Develop your own “elevator pitch.”
If the standard six to 12 weeks of maternity leave didn’t feel adequate for your family, causing you to leave your job behind for a period of time, you’re certainly not alone.
“More than 2.6 million women in the United States hold a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD degree but do not work outside the home,” said Addie Swartz, CEO of reacHIRE, a training and placement pathway for professional women to get back into the workforce after a career break.
For many moms facing the cost of childcare and the demands of life with young children, leaving their jobs for an extended period of time is the only decision that makes sense for their growing family.
In fact, 29 percent of mothers stay-at-home full-time according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. In her much-publicized book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg shared that roughly 43 percent of working women leave their jobs behind for a least a short period of time to focus on caring for their families.
When the time comes for their children to begin school, freeing them up to return to work, these same mothers can face a unique set of challenges as they return to workforce. One concern many stay-at-home parents face is how they will explain the gap in their work history on their resume.
If you’re ready to head back to work, but not sure about the best approach to do so, read on.
Focus On Your Strengths, Not Your Resume Gap
“Don’t worry too much about explaining the gap on your resume, since you can do that through a cover letter, introductory email or message,” advises Dr. Maelisa Hall, licensed psychologist and career coach. “List the dates and a very basic reason for not working.”
Feel free to explain the reason for taking time off of work in your cover letter — but keep it simple. Hall urges parents returning to work after a leave to highlight what they enjoy about working, why they would like to return to work, and focus heavily on the qualifications they can bring to the positions they are applying for.
When it comes to sharing your skillsets with potential employers, don’t feel confined to only sharing training related directly to your previous jobs.
“For example, if you speak another language, that should be listed near the very top of your resume,” Hall explains. “Many employers are willing to overlook certain things if they know someone can add value to the company right away.”
Make Time to Network and Volunteer
Ideally, a stay-at-home mom who hopes to return to work in the future should be making time to volunteer within her field and to continue networking during her time away. Volunteer work is a great way to keep your skills fresh and to remain connected with others working in your profession, according to certified career coach Cheryl E. Palmer.
Your volunteer work can also be used to show your strengths on your resume, as well as any growth you have experienced during your time away. The best way to include these experiences on your resume is by focusing on what was learned from each volunteer position, Swartz notes.
“Rather than creating a list of volunteer positions held during a career break, it is far more relevant to list the skills learned or new technical skills gained from the experience on your resume or on LinkedIn. You should address on the resume what was gained in terms of professional insights from the volunteer experiences,” she says.
Of course, it isn’t always possible to network and volunteer during time taken off to parent, but it’s never too late to start revitalizing your professional network.
“Before you jump into your job search, seek out former colleagues on LinkedIn and get back in touch with people that you had good working relationships with,” encourages Palmer. “These people can really help you with your job search, but it’s best to invest in them first before asking for anything.”
Be Prepared to Answer Honestly
Choosing to focus on your skill set along with relevant volunteer experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to give an honest answer for the gap on your resume during interviews.
“If you’re asked about your resume gap, briefly say why,” advised Swartz. “Have an ‘elevator pitch’ type answer to keep it brief and to the point. Be sure to talk about your passion for the career you always knew you’d come back to.”
And when it comes to talking about the work you did before you took time off, Swartz believes the best approach is to talk about it as if were yesterday, placing little emphasis on the time you spent away. Don’t be afraid to mention what you accomplished and the projects you are proud of from that time. A few years off doesn’t devalue those experiences and the skills you learned doing them.