March 30th, 2011 | 1:00 pm

Ask-a-Recruiter: How to Get Back on Track After a Career Break

filed under Ask A Recruiter

seekingBy Traci K.

How can you get your resume to the top of the stack when you’ve taken a break from your career to care for children or aging parents?

You’re punctual, smart, determined, qualified. You’ve had great experience and have at least 3 years of tenure in every position you’ve held. You’re a hard-worker, a fast learner and above all, you excel at anything you put your mind to. Oh, I almost forgot, you interview fantastically too. Wow, you sound great! You’re currently job hunting, so if all this is true, why haven’t you received any job offers?

Did I mention you left the workforce six years ago to be a stay-at-home mother?


The Problem

Employers want candidates that are relevant and up-to-date on information regarding the industry and position niche related to their experience. And nothing says “You’re not relevant” more than a long break from working. Danielle Bell, Human Resource Manager for Belin McCormick Law Firm, explains, “When reviewing work history on resumes, I always look closely for gaps in employment.  Gaps in employment can sometimes indicate that an individual left an employer on bad terms, so I am always sure to question the reasoning for the break in employment during an interview.”

While commendable that someone would give up their career to care for their children or support a loved one that needed assistance, it doesn’t change the fact that a red flag is immediately created when this gap in employment is shown on your resume – even more so if it isn’t explained. Even with an explanation, by leaving the workforce, you are basically telling an employer that your skills aren’t honed on the latest methods used to do your job and that you’re probably not aware of any changes that have occurred during your time away. What do you do now?

The Solution

First of all, if you are as smart as you say you are, hopefully you were proactive in thinking about your eventual return to work. If so, you’ve been keeping up on changes and have stayed in “practice” whether by reading pertinent articles, keeping certifications current or taking a few classes. Anything that you’ve done since relinquishing your title of Working Professional should be highlighted on your resume. If you haven’t taken your leave yet and you are preparing, all of those things I mentioned above: do them. Even if it’s a free tutorial of changes in a software program you use – anything that shows you’ve kept your knowledge processes engaged and your brain exercised. It will only increase your chances of getting an interview. If you aren’t in either of these boats then grab a life preserver and star preparing yourself immediately. Get as much education and knowledge as you can before you start applying for jobs. This will show that you are serious about returning to your career.

Second, explain, explain and explain some more. Bell suggests, “For individuals that are trying to reenter the workforce or that have a break somewhere in their past employment due to caring for a child or parent, I would suggest addressing the break in employment in the cover letter without going into too much detail.  Another idea is to ask for letters of recommendation from past employers so that you can submit them to employers with your resume.  Either of these ideas will go a long way in easing concerns the person reviewing your resume may have.”

When screening resumes, some reviewers take the time to look into why someone has a gap in employment. I have personally taken a leave and know what it’s like to try and reenter the workforce. It’s not easy. I may have a sympathetic ear for those with this plight, but many recruiters don’t. As a recruiter, it’s nothing personal. You screen resumes based on what is best for your organization, filtering through to find individuals with the highest probability of success in certain positions.

If another candidate has an identical resume to you, except no gaps in employment, it’s no surprise who will win out. This is especially true if, when your resume is screened, you don’t provide any details about your leave.

ANY time there is a “problem” area in your resume, take the opportunity to make clear the circumstances surrounding the issue or the reasons behind your decision. Most recruiters don’t have time to research this, so if you haven’t done explained yourself already, you might be receiving a declination letter any day now. Jobsearch.com recommends leaving off the month and year of employment dates as well to try and close the gaps a little bit more as well as other ideas (like utilizing that cover letter!) to make your resume vague while remaining mostly relevant. Though it may be annoying to a recruiter when candidates use these tactics, it might just keep the resume from the “no” pile.

Make the explanation short and sweet. Depending on the level of the position and how formal your resume needs to be, you may be able to include a small blurb on the resume itself. If this will potentially be a turnoff to employers, which is possible if you are vying for high level role, utilize the cover letter to plead your case.

The Society for Human Resource Management published the article Never Underestimate the Power of a Cover Letter citing in it Abby Locke, president of Premier Writing Solutions LLC. Locke advises, “The cover letter is an ideal place to mention or explain any unusual circumstances, like a move to a new town or a change of careers.” Whichever avenue you choose, being up front with your explanation will improve the chance that an employment gap will not be an immediate disqualifier.

Lastly, utilize the job search tips that are standard for everyone – be persistent and confident, sell yourself without looking desperate, research the company before you go in for the interview and for heaven’s sake, wear a suit.

To recap:

  • Highlight recently attained certifications, classes taken, and other job development outside of the workforce.
    Provide explanations for any gaps in employment by adding this information directly to your resume or including it in the cover letter.
  • Remember the basics. Exude confidence; look and act professional; emphasize how you’d be an asset to the organization.
  • Just remember, it may take longer than it normally would, but an employer out there will see your potential and hire you.

3 comments

  1. Mary Kaye

    Excellent post. It’s important to stress for at-home moms that community service, especially leadership roles can be listed on your resume in the Experience section just as paid positions would be. Challenging volunteer roles hone marketable skills and accomplishments in these roles shouldn’t be overlooked or buried at the end of your resume.

  2. Sharon

    I think it’s crucial to keep current on skills in order to remain “relevant,” and keeping up with the advances in one’s field makes a lot of good sense. I find it very short-sighted on the part of employers, however, to immediately think of a gap on a resume as a giant red flag, and I’ve heard that most human resources departments don’t even read cover letters. Lesson learned? It’s all in who you know. Network, network, network, to find your way back on the career track.

  3. Lee-roy Pieterse

    Hi my name is lee-roy i will love to start my carreer over in 2009 i lost mt job i was working for a company in hermanus will u please help me to reach out for my dreams thank u.my addres is duthie street 09 ext 23 mosselbay my cell num;0844520306