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Fighting the “Mommy Dead End”

One of the toughest challenges to overcome when looking for work is the dreaded resume gap. A month or two, here and there among a lifetime of jobs is not uncommon and shouldn’t have a significant impact on job prospects—as long as it doesn’t represent a pattern of quitting (or being fired!). But longer gaps tend to awaken the skeptic in recruiters and employers. While a lengthy gap in employment can happen for a variety of reasons, one of the most common for women (though slowly becoming more common for men) is time out of the workforce to raise children. Hence the title of this article:

SupermomPhoto by Simon Fraser University, Flickr

What is the Mommy Dead End?

According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM):

“Women and men who try to restart their careers after spending years at home parenting often encounter interviewers skeptical that they’ve lost “the edge”—meaning the contacts, industry savvy and technical skills that one acquires while consistently employed.”

Of course, the large majority of those facing this particular job re-entry challenge are women. A fact that even the men who face the same dilemma acknowledge. Consider, for instance, this comment from one stay-at-home dad quoted by the New York Times[1]:

“I now know why women are so angry. For people in the work world, their opinions on anything are considered more valid than those who just take care of children. Here’s the great line: ‘Well all you do is hang at the park all day.’”

In spite of the valuable skills parents acquire and hone through hands-on child-rearing, there are some legitimate reasons for employers to balk at longer employment gaps for child rearing. This is especially true in industries that change continually and for positions that rely heavily on connections that can only be maintained by regular work related interaction.

So what can Moms (and Dads) who have taken time out to parent do to break through this career cul-de-sac?

Making Your Way Back to Work

If at all possible, start planning your way back into the workforce as soon as you decide that staying home for an extended period to raise a child is on the horizon. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions.

Consider working part-time: If you have a good relationship with your current employer and enjoy your work, discuss work you might do during your time away. Perhaps there’s a part-time position or some contract work you can do to stay current in your field while meeting a need for your employer. If you don’t have that kind of working relationship with your current employer, reach out to your network to see whether a part-time contract position or job-sharing opportunity might exist.

Keep at least one toe in the water: You’ll be much better prepared to re-enter the workforce after an extended absence if you’ve stayed on top of what’s happening in the industry.

  • Maintain contact with your network of job-related contacts. Aside from keeping you grounded in your industry, this will also be an avenue for potential job opportunities when the time comes.
  • Join (or maintain memberships in) professional associations. Attend the educational and networking meetings they offer and actively grow your network while you’re away.
  • Subscribe to industry blogs, podcasts and other publications. Set aside time to read or listen so you can stay current.

Go to school: You may choose to go one step further than staying current. Today there are so many options for continued education that upskilling is also an option during your time away from the workforce. Take some time to research the skills that will best support your re-entry into the workforce when you’re ready to go back. On that basis, put together an online learning plan, or sign up for evening or weekend classes to supplement your skill base. When you’re ready to start looking for employment, your resume will reflect recent professional and personal development and you will be much better equipped to answer interview questions with fresh industry and career knowledge.

Make the gap less obvious: When you are ready to head back to work, you’ll need to update your resume. A traditional resume format tends to highlight gaps. While you should never lie about your time with various employers, there’s no reason to lead with that information. A hybrid resume format allows you to focus on relevant, results-oriented information first.

If your time away from work was less than one year, you might also limit dates to the years spent with each employer. Your resume is meant to be a door opener and there’s no need to eliminate yourself from the running at this point because of shorter unexplained gap. Once you’re selected for an interview, you’ll have a chance to provide explanations face-to-face in a setting where you can better demonstrate your competence and fit.

There is also no need to include every job you’ve ever had on a resume. You may be able to eliminate an employment gap by removing one or more jobs you held before taking time off to parent. In making an employment gap less obvious, the objective is not to mislead potential employers. Rather, it’s to prevent them from making a knee-jerk rejection decision before you’ve had a chance to demonstrate value in an interview.

Include volunteer positions: Getting involved as a volunteer while raising children can be demanding, but it can also fill a resume gap while keeping you engaged in skill-building activities that contribute to your employability. Take the time to think about the type of volunteer work that will best reflect skills development and increased responsibility to potential future employers. If you plan to include volunteer work on your resume to address employment gaps, you’ll find that not all volunteer work is created equal: serving a term or two as Trustee on the local hospital board will carry a lot more weight on your resume than being a lunch monitor. In describing your volunteer work, focus on the results you produced in the role. Remember, when it comes to fighting the mommy dead end, balance your desire to contribute with your need to stay employable.

Be a maker: We live in a world that allows us to stand out in ways that have never previously been possible. Consider taking advantage of this to create something unique during your time away from work. Whether you start a small online business selling some of the great baby products you’ve sourced (or invented); write and publish an eBook about time management; or create an app for parents who want to swap babysitting services—let your initiative and creativity help illustrate your potential to prospective employers.

There is no question that temporary detours along a career path always complicate the journey, but there’s no reason they should lead to an unavoidable dead end; as long as you plan ahead, stay plugged in and get creative.

 

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Additional References:

Debra Wheatman. Compensating for Employment Gaps. http://thecareerexperts.com/compensating-for-employment-gaps/

Susan M. Heathfield. How to Overcome Your Employment Gap http://humanresources.about.com/od/careerandjobsearchhelp/a/employment_gap.htm

Laura Willard. Empty Resume Blues. http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/834877/resume-tips-for-the-stay-at-home-mom


[1] Claire Cain Miller. New York Times. More Fathers Who Stay at Home by Choice. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/06/upshot/more-fathers-who-stay-at-home-by-choice.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1

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