Life happens. Sometimes, we simply can't predict the types of things that happen that can waylay the best intentions and plans. What we had hoped to achieve or accomplish within a set period of time simply doesn't happen because other things come up that we have no control over… and those things take sudden precedence over everything else.
And that's OK.
When it comes to your career (and life in general), the thing you always need to remember is that we are doing the best we can under the circumstances and trying to make the best decisions possible with what information we have at the time.
Sometimes, when we look back in time, we see mistakes we made and wished we had done something differently. Or, we might also realize we did what we wanted and/or needed to, but those previous choices makes our current situation much more challenging.
This could be the situation that you are facing right now… have you been out of work for awhile? Maybe you took time off to raise a family or take care of an ailing parent. Or, maybe you tried another career field and it didn't quite turn out as you had anticipated, so you are now coming back to something you are better at and love. Or, perhaps, you took time away from the work world to fulfill other personal goals, such as finishing up college or taking a soul-searching trip around the world to learn about yourself.
The hardest challenge is, as most people find out, is how to account for that time away from the workforce. Many times, we struggle with what seems to be a liability on our documents - do we leave a significant gap of time or do we list our activities?
How do we overcome the potential negatives that an employer might see in our resumes or career documents when in fact, the time away from work was time well spent?
Here are six tips to get back on the employment saddle:
1. Account for your time by referring to it as "Personal sabbatical" or "Professional sabbatical." List this as your "record" on your resume, and then list the dates that this took place. Then develop some bullets underneath that listing that show action and activity as well as personal growth. By proactively addressing what an employer would see as a gaping hole in your resume, you are eliminating the perception that you were completely idle during that time.
2. Brush up on your skills. If you have been off the employment "merry-go-round" for several years, you might consider taking a class to brush up on your skills or address any skill gaps that could be obstacles to your employment. A minor investment on your end could mean a big payoff in the future by making your background more attractive to employers as up-to-date.
3. Consider hiring a resume writing professional. This is not a self-serving plug; resume writers are worth every penny as they can help position your background as best as possible using the most current terms and strategies to help make you as appealing to employers as possible. Consider this a huge investment in your employability – you need as much help as you can get at this point (especially in today's job market), and they can bring you up to speed more quickly than if you took a lot of time reading up and re-writing the document yourself. Make sure you check the writer's credentials by seeing what membership organizations that they belong to- most credible ones belong to either The National Resume Writers' Association or Career Directors International.
4. Volunteer. In some cases, if you title your work history section “Relevant History" – you have given yourself a loop hole in your resume to include volunteer experience, as you are not specifically stating work history. If you volunteer in your target field on a regular basis where you have ownership of projects and leadership, this is a great way to start showing the kinds of traction employers are interested in. Think about the outcomes you are responsible for as the volunteer, and connect those outcomes to the overall organizational goal to create a value statement that shows how you contributed. This will help get you noticed during your job search.
5. Network like a madman. Chances are during your time out of the workforce, you have gravitated away from your specific career field in pursuit of other activities or interests, and your network has suffered for it. Now is the time to throw yourself out there and network with a vengeance. Reconnect to older contacts and join industry organizations to meet new people. With somewhere between 80-90% of jobs being found through someone you know, sitting at home clicking "send" on your computer simply isn't going to get you anywhere. You need to be out there meeting people.
6. Connect to industry thought leaders. Follow them on social media channels and if they are based locally, see if you can set up time for coffee. You need to learn anything and everything you can about industry changes and emerging trends, and these people are powerful influencers. Who knows? They also might be motivated to help you in your job search. But you won't know unless you get out there and connect with them.
Following these tips to address long gaps in employment history caused by personal circumstances will help you make yourself more interesting to employers. Your career depends on it!
Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Oregon-based Pathfinder Writing and Career Services. Clients from across the United States and Canada and from all career levels have benefited from Dawn's highly-focused and results-oriented resume, cover letter, and job search coaching services.