If you’re getting ready to jump back into the workforce after taking a break to care for your kids, you’re likely eager to use your professional skills again, make some new acquaintances, and, of course, collect a paycheck. One thing you may be less excited about? Writing a cover letter.
Creating a letter that eloquently and succinctly expresses your interest in the position and promotes your skills may seem especially daunting if you’re out of practice. But there’s no need to panic. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to tell your story—because you are worthy of consideration even if there’s a gap in your employment.
While it never hurts to review general cover letter advice and read through examples, your situation is unique and should be treated that way. The following cover letter tips are a great place to start and will help put you on the path to restarting your career.
Don’t Hide It
When hiring managers look at your resume, chances are good they’ll notice that you’ve been sidelined for a bit. That’s all the more reason not to leave it out of your cover letter.
“It’s always better to call the gap out, rather than wait for someone to read it on a resume and ask about it,” says career coach Megan Crawford, founder of Your Job Search Coach. “The recruiter or hiring manager will relate more if the person is direct about it in the letter.”
As for where you should address it, Crawford advises working it in close to the top, after you’ve explained your interest in the position and why you’d be excited to join the company.
Be Confident, Not Apologetic
When parents who’ve been at home for a few years come to see Crawford, many start the conversation feeling burdened by the need to address their employment gap. But, she says, “You should be proud of the fact that you took care of your kids. If that confidence comes through in your cover letter, it’s going to come through in your interview, and the more success you’re going to have.”
Crawford cautions parents to resist the urge to apologize or overcompensate by writing four paragraphs when a simple sentence will suffice. “People want to write a biography, and the reality is that recruiters don’t have time to read that,” she says.
Instead, keep it brief and keep it straightforward. It can be something as direct as, “I spent the last five years raising my kids and I’m excited to join a new organization.” From there, move on to talk about your skills and how they align with the company’s needs.
Shine a Spotlight on Transferable Skills
When Neely Raffellini, a career coach and the founder of 9 to 5 Project, meets with clients transitioning back to the workforce, she brings out a transferable skills worksheet and asks them to write down any skills they’ve used during their time at home. “You can count volunteer experience, the Junior League, continuing education or courses,” she says. “Many people believe that just because those things are not in a professional environment that they don’t count, and that’s just not true.”
As Crawford puts it, “Mention any experience that’s not paid, as long as it relates to the job you’re going after.” For example, if you’ve spent any time volunteering—whether it’s for the PTA or a local charity—you could talk about how you took a leadership role in fundraising or event planning. Or if you work in marketing and recently took an online course about best practices for how to market a business on the latest social media platform, include that.
As for whether or not you should give a nod to the skills you used at home with the kids—say, multitasking, conflict negotiation, or successfully running a household—proceed with caution. “You need to use your judgement,” Raffellini says. “If the company is conservative, it won’t come across the right way—but that may not be the case with a startup or a company or position where you’ll be working with children.”
At the end of the day, employers just want to know how you can help them and why you’re right for the position, so be careful not to force a connection that doesn’t exist. “To take them down another path of irrelevant skills is not a good choice,” Crawford says.
Don’t Overthink It
We know that this is easier said than done, but don’t get too hung up on writing the perfect cover letter. “I try to encourage my clients not to put so much pressure on themselves,” Raffellini says. “Just tell your story, show how you can help the company, and then let your resume speak for itself.”
An Example Cover Letter
Ready to put it all together? Check out this example to help get you started:
Dear Hiring Manager,
As a girl growing up with three older brothers, I have many memories of playing with their seemingly never-ending collection of superhero figurines—not to mention the excitement of finally being given their hand-me-downs to keep as my own. That’s why I’m thrilled to apply for the role of Marketing Manager for Action Figures at HappyToy, Inc. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to join a company that I feel a personal connection to, and to help HappyToy shape and share its story with current and future customers.
I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last three years, but my prior work experience perfectly aligns with this position. As a marketing manager at Learn & Play International, where I worked for five years, I was responsible for overseeing the marketing strategy for a full range of children’s toys and games. This included managing a budget of $1 million and creating and executing promotional plans, all while driving growth and working cross-functionally with various internal and external teams.
I’m also a great communicator and work well both independently and as part of a team. I always bring a positive attitude to the office and love nothing more than helping a brand craft compelling stories.
I would be thrilled to bring my passion and skill set to HappyToy. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to discussing the role further.
Photo of parent at computer with two kids in background courtesy Hero Images/Getty Images.
When Elizabeth Alterman isn't searching for a full-time job, she's writing about it. You can read more about her adventures in unemployment at ballsofourasses.blogspot.com. The writer, editor, and mom of three also recently completed a memoir chronicling the period she and her husband lost their jobs simultaneously.More from this Author
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