April 23, 2012

Rebounding from a career break? Use these tips to refresh your résumé.

Published in March/April 2012 Renew issue

By Aabha Rathee

The most bothersome part of a job might be looking for one. And one task that many abhor, as they sign in to LinkedIn and begin the job search, is dusting off and fluffing up that résumé.

Who hasn’t fretted over fonts and despaired over communicating experiences? And if you’ve taken a hiatus or are looking to switch midstream, slightly different concerns come into play. How can you best explain the break? Should it even be on the résumé? How do you talk about it during the interview?

Explain the Gaps

Ginny Clarke, Chicago-based career management expert and author of CareerMapping: Charting Your Course in theNew World of Work, has a short answer to all those questions: “Saying nothing is never acceptable.”

Carol Fishman Cohen, cofounder of iRelaunch, a career reentry strategy company, agrees that it’s best not to leave any time unaccounted for. “If you did any kind of volunteer work, for any amount of time in the period that you were not in a fulltime job, put it on there,” Cohen says. If there was a situation where you didn’t do anything career-related in the time, she adds, include a personal section at the bottom and say that you were on a sabbatical for a personal reason.

There is general agreement, however, that with people ditching traditional career paths thanks to the fluctuating job market, it has become more acceptable these days for people to come back into regular employment after a significant break. “Keep in mind that employers are much more understanding of gaps now than in the past—it’s rare to find workers with a perfect work history, and that goes for all professions, career levels and industries,” says Kim Isaacs, a nationally certified résumé writer and founder of ResumePower.com.

Isaacs warns against making gaps in employment too obvious. “Avoid over-explaining,” she says. “I’ve seen résumés where people tried to account for every second of their career by stating they were laid off or quit for various reasons, and it actually called attention to the gaps instead of de-emphasizing them.”

Build Your Résumé While Unemployed

There are smart ways to chart your path to full-time employment and bolster your professional background. Cohen recommends strategic volunteering, doing something that is aligned to your career goals as much as possible. A good source is idealist.org, a global database of volunteer opportunities.

Other helpful steps to take are joining professional organizations and getting professionally reconnected by reading journals and resources related to your field. “You can also go to professional conferences and build relationships with people in a way that has nothing to do with your job search,” Cohen adds. “Engage people in conversations about their career path— how they got where they are, how the industry has changed and what their perspective on things is.”

Another option is to go back to school. Cohen does not suggest making a full-time commitment, but a few pertinent classes will help, especially ones that include some kind of field study or a capstone project.

“It’ll be a worthwhile addition to the résumé as well as give you something to talk about in the interview to take attention away from the break,” she adds. If you’re looking to change careers, you will have to dedicate the time to develop skills in your new field, whether through ongoing study, volunteering your time at a charity, accepting internships or apprenticeships or offering your services for free to build your skill set, says Isaacs, who is also coauthor of The Career Change Résumé: How to Reinvent Your Résumé and Land Your Dream Job.

An encouraging piece of advice comes from Clarke, who emphasizes going into the job search headlong. “If you went through a period of difficulty, you can market that in the right way and treat it is as a positive,” Clarke says. “The ability to say that you were doubly challenged and came through on top is not something everyone can legitimately do. And the fact that you managed to do that is hugely commendable in itself.”

For more career and job tips, pick up the March/April 2012 issue of Renew.

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