According to Pew Research, roughly one-in-five parents stay at home with their kids at some point. Later on, these parents – mostly women – may want to rejoin the traditional workforce. This could be due to the working parent getting laid off or fired, or simply because the kids are old enough to shuttle themselves to all the various activities, leaving more free time in the day than is expected.
But returning to work after a large gap in employment can always be challenging. This is particularly true for women, who sometimes get stereotyped in negative ways if they’ve played the role of “stay at home mom” for many years.
Big employment gaps on a resume are going to have a negative appearance on a resume and the updated skillset on your resume will increase your employability chance. So how do you fill in that gap and make a resume stand out?
Freelancing work and part time jobs
While many parents focus their stay-at-home years on their kids, many continue to work in their fields as freelancers, or take on part-time jobs. There’s no rule that your resume can only contain full time, corporate work, after all.
What you want to demonstrate is that you are still agile in your field, and that you are ready to get back to the 9-to-5 life. Showing that you’ve continued to work outside the home in whatever capacity can help demonstrate that.
While you were managing playdates and packing lunches, did you also volunteer at school? Get involved in projects to redo the playground, for example, or spend time organizing events with the PTA? This sort of work counts, and should definitely be listed on your resume. Focus briefly on the experience itself – worked on Sports Field Renovation Committee at Smith School – and then move on to describing what you did.
Organized donations, created marketing materials, one-on-one outreach to local businesses or community members, and so forth. This highlights your skills and shows your continued to teamwork and personal advancement while filling in that time gap on your resume.
In some professions, continuing education is necessary to keep your license and certifications up to date. Demonstrating that you have regularly taken continuing education – and even, possibly, more courses than were strictly necessary to maintain your professional credentials – is a great way to show that you’re up to date in your field.
For many medical professionals, for example, maintaining licensure requires doing a certain number of credits every so often. Showing that you’ve kept up with this can help demonstrate that you’ve stayed focused on returning to the workforce at some point.
But even if you don’t need the licensure, keeping up on developments in your field can be beneficial. Accountants can keep abreast of tax law changes, business people can read case studies and read the most important books in the field, and teachers can make sure that they stay aware of what’s happening, both in terms of teaching methods and child psychology.
If you’re looking to return to work, you should either maintain or reinstate your professional memberships. Then, go to events. Even if you just go to your local chamber of commerce networking events, you’ll make sure your name is known in the area, and you’ll begin to make important connections. You might even find someone who is doing the hiring at a preferred job, helping you get your foot in the door and making it easier to ignore that resume gap.
One thing that many experts suggest you avoid doing, unless you have absolutely no other option?
Avoid Functional Resumes
A functional resume presents simply your skills rather than your work history. For a short period of time, recruiters would advise job applicants to format their resume this way. They might note, for example, Organization, Leadership, and Technology as their skills, then use their various job responsibilities to support their skills.
Their chronological work history would be presented at the end of the resume to downplay the gap. Some recruiters also recommended this type of resume when someone was looking to change industries.
This is no longer recommended for a variety of reasons. First, hiring managers have learned to be suspicious of this format. Instead of looking like someone is trying to demonstrate their competencies, it looks like the person has something to hide. When you’re already at something of a disadvantage, applying for a job, making it even harder isn’t a good idea.
Another problem with this sort of resume is that it doesn’t work well in today’s automated resume readers, like those on major job search sites. Employers get so many resumes that they’ll skip ones that aren’t formatted properly. Again, don’t give them a reason to throw your resume out.
What experts now advise is a sort of hybrid resume. Start with a strong executive statement. Showcase your expertise, your passion, and your excitement to return to the workforce, in this career in particular. Then, briefly list your core competencies, combined with your chronological work history.
And if you truly feel the need to fill in that gap, don’t be afraid to list something like “Sabbatical for family management.” Avoid cutesy “job titles” like “housekeeper,” “family CEO,” or other such titles.
As a woman reentering the workforce after a long gap caring for either an ill family member or young children, it can feel like the deck is stacked against you. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to support your job search by formatting your resume properly.