Overcoming the Resume Gap Taking Time Off to Raise Kids Shouldn’t Dead-End Your Career By Lisa Morgan
June 23, 2006
Dedicating a few years to raising children shouldn’t hinder your career path, but it very well might. According to the Center for Work Life Policy, women lose 18 percent of their earning power when they leave the workforce. The figure rises to an unbelievable 37 percent if they leave for three or more years.
How many women does this wage decrease affect? A lot. According the same report, 93 percent of women who take time off want to return to work, but only 74 percent succeed in rejoining the workforce and only 40 percent return to full-time jobs. Because The Betty Report is here to help, we asked recruiters and job experts what it takes to land a job after time away from the professional world. Here’s what we learned.
Whenever possible, keep one foot in the professional lane. Whether you take a class, attend a workshop, read periodicals, volunteer, or just stay in contact with colleagues, knowing what is happening in your field while you are away will demonstrate to potential employers that you are committed to your profession.
Try to keep one foot in the game, so to speak, advises Steve Potestio, managing director of 52 Limited, a Portland-based agency. If you check out completely, an employer may feel it will take you longer to ramp up.
Whether you stayed involved professionally or were merely lucky to catch the news once a week, you’ll want to shine up your resume and prepare for the interview. Linda Meric, director of The National Association of Working Women, recommends a skill-based resume that includes those skills developed during your break classes, personal projects, and volunteer work. Potestio also suggests including an objective that outlines your goals and preparedness.
In either case, always emphasize the skills needed for a particular position. This may mean editing your resume for each job, but it will pay off. And, get ready to answer the hard questions. Though an employer may notice your skills first, he or she will inevitably ask about your employment gap.
Be prepared, says Potestio. An interviewer will likely ask why you took a break, how you stayed engaged, and what areas you feel you are going to have to ramp up in.
Everyone we interviewed agrees: rehearse your answers to these questions and keep them short. After one or two minutes, move on to your current skills. Be honest if you stayed home because you felt it was important while your children were young, but also emphasize the ways in which you kept up-to-speed in your field and your eagerness to dive back into your profession.
And, don’t be cute about multitasking raising five kids if it doesn’t relate to the job, says Potestio.
Harsh, but true. An employer’s primary concern should be how well you will perform, not how many kids you have and what your marriage is like, all of which brings us to the dirty word: discrimination. What if a prospective employer asks about your family situation: kids, marriage, etc. and you suspect he or she will dismiss you based on the answer?
We encourage women who are interviewing to focus on their qualifications for the position, says Meric. If there are inappropriate questions, ask the employer how it’s relevant to the requirements of the job.
Do everything right, and you still might not get the job. If this happens, Meric recommends contacting the person who interviewed you or your recruiter/agency to ask for feedback. Perhaps there are skills you will want to update before your next interview. Be polite and don’t call twice. Many interviewers are unable to provide feedback for a variety of reasons. If the worst happens, and you feel you have been discriminated against, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For more information on filing a complaint, visit www.9to5.org or call the Job Survival Hotline at 1-800-522-0925.
Happy job hunting!