Dear Matt: For the past three years I've been home taking care of my ailing father-in-law while my wife worked. Now I am trying to get back to work and I have a big gap in my employment history. How do I show employers I can succeed even though I have been away from the workforce for sometime?
Matt: The key here is to remember that a resume and cover letter should not focus on your time away, but instead focus on your accomplishments when you were working.
But it's important not to ignore the gap in employment, because it will be something the employer questions. A simple solution is mentioning it in a simple sentence in the cover letter or in a bulleted point in the resume that tells the reason for the gap. At the top of your experience section of your resume simply put something like this:
• Main caretaker for elderly father (2006-2009)
• Add your last position held here
Twin Cities HR guru Arlene Vernon (www.arlenevernon.com), agrees.
"It answers my question and explains the gap – especially since a three year gap is a difficult one to overcome in a resume," says Vernon. "Some people go over the top when explaining personal experiences in their cover letter. However, it's okay from my perspective to include a sentence or two about the care-giving in the cover letter. Just stick to the facts rather than the emotions.
Vernon says the next question she would have for the candidate is whether he kept up with skills or trends during this 3 year period.
"That would also be something he should address in the cover letter," says Vernon. "I want an employee to be current."
This situation is one many will face during their careers. It is also something many who simply have been out of work due to the struggling economy, are facing now.
Vernon says as the economy creates longer and longer gaps in employment for many candidates, they really need to be up front about the gaps as well as recognize that some employers will hesitate to select them because of those gaps. Her recommendation is to fill those gaps with volunteer activities, online and in person courses and seminars, computer and other skills enhancements.
"That way in the cover letter and interview the candidate can show that although he was unemployed, he's committed to his career and continuing education," says Vernon.
Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, and has nine years of experience reporting on the employment industry. This column will answer readers' questions. E-mail questions or subject ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.