Dear Matt: I've been a stay-at-home mom for three years, but I'm ready to get back to work as an executive assistant. How should I approach my absence from work on my résumé and in an interview?
Matt says: Any time there's an employment gap it's important to provide an explanation up front, preferably in your cover letter, says Susan Thomas, regional vice president for the Minneapolis branch of OfficeTeam (officeteam.com). Be honest and brief. Focus on the skills, abilities and experience you can bring to the employer -- not why you have been out of work. It's all about proving you can do the job, not about why you were not working.
If it's been a while since you've worked, consider speaking to a career counselor to clarify your goals and to create a job search plan, says Naomi St. Gregory, a senior career counselor with Twin Cities-based Employment Action Center. This nonprofit offers a program called Women In Transition (eac-mn.org/WomenProg), which helps women entering or re-entering the job market, needing a better job or facing life transitions.
On your résumé it's often best to omit the objective statement since it can take you out of the running if it doesn't perfectly align with the position at hand, says Thomas. Instead, use the space at the top to highlight the skills that best match the ones in the job posting.
Thomas says employers now place a premium on administrative professionals who are adept at using technology. Advanced proficiency in Microsoft Office remains important. More employers are also seeking executive and administrative assistants who are social media savvy and can manage company social media channels. So experience using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, HootSuite or Tweetdeck, among others, is helpful. Multilingual abilities are a strong plus, particularly Spanish. Polished written and verbal skills are essential due to the high level of contact that administrative professionals have with clients and customers.
St. Gregory offers these additional tips for any job seeker looking to get back to work:
• Update your look -- hair, makeup and wardrobe.
• Establish a profile on LinkedIn.com and connect with other professionals.
• Create a list of the employers you'd like to join. Use the Hennepin County library website (hclib.org) to do a search on their database ReferenceUSA.
• Be open to contract positions which frequently lead to permanent jobs.
• Prepare for phone interviews by researching the current salaries in the area and by coming up with 5-7 stories of past successes.