Strategies for Handling a Client’s Employment Gaps, Part 2

As we discussed in the last issue of Resume Writer Success Strategies, there are many times when your services will be enlisted by a client with “gaps” in his or her resume. Remember, gaps are periods of time between jobs that can have a negative impact on the client if not addressed properly in the resume.

As promised, here are some tips for dealing with three very common reasons for an employee to be re-entering the workforce after a prolonged absence.

  1. Returning to Work After Raising Children

    Many parents find themselves facing the daunting task of returning to the workforce after taking time off to care for their children.

    The unfortunate fact is that a mother (or father) returning to work with a three, six, or even 10-year gap in her employment history will find it much more difficult to get a job than it would have been without that gap. And this is true even if she completed a university degree and had years of work experience under her belt prior to starting a family.

    Many resume experts recommend the use of a functional resume (one that highlights the “skills” learned through the client’s various experiences) rather than a chronological listing of the client’s places of employment. In fact, I feel that a well-written functional resume, with the right amount of key words relevant to the client’s experience and current career goals, can be a very effective job-search tool. But, unfortunately, many HR directors and recruiters cling to the idea that only a chronological listing of work experience is acceptable. So, as the resume writer, your job is to show relevant skills and experience, yet maintain at least a semblance of the chronological format.

    At least make sure their lengthy absence is not highlighted in the resume!

    Remember that parents who “worked” at home have incredible job skills – budgeting, scheduling, managing, etc. And many of your clients in this situation will have a wealth of experience from volunteer work, particularly those who have been involved with their children’s PTAs, soccer leagues, scouting clubs, and so on. Don’t be afraid to be creative – particularly in the way you question them about their activities during their stay-at-home years.

    In a lot of cases, in addition to the volunteer work experience, your client might have had part-time work that would provide achievements and credentials related to jobs or industries he or she is targeting. For some clients, you will need to highlight prior professional experience.

    Key Strategies:

    • In keeping with a more “functional” format, present the client’s skills and qualifications up front, while keeping the dates of work history minimized, in the background.
    • If applicable, concentrate on your client’s certifications, education, and previous work experience.
    • If your client has more diverse experience and a very broad skill set, put more emphasis on the “profile” of the resume – and pack in the related key words in the top third of the document.
    • Don’t forget any community service or volunteer work.
    • If your client completed a degree while caring for the children, make sure to emphasize the “work-life balance” capabilities he or she has, including time management!
    • If the client is returning to the same field in which he or she already had extensive experience, use the “profile” to include related key words and highlights, and then strongly emphasize the work experience in a quantifiable way.
  2. Returning to Work After Serving as a Caregiver

    Clients in this situation will have taken extended absences from the workforce in order to care for an aging or ill relative, a disabled child, or any other person requiring full-time care. While many of the tips above are applicable, it’s less likely that these clients will have volunteer, community, or civic experience, as their time will have been devoted to nearly round-the-clock care.

    Key Strategies:

    • If your client is “flexible” – i.e. open to any job – it is a good idea to highlight transferable skills (those that would be applicable for most positions). In extreme cases, you can focus on personal attributes.
    • Some clients will want to enter the workforce as professional caregivers, after having had so much “unpaid” experience doing it. In this case, highlight the work they did with the family member or loved one.
    • If the client is seeking a low-stress job but has extensive qualifications and held high-level positions prior to the gap, make sure to minimize this information. If you don’t, the candidate will be excluded as “overqualified.”
    • If the gap is small –under 24 months –it is acceptable to disregard it and use a traditional chronological format.
  3. Returning to Work After Retirement

    The number of workers rejoining the workforce after retirement is steadily increasing. (A great source of potential clients for a professional resume writer!) The reasons for coming out of retirement are varied. Some simply become bored with staying at home (having discovered that channel surfing isn’t all it was cracked up to be!). But in all too many cases these days, retirees simply cannot live on their savings and Social Security.

    These resumes require special treatment, because you must deal with two issues: the period of unemployment and the fact that the client may be considered too old for a job. (And, yes, this does happen – even with age-discrimination laws in place.)

    Key Strategies:

    • One resume writer who specializes in this type of resume makes excellent use of a very strong “Relevant Skills and Experiences” section. The content of this section hones in on the skills the client will use in a chosen career.
    • Functional formats work well for this group, assuming the client has at least 20 years of strong experience. The key is to get the person doing the hiring to focus on the experience, and not get sidetracked by the dates of employment.
    • As with the resume for a highly qualified caregiver who wants to work in a low-stress position, the qualifications of a highly experienced retiree (perhaps a former executive) should be minimized appropriately.
    • If the client has done volunteer or civic work during the retirement period, this can be invaluable for the resume.

The bottom line is, writing a blockbuster resume for a client with gaps such as those discussed today takes not only skill, but also a genuine empathy for the client and the hurdles he or she naturally faces when re-entering the job market.

The resume writer who can bring compassion, understanding, and a strong desire to be a true “partner” in the job-search process will be in great demand – and can command premium fees!

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Published: May 17, 2006

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