Back to Work: Explaining Gaps in Job History Due to Having Kids

Gaps in your employment history occur for various reasons. For businesswomen, balancing the demands of family life and career can be challenging, sometimes leading women to take a break from professional life to focus on child caring. In fact, more recently, men have also started taking career breaks to take care of their kids. While taking care of children is a viable reason for career gaps, explaining it effectively to a prospective employer requires some strategy. For mothers who feel that the standard duration provided for maternity leave is not enough, and who prefer being a full-time mom - you are not alone. According to Gallup Poll, 56% of women would prefer to stay home over working outside the home, while 39% who don't have children would prefer to take on the role of homemaker.  

When the children get ready to go to school and time frees up for the stay-at-home mom’s return to work, a set of unique challenges hinder the smooth re-entry into professional life. Remarkable among this set of challenges is the issue of clarifying to prospective employers the gap in the resume.

Here are 5 strategies that could help you explain the employment gap.

Taking Time to Volunteer and Develop Networks before Reentering the Workforce

An ideal scenario for stay-at-home moms hoping to get back to the professional scene in the near future would be to take time to volunteer within their field. Building networks before rejoining the workforce is also important if you want to remain connected to other professionals in your field. Volunteering is an amazing way to keep your skills and knowledge fresh and will look good on your resume. Volunteer work helps to demonstrate your strengths and professional growth during your career break. You may include your volunteer experience in a resume by emphasizing lessons learned from each volunteer position. 

Before you embark on job hunting, you should also try to reach out to former workmates, previous employers, and your other professional connections. Such networking can help you with your job search and will also offer immense guidance on the changes that have occurred in the field. Try to invest in these relationships first before seeking favors by visiting meetups, conferences, and seminars. 

Mentioning the Gaps in Employment in Your Cover Letter

One proactive step that you could take to explain the gaps in work history is to make a brief note of the reason for your career gap in your cover letter. Most employers and hiring managers going through resumes are likely to notice any gaps, especially when they last for more than a year. By mentioning you briefly took a break from your career to take care of your children, you break the image of the problematic employee. Such a brief note in the cover letter for stay-at-home moms returning to the workforce is particularly sensible. It’s important to show your career was consistent and solid.

Reworking Your Resume by Drawing Focus Away from Time at Home

A mistake that many job applicants make while creating résumés is choosing a chronological resume format which makes the job gap even more evident. For those returning to the workforce after a long absence, it’s highly recommended to use a functional format, which pays more attention to the professional skills and achievements, rather than using the chronological format that emphasizes the periods when you worked in different places. Please note that functional resumes comprise a listing of capabilities and accomplishments, where your job positions and employers are also listed. This format gives you flexibility, when reentering the workforce after a long break, your goal is to create a positive picture and mask the skeletons in the closet. Nevertheless, you may indicate your experience in childcare on your resume, particularly if it is related to the current position.

Focusing On Your Strengths Rather than the Employment Gap Explanation

“Approximately 2.9 million women in the United States with a Ph.D. or Master’s degree choose to become stay at home parents, others choose to return to active employment after taking a break to focus on stay at home mom duties. For such working mothers who face the cost of childcare and the pressing of raising kids, taking extended breaks from active employment is a decision that makes sense.” -Mark Slack, HR executive at Skillroads

The category of women that can be classified as “moms returning to work” should not worry too much about explaining the employment gap in your resume. After providing a brief explanation in your cover letter or through an introductory email message, the employer already knows what happened. While you should feel free to explain your reason for choosing to be a stay at home mom in your cover letter, such explanations should be brief and simple. Instead of focusing on the gap, the priority should be dedicated to highlighting your professional strengths. In addition, do not limit sharing your skillsets to your previous jobs, rather consider how you can add value to the company. In any case, your homemaking skills, such as organizational, leadership, multi-tasking, fast decision-making, problem-solving, etc., may be just what the company needs. Most employers are willing to overlook career gaps if you have certain skills that set you apart from the pool of applicants. Feel free to briefly describe your experience caring for children, and how that experience will help you at work.

Seeking Returnship Programs and Focusing on Growth and Development

Most employers reading the resume for a stay-at-home mom returning to work have the typical concern that they may not be committed to the company in the long-term. You can dispel this fear using a confident response that focuses on how you have grown from your role as a stay-at-home mom, and what your 10-year growth plan is.

One reliable way of getting back into the employment scene is through hiring programs that target workers returning from long breaks. For example, such giants like IBM, Apple, Oracle, Intuit, and Udemy joined the movement and initiated returnship programs for women in order to help moms by introducing them back to the employment scene, retraining them, and connecting candidates with the hiring managers.

The bottom-line is to keep reminding yourself that if you can handle children through those critical stages of screaming, teething, and potty-training, you can handle career reentry.

About the author…Alice Berg is a blogger and career advisor, who helps people to find their own way in life, gives career advice and guidance, helps young people to prepare for their careers. You can find Alice on Twitter.