For many women, having a family means taking a break from working outside the house. According to a study done by Pew Research Center, 29% of all mothers did not work outside the home in 2012 – an increase over 23% in 1997. There are many reasons that explain the trend: slow economy and the rising cost of childcare are just two of the factors.

As children grow and some moms begin to contemplate returning to the professional workforce, they face unique challenges in their job search. How do you demonstrate you are relevant after being out of the job market for two (or 10) years? Will your career gap discourage prospective employers from considering you? Is being a mom a resume killer in today's competitive job market?

Far from it. There are things you can do to set yourself up for a successful career re-launch. The key to success is understanding what your prospective employer's concerns might be, and structuring your resume and interview responses in a strategic way that will put those concerns to rest.

I do not believe that there is a conspiracy to keep moms from returning to the workplace. Hiring managers just want their job openings filled with the best candidates. They might have legitimate hesitations when it comes to considering a candidate who has been out of the workforce for a number of years. Here is a short list of their concerns as they look at your application and notice your gap in work history:

  • You may not be up-to-date on your skills,

  • You may not have kept up on the relevant trends and issues in the industry,

  • You may have difficulty balancing responsibilities at home and outside work.

From a hiring manager's perspective, the costs of hiring and training a new employee are high. He or she doesn't want to make an expensive mistake, and may be inclined to choose a less risky candidate (one with no employment gaps and recent work history).

In my experience, it serves you best to address the issue proactively. Here are some steps you might consider.

1. Camouflage that career gap

Consider using a skills-based resume layout as opposed to a chronological one. It can highlight your transferable skills that line up with the job requirements, and take attention away from the employment gap.

I do not recommend putting housekeeping or parenting skills on your resume (or discussing them in an interview) – not because I don't believe they are valuable, but because in most cases they are not directly related to the job you are pursuing.

Instead, focus on highlighting any relevant experience you may have gained. Did you run a library fundraiser for your child's school? That took business development, people management, and budget skills. It can also show that you have the ability to focus and the discipline to see a demanding project through to completion.

Consider freelancing, contract work, or volunteering in a related field. Those entries in your career history will confirm that you are serious about returning to work, and have a history of successfully balancing the additional responsibilities with being a parent.

2. Stay current on industry trends

The pace of change around us is staggering. That statement is as true about technology as it is about industry trends. In order to stay relevant and up-to-date, consider joining professional association groups, and make a habit of reviewing industry publications. The time invested into nurturing these connections to the working world can be as little as 3-5 hours per month, and it pays off. Professional groups offer great opportunities for networking, and can give you a chance to practice your pitch and interview skills before you hit the recruiting circuit.  

3. Keep your professional skills sharp

Technology changes quickly, and professional muscles go stiff without practice. Look at the skills prospective employers are requiring as a baseline for the openings you would be interested in, and be strategic about highlighting what you have, and acquiring what you are missing. You have many options, from taking a class for a specific skill-set or technology platform to volunteering.

4. Be strategic about where your look

If we take judgment and our opinion of “the way the world should be” out of the picture, some employers simply want to hire and retain mothers more than others. Strategically, your time is better spent targeting companies where you will be viewed as a valuable addition - not those where you will have to apologize for the time spent raising kids.

5. Dig deep and tap into your confidence

Even though this point comes last, it is critically important. Being out of the workforce for several years can make you feel that you are not as qualified as the next candidate. Hiring managers will read that lack of confidence in your cover letter, handshake, or your tone. The best way to combat that is personal clarity on why you are returning to work, and on the value that you will add. This is not about you, but about how you can be of service to your prospective employer.

In closing, remember that you do not have to do this alone. There are great resources, online and offline, for moms re-entering the workforce who are concerned about a gap in work history. Here is a short list to get you started. Some of these have a membership fee, while others are free.

  • iRelaunch is an online resource with advice for those returning to work.

  • Corpsteam and Mom Corps is a national staffing and search company focusing exclusively on the placement of experienced professionals in fractional, flexible and virtual positions.

  • The Glass Hammer is a professional career resource for women.

  • Ellevate network offers online resources for professional women for a membership fee, and can work particularly well if there is a local chapter near you.

  • Consider reconnecting with old mentors, co-workers, or bosses. They can be a valuable source of insight and advice.

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