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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

Stay-at-Home Parent? How to Kill it on Your Comeback Resume

You’ve been busting your rear for the last several years. Your multitasking skills? Second-to-none. Ability to handle adversity and problem solve? Top notch. Project management capabilities? Exceptional.

You’ve got a gazillion amazing skills—this is indisputable. The problem?

Many of your talents have been refined over the past few years through your most recent job as a stay-at-home parent.

And while no one is going to argue that your job is among the hardest on the planet, your “at home” time can present serious challenges as you prepare to venture back into the 9-to-5 workforce. How the heck do you market yourself when you’ve not held a “real job” for several years? How do you hide the gaps in your career chronology? How do you convince a corporate employer that, in spite of your hiatus, you’re excited and ready to work—and that you’re the ideal candidate for that position?

Don’t panic. People jump back into the workforce all the time, and you can, too. Are you kidding me? You can make homemade lasagna while correcting long division homework while coordinating goldfish funerals while cleaning the tub. So even if you’re scared, remind yourself that you’ve got everything you need to pull this off.

And the first step, of course, is updating that resume.

Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t: Use a Functional Resume

This is the most common “I’m trying to divert your attention away from my resume gap” trick I see when reviewing re-entry candidate resumes. Functional resumes are those that don’t list any dates or career chronology; rather, they showcase skills and attributes.

The problem with this style of resume is that most recruiters instantly realize that the candidate is attempting to hide something. Also, functional resumes don’t always drop into an applicant tracking system with ease, so if you’re applying for jobs via online application tools (e.g., on job boards or through company websites), your resume could get lost in Never Never Land before it’s even reviewed by a human being.

Do: Consider a Chronological Resume With a Robust Summary

The best resume style for re-entering professionals is more of a hybrid between “showcases my skills and core proficiencies” and “chronological.” The most common resume style (for all types of job seekers) is exactly this.

You highlight the stuff you’re most proud of, best known for, and can completely kill it at in your next job in an “Executive Summary” section at the top. Then, you create a “Core Proficiencies” section that outlines the things you know how to do (e.g. “Project Management,” “Client Relations,” and “Cost Controls”). Finally, you get into your career chronology, listing the most recent positions first and working backward.

For more tips on writing that summary, check out these three examples, and for more information on resume formats, read about the chronological resume and combination resume.

Do: List Volunteer Assignments and Part-Time Work in the Chronology

On that note, there’s no law that says you can only put full-time or paid working your career chronology. So, if you’ve participated in a major volunteer role or worked part-time while home with the kids?

Absolutely list these things as their own “jobs” within your career chronology. And showcase the cool stuff you’ve done in these assignments: Depending on the types of positions you’re applying for, anything from planning charity auctions to recruiting volunteers to bookkeeping for an after-school club can be relevant.

That said, do not, under any circumstances, create a cutesy section on your resume that lists your time as a stay-at-home parent as an official job (complete with bullet points like, “Adeptly managed the growing pile of laundry” or “Leveraged organizational skills to make sense out of a 13-year-old’s bedroom closet”). While you and I both know that parenting is about as demanding and intense a job as any out there, most corporate decision makers aren’t going to take this section of your resume seriously.

Don’t: Rely Solely on Your Resume

There are definitely times when it’s better to scrap online applications and instead use proactive networking to get a foot in the door at your target companies—and this is one such occasion. If you’ve been out of the workforce for more than a couple of years, you may well be a “non-obvious match” for any given position you apply for.

You’ve got a much better shot of landing an interview if you endear yourself to someone on the inside of whichever companies you’ve got your eye on rather than hoping you’ll make it through the online screening process. You need an opportunity for the decision makers to meet you personally and see that you really are incredible. So start setting up those coffee meetings.

Finally, remember that your re-entry may take time and trial and error. Many employers, at face, prefer candidates who are currently employed, but don’t let this discourage you. Instead, pay close attention to how people are responding to you. What’s working? What’s not? Assess (and celebrate) your progress and adjust your approach along the way.

And when you do land that position? Give yourself a huge high-five. (Then promptly teach the kids how to do their own laundry.)