Dear Employment Specialist:
14 years ago, I left my job as a Medical Office Administrator to take care of my newborn son with special needs. After years of caring for him, I have finally found him a full time program, where he is happy and stable. Now, for the first time I feel like I can start planning for my own career, but I am really worried how I could do that after being away for so long.
I am really worried about the fourteen year gap in my resume. I did do some volunteering at his school and at a local community program, but until now, I needed to be available all day to go to his school when there were problems.
How do I explain what I have been doing all this time without sharing too much personal information? Do I have to tell employers everything? How do you think they’ll react to my resume? Please help me think through what I need to do to get back to work.
Signed: Returning Mom
Dear Returning Mom,
It sounds like you have had a busy and demanding fourteen years since the birth of your son. Congratulations for getting to the point where you can now start planning for yourself and your own future.
In terms of the challenges that you face, there are many things that you can do to help employers understand your situation without compromising your privacy too much. Remember – many parents face and successfully overcome the challenges of going back to work after taking time to raise children. It’s a matter of figuring out for yourself what you want to share and how to tell your story in a way with which you are comfortable.
Here are some of the issues to consider:
1. Seek some job search support.
I recommend that you get some professional employment support to help you sort through all the challenges you will face. An agency such as JVS Toronto is well positioned to help you navigate the demands of a job search. Most Canadians will be able to fund publicly funded services such as ours near where they live (such as our partners on the Employment Ontario site).
2. Your resume will need to be updated.
It is better to find a way to explain what happened in the last 14 years, rather than to just leave a gap in the resume. There is always a big debate about whether parents who have taken time off to care for children should tell employers. In my experience, different people deal with it differently and it is important to do what works for you. Some of my clients have decided to simply update their work history on the resume with term “family responsibilities’, coupled with the dates. Some have also added a mention of it in the Profile Summary, as well as in the cover letter, stating something such as “Experienced Medical Office Administrator, with over 10 years’ of working in a busy medical practice. Presently enthusiastically re-entering the workforce after taking time to deal with family responsibilities. Skills include advanced Microsoft Office (…and so on…)”. Note that the time away from work is not the first thing mentioned on the resume – it is simply mentioned in a matter-of-fact, confident way later on. Also, using the work “enthusiastically” is meant to reassure employers that you are not ambivalent about going back to work.
Also, include your volunteer work under the employment section of the resume — it will help to fill the gap. Of course, you should mention that it was volunteer work, in brackets (no need to mention that it was your son’s school that you volunteered at, though – simply name the school and detail what you did there). Don’t forget to include anything else you might have done, including training or courses you might have taken.
Obviously, you do not need to mention your son or his special needs. You simply need to communicate confidently that you chose to take time off work for family and that you are now pleased to return. Remember – there are many more women in the workplace now than ever before – many of them have probably faced similar concerns.
3. Prepare for your interviews.
Write out the script for how you would like to answer the inevitable “what have you been doing for the last 14 years?” question that will arise. Work with an employment professional to find a way to explain what happened without disclosing the information you don’t want to share. Remember that you are not legally obligated to share anything about your personal situation that does not impact on your ability to do the job. Find the wording that makes you comfortable and practice saying it. You will be asked this question often – in job interviews, and when you network; make sure you are comfortable answering the question with confidence.
Put yourself in the employer’s position and think about what concerns they might have about you as a candidate. That will help you prepare what you need to tell an employer about yourself.
Employers concerns might include questions such as:
- Are you really ready to return to work?
- Can you be relied on to have your childcare arrangements set up, or will you need to take a lot of time off at short notice? (You might want to say something like: “I can assure you that I have made the necessary arrangements, and I don’t expect to have any difficulties coming to work every day”)
- Have you got the up-to-date skills needed to do the job? In your case, it may include skills such as updated software knowledge.
Make sure to pre-empt these concerns when you talk about yourself to employers.
To help you update your knowledge about the job market, consider signing up for Google Job Alerts for jobs in your field – start reading through the job postings in your field and learning about what employers are looking for.
4. Network, network, network.
In my experience as an Employment Counsellor, the best way to make these difficult transitions back into the workplace is through networks. Update your LinkedIn profile and start reaching out to former colleagues and employers. Take them out to coffee if you can, and share your enthusiasm about going back to work; ask for advice and tips, as well as ask them to keep an eye out for any job leads they might have.
Consider volunteering with an employer in your sector. Maybe a local hospital or community health centre could use a medical office volunteer. Offer to spend a day per week and make sure to get to know the staff. Show them what you can do, tell them about yourself and make sure they’re looking out for jobs for you, as well.
5. Update your skills.
It may be well worth upgrading your skills through continuing education courses, such as those offered at your local community college, community centre or adult education. Many colleges offer online courses, as well. You might also be able to teach yourself software when you volunteer.
Make sure that employers know that you just updated your CPR or software courses by adding it to your resume and mentioning it in interviews. This will go a long way to reassure employers about your ability and motivation to make the transition back into the workforce.
Best of luck with your next big challenge. I am sure you will find your way back into the world of work.