Caregiving can give you a sense of having done the right thing — and a glaring gap on your resume. Now what?

Perhaps you chose to stay home to raise kids. Or maybe a family member was unwell and needed your care and attention for several months or years.

There are thousands of individual stories behind a difficult decision to step out of full-time employment. Yet, one thing that unites them all is that caregivers with an employment gap on their resume share the same apprehension when it's time to go back to work. How should they present their time spent taking care of a family member? Would it be better to hide the employment gap? Will the decision to step out of the workforce be held against them?

These questions affect more people than you might imagine. According to a study by the RAND Corporation, the value of informal caregiving for aging relatives is worth upwards of $500 billion. For context, this estimate exceeds the total price tag for nursing homes and professional health aids. At the same time, research has shown that the number of moms who leave the workforce to raise their kids is also on the rise. Combine these two trends, and your caregiver resume gap does not look so lonely anymore.

With that said, those returning to work still have to figure out how to present their overall professional track in the best light. Caregiving has enormous economic and emotional value, but many are unsure about how to position it on their resume.

Here's what you need to know to address your caregiver duties on your resume.

Be honest

Ask any hiring manager or HR professional and they will tell you that they prefer honesty on resumes and during the interview process. This doesn't just cover being truthful about degrees earned and positions held; Honesty also includes steering clear of misleading tactics and tricks.

Of course, you always have the option to visually minimize the employment gap by eliminating months from your resume. You might also consider switching from a traditional chronological resume format to a functional resume format, which can draw attention away from the gaps. However, experienced hiring managers will see right through your efforts to conceal a break in employment history and may even downgrade your resume for the apparent lack of transparency. The best course of action for most professionals is to account for all time and present it in a way that flows naturally.

Embrace the employment gap on your resume

Beyond clearly presenting your caregiving experience on the resume, take the time to come to peace with it. Skipping this step can cloud your job-search process and lead you to set your sights low, discount your value, or even disqualify yourself from great-fit opportunities.

As in most things, we are often our own worst critics when it comes to career tracks. Remember that the resume gap might look glaring to your eyes, and a few hiring managers might frown upon an interruption in your professional tenure. However, most employers won't hold it against you. After all, hiring managers are humans with their own family lives and tough decisions. Trust the process, present your best case, and let the prospective employer make his or her own decision.

Related: Here's the Right Way to Format Your Resume

Frame your time as a caregiver thoughtfully

Think carefully about how you present your experience as a caregiver within the work experience, skills, and objective sections of your resume. Generally, it's best to give your prospective employer the basic facts of what has kept you out of work. Exactly how much to disclose is up to your comfort level and best judgment. If you disclose nothing, the reader is prone to fill the gaps with guesses — an approach that gives you no control over the outcome. On the other hand, too many details can draw excessive attention to the employment gap and take the focus away from the rest of your professional history.  

Here are some examples of how you might present time spent taking care of a family member.

Caregiver (June 2015 – September 2017)Sabbatical to be a stay-at-home parent.ORLeave of absence (June 2017 – March 2018)Caregiver for a terminally-ill family member. Responsibilities included scheduling medical appointments and in-home hospice care, financial custodianship, and estate legal coordination.

The common thread among these sample descriptions is that they are factual, brief, and concrete. Remember that you don't have to disclose all the details, such as the exact diagnosis or outcome for the person you were taking care of. Provide enough color to help the employer understand what occupied your time and let the rest get addressed during the interview.

Related: How to Determine If the Purpose of Your Resume Is Clear

Caregiver skills on your resume: Include or leave them out?

Taking care of a young child or an ailing parent requires a unique set of valuable skills. Multitasking, punctuality, ability to make decisions under pressure, managing calendars and budgets – the list goes on and on.

The big question is, should you include those skills on your resume?

The short answer is: it depends. If your experience during the leave was relevant for the position you are seeking, list the skills you used or developed.

For example, if you took a year off to care for your sick parent and developed skills that make you a great candidate for a nursing position, include them. Hands-on experience with medication management, assistance with activities of daily living, coordinating physical therapies, and leading therapeutic recreation would all be highly relevant in this situation. Similarly, if you are seeking a position in a non-profit organization that includes fundraising responsibilities, your success in organizing a silent auction to benefit your daughter's theater program at a local school could highlight your strengths.

However, if the experience isn't directly related, don't feel obliged to force the fit. Instead, focus on any formal and informal professional development you may have pursued during your time out of the workforce. That might include online courses, continuing education seminars, conferences, independent study, professional networking and more.

Focus on the future

A common resume mistake for many professionals who took time away from the office is that they focus too much on the employment gap. That often happens at the expense of using the resume and the cover letter to spotlight other experiences that position them as a perfect candidate for the job. This is perfectly understandable, especially if the caregiving break is the most recent thing that has happened in your professional career. However, you must train yourself to see the resume gap as just one step in your overall professional history.

Here's an exercise that might help. Imagine yourself, 30 or 40 years from now, looking back over your career. From that vantage point, your caregiving gap is really a bridge between rewarding and fulfilling stretches of professional employment. The decision to take care of family is an important part of your personal story and a window into your values — but it does not have to define what happens next in your career!

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