Heading Back to Work After Staying at Home? How to Explain Your Absence from the Job Force

These days it’s not surprising to find moms returning to the workforce after an extended stay at home with children. Between layoffs, high living expenses, house debt, and a stumbling economy, some families decide that living on only one income is just not working, which means mom has to get back out to the job force, even if only part time.

Other moms return to work because children are growing and out of the house most of the day, or mom has found she misses the time away from the office, even if she has enjoyed time at home.

Yet while the thought of returning to work may be exciting, fear is often a major emotion felt by moms who have been at home for a few months – and even a few years – as they contemplate returning to their careers.

When time has passed and you have been absent from the office, you miss out on networking opportunities and job growth potential, both education-wise and “climbing the corporate ladder.” You may feel rusty when it comes to interviewing, and even speaking to other adults in a logical manner (trust me, many times I open my mouth to speak and nothing but jumbled words come out – because I’m so often speaking to children!).

You may also wonder how you should account for the time you’ve been away, both on paper when writing a resume or cover letter and also during the interview process, when asked direct questions about the last few years of your life. If life has consisted of play dates, driving kids to school, and umpteen loads of laundry, the question, “What have you done for your career during this child-rearing hiatus?” might make you stumble, if not falter altogether.

Sharon Reed Abboud, author of All Mom’s Work: Short-Term Career Strategies for Long-Range Success, says that filling the gap on the resume can be easy using the skills you have utilized while out of the workforce – and that sometimes a different type of resume might be key.

“The main thing is to look at the volunteer work they’ve done and see if it is related to their career objectives,” she says.

For instance, if you’ve worked as a PTO president you can list the skills that were required to do this job (managing other people, developing plans, setting and reaching goals).

If you have taken over the family bookkeeping skills, you might list these on your resume – particularly if you are interviewing for a job in this field.

Have you been enlisted as a coordinator for your child’s dance or gymnastic’s class? Did you work as a photographer for your child’s Tball team? Have you been volunteering at the school for a few years, working as an office girl? All of these jobs, unpaid or not, resulted in some type of skill set being displayed. Use them on your resume.

But, says Abboud, “I tell moms generally speaking unless you have a consistent work history you probably shouldn’t use a regular chronological resume.” Instead, she explains, create a functional resume that lists your experiences, both paid and volunteer-based, under skills.

If you’ve taken any classes during this working-outside-of-the-home hiatus, list these as well.

And, says Abboud, if you know you are going to return to work soon, get back out there and get familiar with your career once more by taking courses or attending workshops. Keeping your skill set sharp and up to date is important, as it shows a potential employer that even though you aren’t currently working in the field, you are ready to return and you know what is going on and what has happened since you went away.

In my next post, I’ll discuss key tips for nailing the interview.