By Martin Yate
I speak to a lot of people of the boomer generation faced with the special challenge of returning to work after caring for a parent who has since passed on.
Most people express no regrets about taking a career hiatus to provide elder care for a loved one.
But once their parent transitions, they are faced with a lot of questions about how to re-enter the workforce.
These are seasoned professionals, but they may have been away for an extended absence.
How do they explain this absence to an employer and still be competitive in a job search?
As the working population ages, elder care has become increasingly common -- the good news is that employer awareness is rising.
How you navigate your return depends on the length of absence.
A year or two isn’t that much of a problem, but a longer absence will make it more difficult to sell yourself as "current" with your job's skill requirements.
So while I do not feel an elder care absence means going back to an entry-level position, by the same token, it is unrealistic to expect to step back into the level of job you once held.
The immediate goal should be to get back into your field of professional experience PDQ.
While you have every right to throw your hat in the ring for opportunities at every level, a speedy return is more likely to be achieved by pursuing a title that is a step or two back.
Even if the position is beneath your skill level, it will allow you to get up to speed as you become acclimated to new technology and a changing work culture.
You can pursue your target job with any size company, but with small or medium sized employers your greater experience will be more appreciated and allow you to wear different hats as needs arise, which will in turn increase your visibility and credibility.
Management could well see your background, even with the break, as offering more potential, signifying a mature professional who can get up to speed quickly and who’s already made all the usual beginner mistakes on someone else’s payroll.
Another reason not to overlook smaller companies is because they get fewer applications because of most candidates’ desire for the prestige of association with a well-known name.
This increases your odds for both interviews and getting hired, then later also improves your chances of gaining added responsibility.
The issue: How do I account for an elder care absence on my resume?
To begin with, create a job-targeted resume that showcases the variables and special skills you can bring back to work.
A resume for your situation is a complex project that will include the following components:
Take the time to deconstruct your target job so precisely that you can demonstrate your possession of all the critical skills clearly and succinctly.
If the dates of your employment history didn’t start till the 2nd page, you will be more likely to have an interested customer by then.
The big question, and there is no consensus on the answer, is: what do you say about an extended elder care gap, and where do you say it?
I suggest these options:
These are options. They have all been tried. In some cases, they have worked and, in others, have failed. So, your mileage may vary, but ignoring the gap is not usually successful.
To get things moving, let all your local professional contacts know you are looking.
Don’t talk about your ideal job. Talk about the work you can do, and the opportunity that will most easily get your foot in the door.
Even when you see a job posting, go for the personal introduction through your contacts first. You’ll avoid getting lost in resume databases, and qualified insider referrals are invariably considered as a courtesy. So this is a very good way to get your foot in the door for an interview.
[Read Shortcut to a New Job: Tap an Insider and How to Make Employee Referral Programs Work for You for more details.]
As a parting thought, you might also consider getting some temp work as this will immediately give you current skills. It is okay to specify the kind of work and company, and also that you are interested in employers that are looking for temp-to-perm hires.
[Read Job-Hunt's Guide to the Temporary Work Option and Guide to Freelancing and Independent Contractor Jobs for more information and options about untraditional jobs.]
Successful careers don't happen by accident. Professional resume writing expert Martin Yate CPC is a New York Times best-seller and the author of 17 Knock Em Dead career management books. As Dun & Bradstreet says, "He's about the best in the business." For FREE resume-building advice and to view Martin's resume samples, visit the Knock Em Dead website. Join Martin on Twitter at @KnockEmDead.