Did you take a break from the corporate world for parenthood or self-employment? Are you ready to jump back in but afraid your resume won’t be good enough? I’ve been there. Stop worrying. You can write a great resume even when you’ve been out of the workforce for a period of time.
If you focus on highlighting your skills, including those you’ve acquired on your non-traditional career path, you will have no problem writing a great resume that will make you appealing to your dream employer.
When returning to the corporate world or “traditional” workforce after a gap, a traditional standard resume may not be your best choice. A skills-based resume may work better to showcase your non-traditional skills and experience. I’ve included a resume template that I have used both for myself and others at the end of this post. You are welcome to download and customize to your needs.
Write a Great Resume
Contact Information: Your resume needs to include your contact information clearly posted at the top. Name, address, phone number that you will actually answer, and a current email address. When submitting resumes, make sure your voicemail includes your name so a prospective employer knows they have reached the correct number.
While it’s common these days for people not to answer their phones when they don’t recognize the number, break that habit while you’re job hunting. If you don’t answer, you risk a potential employer moving on to the next candidate. Also, avoid a cutesy or unprofessional email address. PartyGirl92@email.com may not be your best choice. Better to go with something like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Employers are often inundated with resumes, and will look for any reason possible to whittle down the stack. Don’t give them unnecessary reasons.
Skills Section: This will be the first section of your resume unless a potential employer has specifically asked you to include the job title of the position you are applying for on the resume.
Using the sample resume as a guide, this is where you highlight not only your professional skills, but other transferable skills you have developed during your time away. Transferable skills are what they sound like—skills that will transfer to a corporate job.
Possible transferable skills could be:
- Organization & Productivity Skills
- Financial Management
And any skills you obtained during any volunteer work
For example, I served many years as a volunteer youth camp director for my church. I planned and oversaw summer camp experiences for groups of 20-250 12-18-year-old girls. The skills acquired during those years are definitely transferable to the professional world, including site selection, budgeting, presentation, menu preparation, training, conflict resolution, and on and on.
Experience: List your relevant work experience here. You do not need to list every job you ever had, going back to high school and college. Generally, it’s your last 4-5 jobs, but list what you feel comfortable with. Include job title, company name, city/state, dates employed—generally years are sufficient though month/year is also acceptable. Whenever possible use a standardized job title that won’t leave them wondering. If you worked for a company that used “creative” job titles, try and translate it into standard corporate language.
List 4-5 bullet points under each position that are highlights of your time there. Significant projects (if you can include statistics/numbers, bonus points for you), major job duties, etc. Do not list reason for leaving unless specifically requested.
Education & Certifications: If you have college or graduate degrees, list them first. Include the school, degree awarded (if any), major, minor is optional. You do NOT need to include the year unless you are a brand-new graduate. If you’ve been out of school more than a couple of years, leave your graduation year off, unless the employer requires it (which is really rare—they may ask if you have to fill out an application).
Also include other training programs you have completed, professional certifications, trade schools, vocational training programs and continuing education.
If you have any education beyond high school, you do not need to include your high school information.
Achievements & Awards: Include any significant honors or awards here, including industry honors, company honors, significant work achievements that don’t fit under experience. Awards for community service can also go here.
Professional Affiliations and Activities: List here any professional organizations you belong to or have belonged to. If you have held leadership positions within those organizations, be sure to include those.
Community Involvement: List here your community service, non-profit organizations, charities, school and relevant church experience. List the name of the organization and a brief explanation of what you did. Do not overlap or repeat anything from your professional affiliations. This is for service not career related.
Note that my resume does not include references, nor does it advise potential employers they are “available upon request.” If an employer wants them, they’ll ask for them. I print my references on a separate sheet of paper with the same header as my resume, and take it with me to job interviews, along with another copy of my resume. And it is all printed on white quality paper. This looks and feels professional. Always make sure your reference contact information is correct and that your references have agreed to be included.
You will see examples of each of these sections in the sample resume. This sample resume includes a PDF and a Microsoft Word Template. You can download it by clicking the link below.
Disclaimer: There is no one perfect resume. This is one that has worked well for me and some of my clients over the years. If you have one you like better, go for it.
Create a Killer Cover Letter
After you’ve finished writing your great resume, you need a cover letter to complete your presentation. When writing your cover letter, use the same header as your resume. It is fine to use a template, but always customize the cover letter for each position. Never send out generic cover letters. Savvy HR directors can spot them a mile off.
Use your cover letter to succinctly highlight your qualifications. Briefly explain your gaps in employment in your cover letter, and then emphasize how you have remained relevant to the job world. Resumes with gaps in employment can trigger red flags. If you address the gap in your cover letter, you are being proactive and not making potential employers wonder why you haven’t had a job.
Before You Send It Out
Here are a few final tips for you. If you really want to write a great resume, spelling, grammar and presentation all count. Remember how I said previously that employers look for reasons to toss resumes? Write or wrong, this is a fact. Most employers receive far more resumes than they can possibly interview, so they need to thin the herd. After discarding those who are clearly not qualified for the position, they move on to things like presentation, spelling and grammar. After all, if you don’t pay attention to the details on your resume, what does that say about your attention to detail after you get the job?
Be succinct. Shorter is better. Make it just long enough to give the relevant highlights.
Use spellcheck AND have someone proofread it for you.
Don’t try to be clever or funny. It doesn’t translate well to the job search.
Write in first person, and use present tense whenever possible.
Use action verbs: for example, instead of saying responsible for supervising training of new hires, say, “Supervised training of new hires.” Means the same thing, but is more direct and to the point. Passive voice makes you sound, well, passive. Active voice is stronger and connotes action and initiative, always a good thing in the career world.
Do not list motherhood or homemaking as career skills or job titles/experience, or use cutesy titles like “Domestic Engineer” or “Waste Technician” on your resume.
Do not assume that all employers will look on your time away from the corporate world negatively. Whether you’ve been running your own business or raising a family, many employers have come to realize the benefits of a diversity of experiences.
Never apologize or act like your time out of the work force is a detriment. Treat it like the grand adventure and important career position that it is for you. (Yes, motherhood counts as a career in my world, and so does caregiving—it’s one of the toughest gigs on the planet, if not the toughest.) Your attitude will go a long way in setting the tone of your resume or cover letter, and of your subsequent interview.
Just because your career experience and your skill acquisition has not followed a traditional path, does not mean you are not as qualified as the next person for the position of your dreams. It may take a while to find the dream job with the dream employer. Nothing great comes without great effort. So write a great resume, finish it off with the killer cover letter, and put yourself out there with confidence.
You got this.