He said they showed his Photoshop skills.