By Karen Silins
Did you know that in Europe, women receive at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave? By contrast, American mothers are given little time to spend with their new additions to the family. This doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t or won’t take that time anyway. In fact, many mothers now choose to drop out of the workforce altogether for relatively long periods â€“ often several years or more.
While a few years might not seem like a long time to a mother who wants to watch her children grow up, to employers, a gap of three, four, five, or ten years in a career can give them serious pause. An employer might wonder whether the returning worker has stayed up-to-date on changes in the industry. He might also doubt the mother’s commitment to her career and to the fortunes of the company.
From an equal-opportunity standpoint, this is quite unfair. Parents would never put the interests of their employer above the interests of their family, regardless of how long they’ve been out of the workforce.
Fortunately, more and more employers welcome mothers returning to the workforce. In fact, it’s fairly common to find employers who look favorably upon returning mothers and place positive value on the stability and responsibility they bring to the corporate culture.
The potential to bring a uniquely positive experience of ultimate responsibility to the workplace is the returning mother’s key to opening the door to a new job. The strategy here is exactly the same as it is with any other application: turn apparent weaknesses into strengths by highlighting those skills that best meet an employer’s needs.
For instance, Darlene Carlson had been a financial consultant before dropping out of the workforce to raise her first child. A second child followed two years later. It was almost eight years before both children were in school and Darlene felt comfortable about returning to work full-time.
By then, most of her contacts had disappeared and her professional network had fallen apart. Friends she worked with in the past had moved to other cities; others, she’d lost touch with entirely. She began looking at want ads in the paper and thought of sending letters out of the blue to banks and financial institutions.
Before Darlene began writing her cover letters, though, she turned to a career consulting professional, Jacqui Barrett, whose great advice we’ve seen before in this guide. Jacqui told me all about Darlene’s dilemma and how she helped Darlene find her way back into the workforce.
Darlene’s goal was to make sure her years at home with the children didn’t count against her. The first question Jacqui asked her was what, exactly, she had done during those eight years. As it turned out, Darlene, like many mothers, had done a lot more than change diapers and read bedtime stories.
In addition to all the tasks young mothers typically have to complete, Darlene also provided financial advice to a mother’s group concerning the best ways to save for college tuition. She helped organize a fund-raising drive for a local community center that provided assistance and advice to low-income families. Furthermore, she did some consultancy work for a number of clients with whom she had worked before leaving her job.
Although Darlene was paid a salary only for her consultancy work, it was clear to Jacqui that these experiences had provided Darlene significant skills and know-how. She recognized there was a lot she could highlight to fill the gap in Darlene’s rÃ©sumÃ©. Jacqui told Darlene not to hide the fact that she’d been out of the workforce for a while. After all, no employer was going to miss seeing such a large gap in her rÃ©sumÃ©.
But Darlene did need to include the information the employer would seek. Any potential employer would want to know exactly how her time off had affected her ability to work. Her cover letter needed to include a paragraph that mentioned she’d been looking after her family for the last few years, but that she had remained informed about new regulations and financial products in her industry. Moreover, she needed to communicate that she’d also spent that time acquiring some new skills.
You can apply these same tips and strategies to your own cover letter to compensate for any weaknesses in your professional history. So, you see, there are ways to cover gaps in your career history â€“ whether they’re caused by parenthood, layoffs, a tour with the Peace Corps, or any other reason. Plainly state the gap at the beginning of your cover letter and highlight the skills and experiences you developed while taking a “break” from earning a regular salary.
Karen Silins has been a professional resume and cover letter writer for 16 years and is the acting president and executive board member of the Association of Online Resume & Career Professionals
For more information about writing a cover letter that will grab the employerâ€™s attention, please visit: http://www.breakthrough-cover-letters.com