Filling the resume gap with substance

Theresa, a working mother of three from New Haven, described her career path: I was in marketing for a media company in Stamford after my graduation from UConn.  This was in the late 80s and early 90s.  I did well, had fun, got married, had my first child, and then quit when I had my second child. I started working again after my youngest started school but took different jobs that fit around my children’s schedule, all were meaningless jobs that helped pay the bills.

Now that her two oldest are off to college and her youngest is about to go, Theresa wants to rebuild her career.  Her initial career counseling inquiry – as it often is for older workers – focused on her resume.  “Can you help with my resume? I don’t know how to fill the gaps after 16 years of not having a full time job.”

There is both good and bad news for 50somethings in this predicament.  The good news is that – unlike the 80s and 90s – the present world of work does not view job gaps as the kiss of death. Back in those days, having to explain even a 6 month gap would be a challenge for a job seeker.  Parents (usually moms) could rarely go back to work in anything substantive because of the “gaps on their resume.”  These days many job seekers have gaps. Lay-offs, mergers, and company implosions are all part of recent corporate history so it is not unusual even for the most straight-line career to have a couple of gaps.  Moreover, as a culture we have become more sensitive to women’s issues and thus have more greater understanding regarding the challenges of moms returning to the workforce.

The more challenging news is that resumes do need to be “edited” for substance rather than style.  Let me explain: even those who claim that their resume “looks terrible” can easily find a resume template on the Internet and with some diligence make the resume look properly formatted.  I can usually help with wordsmithing the resume to properly tailor it for jobs of interest.  But even that work is not particularly involved.  Clients are hopeful that a “style” edit will be the magic bullet that will make them employable.  It won’t.  The most beautifully crafted resume was not going to change the headline that Theresa worked in retail.

Instead, our career counseling clients who have gaps usually need to (1) target a particular industry/job/career path and (2) do something that becomes the headline for the resume.

The latter is what I mean by editing for substance.  So, for example, in Theresa’s case, she wanted to head back into marketing.  “Cashier at Marshalls” was the headline. That was not going to get anyone interested in hiring her for a marketing job.  We started to brainstorm. She had a friend who ran a small business in Hamden.  Could Theresa do marketing work for her?  Theresa’s daughter was involved in the school play.  Could Theresa volunteer to lead the marketing effort related to the play?  Could Theresa take a marketing class at Southern Connecticut?  What could she do to change the headline of her resume?  That became our focus.

Two years later, Theresa is working in a small marketing agency in New Haven County and happily rebuilding her career.