I've been hearing a lot lately about people who have taken time off work to be full-time caregivers for ailing parents, spouses, or other loved ones. And now, they're faced with a significant employment gap to explain on their resumes. Not fair! To make matters worse, the standard advice for explaining any resume gap (be brief, be factual, and leave out the emotion) is pretty tough to practice when the gap stems from such a significant and painful phase of your life. If you're battling this dilemma, here are some tips to help.
First, remember these simple facts, which are easy to overlook when job search anxiety is fueling all your thought processes:
- Hiring managers are people, too. They have personal lives that aren't always neat and tidy. They're subject to all the same joyous and tragic life events as you or I.
- Everybody has gaps in their resumes (and not always for a good reason like yours).
- Resume be damned, you did the right thing.
You'll probably be tempted, and may even be advised by well-meaning friends, to try to hide or disguise the gap. But I say don't bother. Hiring managers and recruiters have seen all the tricks (like stretching the dates on either side of the gap, or using a functional resume with no dates). Don't lie or insult their intelligence.
On the other hand, don't give more information than they need (or want) to know. Think privacy. It's up to you whether to say exactly whom you were caring for; the nature of the illness; or even where they are now. (They may have gone to Heaven, a nursing home, or Cincinnati, but that's none of your future employer's business.) All the employer really needs to know is that your caregiving commitment is no longer an impediment to your readiness or availability for work.
Here are some samples of how you might address the gap on your resume and in an interview. These are just guidelines, of course. Your actual wording will reflect your own unique situation, personality, and comfort zone.
Sample 1. Minimal information; brief and matter of fact.
On the Resume:
Leave of Absence 6/2004 - 9/2006
Full-time caregiver during family member's illness
In the Interview:
"During my leave of absence in 2004 to 2006, I was caring for a close family member during a serious illness. Now, I'm ready to return to a professional role, and I think my qualifications will fit well in the _____ position.
Then, you can change the subject by asking a question such as" "What was it about my background that caught your eye?"
Sample 2. If you're in a healthcare field, you could be more descriptive about your caregiving role.
On the Resume:
Full-Time Caregiver 6/2004 - 9/2006
Provided round-the-clock care for seriously ill family member, including medication management, assistance with activities of daily living, coordinating in-home therapies and services, and therapeutic recreation.
In the Interview:
"Between 2004 and 2006, I was caring for [a close family member/my mother/my father/my spouse] at the end of [his/her] life. I was fortunate to have the health care skills to be effective in that difficult role.
Then, you can change the subject by asking a question such as, "Can you tell me what you consider to be the most important qualities to be successful in the _____ role?"
It may feel crass or unfeeling to summarize this life-altering experience into a neat little blurb and deliver it with cool professionalism. But unfortunately, that is probably what it takes to get back into the working world.
Just keep in mind that the employer's real concern is not that there was an employment gap in your past; it's whether you'll be a good employee in the future. Keep your focus there, and you should be fine.
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