How to Account For Time Away
Let’s face it: We are much more likely than men to take time off from work to care for children, parents and other family members — something that can punch a big fat hole in our resumes.
About two-thirds of caregivers are women, according to data from the National Alliance on Caregiving and the AARP, and female caregivers spend more time providing care than men — 21.9 versus 17.4 hours a week on average. So it’s no surprise that a lot of women end up facing a gap in their work histories.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re job searching. Many of the roles women take on during time out of the workforce — like scheduling a parent’s medical appointments or dealing with a relative’s estate — can make a resume shine even brighter. It’s all a matter of framing it the right way.
Close the Gap
It’s extremely important to “make the years flow” in the work experience section of your CV, says Kathy Downs, a Robert Half Finance & Accounting recruiting manager in Orlando, Fla. That means no gaps from college graduation through the present.
So what to do if you’ve scaled back or stepped out of the workforce to care for family? Women who’ve taken time off for caregiving can close the gap by documenting how they’ve fulfilled continuing education requirements, performed volunteer work for a child’s school, participated in fundraising or handled the myriad logistical chores inherent in taking care of an elderly relative — anything that’s related to the skills required for the job they’re pursuing.
For example, a resume entry for this period may look like this:
Caregiver—March 2012-February 2013
Sabbatical to become caregiver for a family member which included scheduling of care, financial custodianship and estate/probate legal coordination. Extended the life of a family trust from a projected four years to seven years.
This sort of entry will be valuable to companies seeking sales or business development, says Stephen Laser, a Chicago-based psychologist who is often hired by employers to interview and test job candidates.
Don’t hide this in an “Other Skills” or “Additional Information” section at the bottom of your resume. Instead, use your caregiving to fill in blanks in the main section, says Downs. So long as you’re comfortable with your prospective employer knowing about your family situation, then there’s every reason to cite accomplishments in this area.
Most importantly, she says, “You need to acknowledge [and fill in] the gap” in your work history, no matter how short or long it is.
Volunteer Experience Counts
The experience you get in a volunteer position can often be as valuable — at least on a resume — as the skills you hone in a paid job.
Any financial experience accrued while you’re away, for example, should absolutely be highlighted, says Laser, author of the book “Out-of-Work and Over-40,” who observes that women raising children may spend some of their time volunteering as treasurer at a church or synagogue, or raising money for philanthropic causes.
Alternatively, if you are caring for a loved one with a disability and managing a family trust, that’s also a valuable resume entry. This also holds true if you’ve been involved in fundraising or any sort of fund soliciting. “These are all important skills,” says Laser.
Moreover, Downs, who is a board member on a number of organizations, including the National Association of Black Accountants, says that normally she would simply list these directorships. However, if she’d experienced a lapse in employment, she says, she would seek out special projects to work on at these organizations while out of work and document her various achievements as a volunteer, such as: “Worked on 2014 membership drive,” or “Table Captain for fundraising.”
Be sure to quantify your work, specifying, for example, how much money you helped to raise for an organization or how much you increased membership by. Even if you’ve volunteered at a small organization, citing a percentage increase can be valuable and impressive, Downs notes.
Bottom Line It
Women are often more reluctant than men to us actual figures in their resume to quantify the value they have added at companies or organizations where they’ve previously worked, Downs observes. The root of the problem? It may be a lack of awareness about “bottom lining it” — particularly in the corporate world, where numbers are critical and where the soft skills women often bring to the table may be overlooked. A reluctance to brag about accomplishments may also hold women back.
But whether male or female, a job candidate’s documented ability to increase sales, subscriptions or other measurable objectives within of the organizations he or she have worked is of immense importance to recruiters.
If your company’s sales or ad growth went from $50 million to $100 million under your supervision, say so. If brand recognition increased, mention and document that as well. It will be much more impressive than any superlatives you can think of in describing your skills and talents.
“Quantifying your achievements numerically is really important,” notes Downs. If you don’t know what sales were like between the time you started and when you left, do some research and find out.
In fact, be as vigilant as you can about getting actual numbers. Employers are also apt to ask about this during interviews, so it’s better to have the information at your fingertips.
Don’t Compensate with Buzzwords
Describing yourself as a "highly qualified" "self-starter" who is a "creative problem solver” is more likely to hurt than help your resume, according to a recent survey by staffing service specialist OfficeTeam.
These are the most overused or meaningless phrases senior managers see on resumes, according to the survey, which queried some 1,300 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the U.S. and Canada.
Instead, be specific. Instead of saying “highly qualified,” for instance, think about your accomplishments in previous positions, emphasizing your specific skills. Mention certifications you have earned. Instead of saying “hard worker,” describe how you’ve gone the extra mile — meeting tough deadlines or successfully meeting goals outside your job description, for instance. Instead of saying “team player,” describe how you partnered with colleagues to meet a specific objective.
Employers are embracing increasingly sophisticated applicant tracking systems (ATS) and Cloud technology to assist them with job searches. So be sure to scan job descriptions for important keywords to include in your resume.
Otherwise, strive for simplicity. You may feel that “getting creative” by adding a lot of graphics to your resume will help you stand out; however, what often happens is that “people do a very fancy resume that will look beautiful printed, but when it’s emailed and uploaded into an employer’s system the formatting comes out garbled on the other side,” Downs explains.
Stick to two pages maximum, even if you have to leave out an objective or summary, and consider adding the summary back in if your resume is more than one but less than two pages. It should ether be one full page or two, says Downs.
Finally, if your specialty is in IT, marketing, advertising or web design, it is almost imperative to have a resume that incorporates hyperlinks, video and other media that reads electronically, she adds. And if you’re in an industry like graphic design that puts a premium on infographic resumes (check with HR), format accordingly.