The idea of getting back to work when you’ve been out of the workforce is daunting. Representing your gaps in employment is another challenge entirely. If you’ve been raising children, caring for sick loved ones, and/or volunteering for an extended period, you may think you’re out of the game and won’t be able to rejoin the workforce. It is tough – there’s no question about it – but you have been doing something and need to make sure you tell employers right off the bat in your resume.
There are clear and clever ways to address gaps and inconsistent work history that will help you get to an interview. Many people discount volunteer positions, such as working with parent-teacher organizations or non-profits. You shouldn’t discount them because you are using skills that align with paid jobs.
What skills have I used that translate to a job?
If you’ve raised kids or taken care of a sick relative, you have strong coordination and management skills. If you’ve worked with a non-profit or school, you may have gained fundraising or volunteer coordination skills. If you’ve recruited and trained volunteers, you’ve been doing work related to human resources.
How do I present this in a resume?
Career profile. Summarize your experience in a few lines or bullets at the top that align your background with what you want to do next. This is not an objective statement; those are a thing of the past. Avoid cliché phrases like “well-organized” or “manages time well.” Research keywords specific to the industry or jobs you previously held and those for jobs of interest – the intersection of those skills is what you want to use in your profile.
Work and volunteer history. List all of your jobs and volunteer positions. Create bullets that describe the specific work that you did and the end goal or purpose; if you have a result or numbers to represent what you’ve done that’s great, but it is not necessary. Use one line to explain any major gaps wherever they fall and be creative (e.g., “Superhero” or “Master Logistician” for a parent who has raised children).
How much do I share?
Be honest. You do not have to give a complete recount of your years spent out of the workforce in a cover letter or resume, but it will help an employer understand your story and gaps if you are transparent. You don’t want to leave what you’ve been doing during the gap to the employer’s imagination because it will cause bias in the hiring process (sad, but true) and possibly strip you of the opportunity to interview.
It’s true that not all employers will be receptive to an employment gap, but many are now as they recognize that people today change jobs and careers with frequency. According to a Gallup poll, 35% of U.S. workers change jobs within three years.
Employers are starting to realize that the hardest thing about recruiting is to find people with strong cognitive and interpersonal abilities who will succeed in almost any task. The easy part is training people for a particular job or in a new skill. It is costly for an employer to hire a person who has the required education and qualifications on paper but cannot work well on a team.
If you can demonstrate in your resume what you are capable of and that you’re motivated, you’ll be a strong contender. And if an employer doesn’t appreciate what you’ve been doing during your time out of the workforce, it may not be a place where you want to work. Remember that an opportunity has to be fitting for you, not just for the employer.