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4 Tips For Returning To Work After Caring For A Family Member

4 Tips For Returning To Work After Caring For A Family Member

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Caring for family members who have become frail from age or sick from a long-term illness is something with which many people—especially Baby Boomers—can relate. People are living longer. Many wish to live at home as long as they can, but as they become older and frailer, they need help. Many families are faced with the choices such as (1) giving in and placing their loved one in a facility; (2) hiring someone to come into the family member’s home to help take care of them; or (3) taking time off from work in order to take on the caretaking role themselves.

Related: 5 Tips For Returning To The Workforce

It is a tough decision for many families, and increasingly, individuals are taking time away from work to take care of ailing family members. At some point, that individual will want to return to the world of work, but they are then faced with how to explain the gap in their work history on their résumé.

Here Are 4 Tips For Returning To Work After Caring For A Family Member:

1. Be up front about the gap and don’t apologize for it.

Most recruiters, hiring managers, and HR Directors will be able to relate in some way. Even younger managers will likely have a relative who has been or is currently caring for an elderly family member. You don’t have to hide the gap, but at the same time, you don’t want to make too much of a big deal about it either. Don’t be overly apologetic, but don’t dismiss it as irrelevant, either. It is what it is. Put it on your résumé by using something along these lines:

“Leave of absence                             8/2010-9/2011

Full-time caregiving during family member’s illness.”

During the interview, address it briefly without too much emotion (if possible): “The reason for my leave of absence was that my [family member] became gravely ill, and needed a full-time caregiver. It made the most sense for me to be the one to take time away from work to take that on. I am ready to return to work now. I believe my qualifications and past work history make me a good fit for this position.”

Don’t dwell on it beyond that unless you are asked follow-up questions about it. You want to demonstrate that while you have suffered a significant loss, you are emotionally ready for the rigor of work duties. If you seem to be grieving still, you may hurt your chances of being hired. You want to demonstrate that you did what you needed to do, and now you are ready to tackle a new opportunity in the form of the job at hand.

2. If possible, highlight some of the lessons learned during your leave that could help you in this position.

Perhaps you developed some skills during this time away from the work world that would serve you well now. Negotiation skills or communication skills that were needed as you worked with health care companies and insurance companies might have been developed, for example. If you spent time reading during your leave, talk about lessons learned from that. Did you read journals and stay up to date with Groups on LinkedIn to help you stay up to date with your chosen career? Perhaps you read about leadership or biographies that taught you important lessons that could be applied to working with people in the work place. While there may not be a place for that kind of activity on your résumé, you can certainly bring it to the interview, and what you want to do is focus on what you may have learned during your absence, not on the absence itself.

3. Focus on your strengths from your previous work experiences.

Instead of dwelling for too long on the length of absence from the workforce, focus on your specific strengths. Highlight in both your résumé and in your interview the achievements and successes you have experienced in your past work history. You want to make a case for your ability to do the job for which you are applying. Make sure that those successes and achievements are included in your résumé.

4. Upgrade your skills if necessary.

If you are in a field that changes rapidly like IT or some other computer-related industry or even in the healthcare industry, it may be good for you to get a new certification or upgrade your skills set in some way before attempting to go back to work. Staying current in your chosen field is critical to your being able to make the case for your qualifications for the job. Don’t be afraid to take a course or go back to school to get a new certification or degree if necessary. Staying current and up to date is important in an increasing number of jobs these days.

Bonus tip:  You may want to address your absence which translates to a work gap in your cover letter. By offering a reason right from the beginning, you address the obvious question of what you were doing during the absence that is reflected on your résumé. You don’t arouse suspicion by ignoring it, but rather you address it immediately. Most people will be understanding. They are mainly interested in whether or not you are the right person for the job, so make that the focus of your résumé…not the time that you were away from work.


Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a Work It Daily-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.

Photo Credit: Bigstock


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Kitty Boitnott Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a former educator turned Career Transition and Job Strategy Coach specializing in working with teachers who are experiencing the painful symptoms of job burnout. She also works with mid-career professionals from all walks of life who find themselves at a career crossroads either by chance or by choice. Learn more about Kitty at TeachersinTransition.com.