Writing a great résumé can be a daunting task for even the most accomplished professional. But for women who have spent time out of the workforce raising children or for other personal reasons, it is particularly troublesome. How do you account for the years at home? Does volunteering for the PTA count? How do you make yourself appear up-to-date and well-informed to a prospective employer? The questions are endless.
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There's no substitute for knowledge gained from experience. Here is advice from a professional woman who successfully jumped back into the job market after 10 years as a full-time mother, a marketing expert and a professional résumé writer on how to put together the perfect post-SAHM résumé.
When Sheila Keefe decided to return to work in 2008 after 10 years spent raising three children, her "on-ramp" back into the corporate world was simple: school. "I took a college course in accounting information systems," she says, admitting that her time away from the workforce had left her out of touch with changes in technology. "I hadn't even written an e-mail for work!"
By enrolling in a master's program at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.--Keefe had to matriculate in order to take classes at the graduate level--she was able to burnish her technical savvy, and to benefit from on-campus recruiting. "The professors all had connections into the business world, and I was able to take advantage of their networks," she says.
Résumé specialist and author of Expert résumés for People Returning to Work Wendy Enelow adds that most CVs stand out by listing a master's program, even if no degree is completed.
For other women, forward-thinking when looking to make a career comeback can come in the form of volunteer or nonprofit work, both powerful ways to bolster a résumé while out of the 9-5 world. "Anything you can do to show that you are interested in a field of work and are trying to stay current in it is a good thing, particularly in a job climate like we see today," says Shel Horowitz, a marketing expert who spent over a decade in professional résumé writing.
Horowitz, the author of Guerilla Marketing Goes Green, says résumés should be viewed as marketing tools, and so it's important that women returning to the workforce include volunteer opportunities that show their strengths. "It's hard to get a leg in the door with skills or experiences from 15 years ago, before you began raising children," he says. "Showing current knowledge and current interest is key."
The Functional résumé: The SAHM's Best Friend
Enelow suggests trading the traditional 'chronological' résumé we're all so accustomed to for a 'functional' résumé. "A functional résumé emphasizes skills acquired rather than particular work experiences," she says. "Rather than follow the format of name, education and chronological list of employers, you wind up with a résumé that's three-quarters skill summaries: projects, achievements and the experiences related to them.
To illustrate, Enelow uses the example of a woman who has stayed home to raise her children for 10 years and is now looking to go into public relations or sales. Instead of opening her résumé with her most recent work experience (which took place over a decade ago) it should begin with a professional skills profile.
"The first subheading could be Community Outreach--in bold letters," Enelow points out, "and underneath it several bullet-pointed sentences that have to do with public relations and outreach. For example: 'planned and coordinated press relations for 15 community sponsored events over the past five years.'"
The goal of a functional résumé is to highlight all of your skill sets so that by the time the prospective employer gets to the bottom of your résumé, she'll focus on your those skills and accomplishments make you right for the position and not the fact that you've been out of the workforce for years.
Rule of Omission
"If your résumé says you planned and executed an event with 250 attendees and a volunteer staff of 75, that sounds pretty good," says Enelow. "But if it says you planned and executed an event with 250 elementary school teachers and a volunteer staff of 75 mothers at PS 250, it doesn't have quite as much weight." Enelow believes judicious omissions on your résumé will help the employer focus on the important factors--your skills. "It's important to take the skill out of the particular [volunteer] environment to help it sound more substantive and professional to the corporate world," she says.
Additionally, specifics that reference volunteer work or an affiliation with a church or political organization can work against you if the employer or résumé screener has different values or beliefs. "The goal with a résumé is to make yourself attractive enough to interview," she says, "not to give them any means for denying you that chance based on what they are reading."
The rule of omission plays a big part in the functional résumé. Enelow also stresses that dates can also be left off of a résumé to avoid being tossed in the rejection pile without further consideration. This practice is not at all deceptive, she says, but instead is a means to shift the emphasis of a résumé from dates to skills "while remaining in the realm of reality."
Keefe offers this time-sensitive piece of advice to women looking to make the big leap: Look for contract positions and seasonal work, as many companies struggle to find enough employees for seasonal work and often hire lesser-qualified candidates to fill desks. And, since this type of job usually has a finite end date, it can be helpful for women who may struggle with separation from their children and the change in family life that returning to working full time can bring.
For Keefe, her return to work corresponded with tax season: "Knowing an end is in sight can help you focus on the task at hands instead of wishing you were at home."