Return to the Workforce, Part 1: How to Land a Job After Being a Stay-at-Home Mom (or Dad!)
Are you a stay-at-home parent looking to return to the workforce? It can be overwhelming to begin your job search after taking a career break, so we’ve compiled a few resume and cover letter tips to help you get started.
By: Ashley Dolar | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma
I left my career to become a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), and I always knew that getting back into the workforce would be a challenge. I mean, I decided to stop working, and with that decision, I took myself out of the game, out of any technological developments, and out of my network. That can be a big blow to anyone’s self-esteem and to any future job search.
But here’s what I found. Being a full-time, stay-at-home parent was valuable. I honed my (toddler) management skills and learned a whole new level of patience. I was constantly on the move and planning ahead for our next adventure or snack stop. Most importantly, I learned a greater sense of empathy while taking care of another human being all day.
With 79% of hiring managers saying they are open to candidates with career gaps, you can return to the workforce gracefully after taking a career break; you just need to know when and how to mention your time off in your job search process.
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Retool Your Resume
When did you last send out a resume? If you took a step back from your career to be a stay-at-home parent, it has probably been a few years.
You might be worried about the job gap, your skillset, or formatting the document in a way that communicates your value as a candidate. These are all normal fears for anyone who has taken a career break. It can also be especially difficult to look at your professional accomplishments objectively if you have been knee-deep in graham cracker crumbs for the past few years.
You can still write a winning resume though. So, put down that juice box and read on to discover my best resume tips for stay-at-home parents who want to get back to work ASAP.
Craft a resume that is tailored to the job description.
First, find a job posting that matches your skillset and aligns with your previous work experience. You don’t need to look for an identical position or even one within the same industry, but it is helpful to apply for jobs in your areas of expertise. Then choose keywords from the job description to naturally integrate into your resume. That will help you get your application prioritized in the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and onto a hiring manager’s desk.
If you haven’t heard of an ATS, it is basically an automated way for HR to quickly scan the text of your resume, filter for keywords, and find the best match for a position. No, robots aren’t taking over — a human still makes hiring decisions, but optimizing your resume is always a good bet.
Write accomplishment-based bullet points instead of listing job duties.
We all know that you collaborated with colleagues. It’s much more interesting – and impressive – to say that you collaborated with a five-person IT team at weekly meetings to share updates on enterprise-wide infrastructure systems and troubleshoot challenging technical issues. (To learn more about writing job-winning bullet points, download our FREE eBook!)
List volunteer work, certifications earned, and relevant coursework.
Did you volunteer at your child’s school? Did you hold a leadership position with the preschool PTA? These types of roles help fill the gap for potential employers. It shows that you have been an active member of your community, which makes you more likely to be an active member of their staff.
On the other hand, maybe you earned a certification or took online coursework during your child’s nap time. Make sure you list these accomplishments with dates to demonstrate that you have stayed up to date in your field.
Avoid mentioning your role as a parent on your resume.
This is a tricky topic with a few exceptions, but for the most part, you should not list your caretaking responsibilities as a job position along with your previous work history. The key is to define, downplay, and describe any employment gap.
You can (and should) mention any recent job gap longer than six months in your cover letter though. You don’t want to leave it to the hiring manager’s imagination!
Explain the Job Gap in Your Cover Letter
So, you have successfully listed your previous work experience in your resume, but there is still a gap that stands out like a sore thumb. What is a job seeker to do? Well, you can just be honest.
That’s right, folks. You can tell the truth about your employment gap to your prospective employer. I’m not saying you need to go into great detail here. The purpose of your cover letter is still to convey the professional value you bring to the organization. However, you can include a sentence or two about your experience as a stay-at-home parent to explain the job gap.
You can write something simple like “I became a full-time caregiver several years ago to focus on family responsibilities, but I am now ready to transition back into the workforce.”
If you feel it helps sell your case, you can write a more expansive explanation like this one: “After working in a senior leadership role for 8+ years, I made the difficult decision to step out of the workforce due to family obligations; however, I am now fully prepared to re-enter the workplace and return to a management position.”
Either way, you do not need to dedicate an entire paragraph of your cover letter to explaining your job gap. Life happens. We are twenty-first century humans who need to balance multiple roles at one time, and most employers understand this new normal.
Return to the Workforce with Confidence
If you are lacking professional confidence because of your stay-at-home-parent status, you might want to consider career coaching. A trained professional can help you with job search strategies and even help you find a career path that works for your state of life.
I also recommend creating (or updating!) your LinkedIn profile and becoming active on the site. You never know which connection will be a bridge between you and a new job!
(Side note: LinkedIn rolled out a few new features – like the ability to put “stay-at-home mom” as a job title on your profile. While I think that’s a huge step in the right direction, I am hesitant to recommend that you list your full-time caregiver status on a professional social networking site.)
Finally, believe in yourself. Even though you haven’t been going to the office (or logging into virtual meetings), you can still be a tremendous asset to an organization. Just remember: your resume and cover letter are meant to showcase your skills and accomplishments while briefly explaining your time away from the workforce.
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