I’ve now been freelancing for so long, for the most part, I don’t even have to produce a resume when applying for a new gig—I can direct potential clients to my LinkedIn account and/or my website to check out my credentials. But it didn’t start that way, of course.
A decade ago, I started looking for work again when I’d been home with my kids for years. To make matters worse, I was looking for writing work when I had an employment history as an engineer. This was before LinkedIn, before I’d started blogging, before Facebook and Twitter and all the ways we make networking connections as a matter of course nowadays.
Every time I had to submit a resume I agonized over how to best “beef up” my actual qualifications, while somehow minimizing the gap in my work experience. Usually I would give up on the resume and try my best to write a cover letter that charmed potential employers into overlooking the fact that I’d spent the last three years at home, changing diapers. And I hadn’t thought about this for years until a friend of mine—a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom—asked me for help in writing a resume. “I don’t have any qualifications,” she fretted. But that’s not true; resumes are one part truth and one part flair, and that’s particularly true for folks in creative fields like writing.
My standard advice to anyone who wants to break into writing online is that they should be maintaining a blog so that you have a ready-made online portfolio available. There’s a number of free blogging platforms available, so it’s a simple and cost-free way to have your writing out there in addition to any paid work you might land. But that doesn’t handle the issue of having an actual resume ready when you feel like you don’t have enough experience to fill it up.
The bad news is that there’s truly no way to cover up a multi-year gap in work experience, nor should you ever make stuff up on a resume. People do sometimes lie on resumes, and I believe that’s never the right choice—those things tend to be found out, and even if somehow it isn’t, do you want to start a business (or really, any) relationship by basing it on a lie? Of course not.
The good news is that you’re not the only person in the world who ever took a work break to stay home with your kids, and if you’re, say, applying for a writing job, writing creatively about this potential challenge is something that may win over an employer rather than deter them. The truth of the matter is that employers are looking for people who can do the job and do it well; if you can prove you’re up to the task, the fact that you haven’t worked recently needn’t be a huge hurdle.
Consider this: This wonderful age of multimedia and social networking means that a perfectly formatted resume on cream-colored linen paper is becoming an artifact of the past, anyway. I love this piece from Business Insider on creative resumes, which is a great reminder that a little creativity can go a long way. Now, does that mean that every stay-at-home mom needs to come up with a wildly creative resume presentation to even get a foot in the door? Hopefully not.
But what it does mean is that a funny cover letter may get you a call back. It means that listing that gap from working in an office in some sort of creative way (Chief Sandwich Maker at But I’m Not Hungry Inc., or something like that) might evince a chuckle instead of a pass. And it should go without saying that absolutely anything you’ve written that anyone has laid eyes on is fair game on that resume, too. List your personal blog, any guest blogging you’ve done, any published work, and even any writing you’ve done for the PTA newsletter or anything.
And then? Own it. The thing most likely to hold back a mom reentering the workforce is her own unsureness and anxiety, rather than some sort of resume prejudice. If you know this is a job you can do and do well, find a way to communicate that, be it through your resume, your cover letter, whatever. Be confident. Be you. Don’t be afraid to be funny or fabulous. You can make a great impression, even if “on paper” you maybe don’t look like the most qualified candidate.
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