Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Thank you for printing the letter from "Wants to Work in Milwaukee," who is HIV-positive, living on disability, and who asked how to explain the 10-year gap in her work history. Your response about her privacy was correct. However, as a person living with HIV, and an employment services director at Positive Resource Center (in San Francisco) for people with HIV, I can tell you that many interviewers would regard the "personal reasons" explanation as a red flag.

"Wants to Work" should contact both her local AIDS service organization and her local vocational rehabilitation service. She may need to update her job skills, and she may also need more information, preparation and support. She faces some big hurdles, but with guidance and support she can clear them.

The newly formed National Working Positive Coalition is bringing together the best information about effective services, education and research on HIV and employment. Your readers can find more general information at www.workingpositive.net. Individuals seeking specific advice may want to visit the Workplace forum of TheBody.com. -- MARK MISROCK, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL WORKING POSITIVE COALITION

DEAR MARK: Bless you for reaching out and offering such helpful resources to other HIV-positive readers who are ready to re-enter the workforce. Yours is one of several I received. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Please advise "Wants to Work" (and others with a gap in work history, regardless of the reason) that an excellent way to re-enter the job market is to first begin working at a temporary agency. There are many opportunities in temping -- secretarial work, project management, accounting, technical writing and engineering, to name a few.

After staying home with my children for seven years, I found temping a great way to transition back into the job market. I also made wonderful business contacts who gave me excellent (and recent) references when I applied for my current job as an executive director of a nonprofit organization. -- WORKING WOMAN, NOBLESVILLE, IND.

DEAR WORKING WOMAN: Thank you for another practical suggestion.

DEAR ABBY: There are several ways that "Wants to Work" can include information in a resume without revealing that she has been out of the workforce for 10 years. She can find resume-writing books at most bookstores, and she should look for "functional" resumes. These documents focus on job skills, rather than the dates and types of positions held. This strategy allows writers to showcase their abilities, rather than their age or specific places of employment. -- ENGLISH TEACHER IN THE EAST

DEAR ENGLISH TEACHER: There are also businesses that help people create strong resumes.

DEAR ABBY: The dilemma faced by "Wants to Work" is not unusual in this day and age. She should contact her local AIDS services organization. There are advocates available to help people make the transition from being disabled to returning to work, and to go over the benefits, medical coverage, and how to make the transition without unnecessarily jeopardizing their coverage or health. -- TERRI IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR TERRI: That's valuable information. The Social Security Administration also has booklets on returning to work after being disabled.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600