For moms looking to reclaim their professional lives after some years out of the workforce, the road back to gainful employment can be tricky.
Employers may see your career break as a risk, worrying that your skills are rusty, you won’t understand the latest technology, you’ll miss your kids and stay-at-home life, and you won’t be able to produce at the same rate as other employees.
The opposite could be true, of course: Your break may have given you greater clarity about your goals and new energy to take on professional challenges after the very different demands and satisfactions of being home with kids.
It’s time to amp up your confidence and tell your story. Here are tips from employment pros to help you overcome a gap on your career timeline and make a successful reentry.
Rework Your Resume
The longer you’ve been away from work and your industry, “the bigger the barrier to reentry,” says executive coach Roy Cohen. “That’s why it is crucial to show that you’ve used time off productively by learning new skills, doing freelance or consulting work, or even stretching yourself through community or volunteer roles.”
The best way to highlight this on your resume is by downplaying the rigid old reverse-chronology design. As MONEY explains in “What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2017,” all job seekers today should be more creative in telling their story. One key is to craft a short summary for the top to frame the rest of your resume as you wish to be seen. In your case, highlight your top skills and weave in new experiences you’ve gained in your time away to better sell yourself as a great candidate for the job.
“It keeps the first thing on your resume from being that time gap, and instead focuses it on your talents,” says Julie Cohen, another executive coach, who isn’t related to Roy Cohen.
If you did a major certification program or completed a degree, move your education section high up to show off this achievement and downplay your employment gap.
It’s also not too late to take classes or certifications that might freshen your skills and bolster your resume. Check out your local community college or free online education websites like edX and Coursera for relevant coursework. Industry or trade associations may also offer training sessions or professional certifications. For computer basics, Microsoft and Apple offer in-store training that can help you brush up.
If you held any positions, even volunteer ones such as at your trade association or at your church that required you to use skills the employer is after, you may want to include those as a line on your resume. And of course, if you’ve done any consulting or freelance work in the time off, include that as a line too.
Finally, consider putting at the bottom of your work experience a brief line that states you took time off from one specified date to another date to care for children, says executive coach Michelle Friedman. “The employer then doesn’t have to do the math. You name and account for the time, but you don’t need to elaborate further,” she adds.
Prepare a Talking Point
In interviews, potential employers will inevitably ask about the gap in your work record. It’s important that you do not apologize for the break, but rather acknowledge it and pivot directly to why you’re best for the role, says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of career reentry firm iRelaunch. “This means you’ll need to practice the interview and have several anecdotes ready from prior jobs or from experiences you had during your time off so that can bring them into the conversation easily.”
This can be the time to mention training you undertook or new abilities you developed through community activities. You want balance, says Roy Cohen, so the focus isn’t all about the fact that you were a stay-at-home parent, but rather on what else you did during that time.
Your cover letter should be treated much the same. In one of your later paragraphs, make a mention that you are returning from a career break and explain why. But keep it under a sentence, and immediately follow up with why that break doesn’t matter and why you’re the strongest candidate, says Julie Cohen.
You can’t conduct your relaunch solely by sitting at your home computer. Submitting dozens of resumes to online job postings and hoping one will land is not a good strategy for any job seeker, but especially not for someone coming off a break, says Friedman. It is critical that you find people within a company who can help push your resume to the top of the pile or make a personal recommendation to offset some of the biases an employer may have when scanning that gap in your career timeline.
“Strangers will see your career gap as an irregularity and move on without that connection. Working through people you know helps eliminate that bias,” says Friedman.
To get that helpful push, you’ll need to spread the word to as many people as possible. “You have to tell everyone you know that you are interested in going back to work,” says Julie Cohen.
Reach out to friends, past classmates, former clients, any professional-association buddies, and old colleagues—both the senior- and junior-level ones. Fishman Cohen recalls that when she came back from an 11-year break, the person who opened the door for her was a former workmate who held an entry-level gig back then but had since become a manager.
To help make new connections, consider joining industry or trade associations, if you don’t already belong, or volunteer to fill a vacancy on a group’s planning committee or board, she says. Another way to meet professionals in your area: Look for a free university lecture series in your field of interest. Challenge yourself to speak with at least a couple of people sitting near you and maybe even the speaker.
While it is key to let people know you’re looking to rejoin the workforce, don’t make it seem like your conversations are only about finding you a job. Instead, center your chats around information gathering. Ask your connections about their work experiences and what they like about their employer or role. Also inquire about changes or updates you should be aware of in the field, and which publications, websites, and experts they follow or use to get the best industry information.
Seek a ‘Returnship’
Another option is hiring programs that are geared to people just like you: special internships, sometimes called “returnships,” for workers coming back from a break. These programs can introduce you back into the field, retrain you on necessary skills, connect you directly with hiring managers and give you a strong new work experience to top your resume that can help lessen the blow of the gap.
Several companies offer such programs. Fishman Cohen’s company iRelaunch has a database on its site that lists over 100 active return-to-work programs. Nonprofit Path Forward is working with companies like GoDaddy, Coursera and Instacart to create 16-week positions for mid-career professionals.
Just remind yourself: If you can handle a screaming kid, teething, potty-training and Peppa Pig marathons, you can handle this.