Today we’re taking a look at the challenges faced by professionals in what I’ve decided to call the winter season – folks who are perhaps in a quieter time of their career, but who nonetheless need a strong resume, or those facing specific challenges. And just like you need to warm up your car on a cold snowy day, having a resume that’s robust and ready to go is essential.
Our previous looks at resumes covered the early stages of one’s career (Spring), progression to management (Summer), and advancement into senior-level roles (Autumn). As we move to the shortest season, we’ll cover a coople of distinct situations that call for a bit of extra thought and strategy:
– Resumes for older folks who for various reasons are still/back in the workforce.
– Resumes for those re-entering the job market after an extensive absence.
So let’s get started!
The Older the Better
Ideally, people with many years of experience under their belt would be seen as invaluable resources and companies would be falling over themselves to hire them. In the real word, “seniors” are too often seen a a liability, whether because of perceived insurance costs or uncertainty about their levels of energy and motivation. Ageism is alive and well, though it often flies under the radar–so what can you do to make sure that it’s your career getting the attention, and not the year you were born?
First, check out the resumes that are out there and make any needed changes to update your style and format. Nothing says “I haven’t done this in awhile” more than a resume that looks like it came from a typewriter.
Get a “modern” email address. Depending on your background and interests, you may not have chosen the most professional one at the start. But while “firstname.lastname@example.org” works fine with friends and family, it’s not likely to win points with an employer. Ditch anything that’s cutesy or unnecessarily revealing. YourName@gmail is a good option – add a middle initial or number if it’s already been taken.
Provide a Title and strong summary to start things off and let employers know who you are. Don’t highlight your 40 years of work in your introduction (instead of “Marketer with 35 years of experience” you might say “Marketer with a history of success”), just go over your strongest selling points and be as relevant as you can to the current environment in your field.
Include a keywords section (often called “Core Competencies” or “Areas of Expertise” to showcase skills relevant to target jobs. Try and cover the same ones you see in job ads, and don’t forget to include computer programs that you know. Many companies put resumes through systems that search for keywords, so having them in there is essential.
Your Professional History section will follow the same rules that are true for all resumes–provide job descriptions for each role, with bulleted accomplishments to highlight your contributions and results. If it’s been a bit of time since your last position, you may want to include a note about any volunteer or part-time roles you’ve held. But how far back to go? Some “experts” recommend never going more than 10-15 years or so. I don’t believe there is any magic number, but you do want to avoid overload. Unless you did something very interesting (like were a shuttle astronaut or head of state), companies are probably not interested in the jobs you held 25 or more years ago.
Know the lingo–whatever your occupation or industry, make sure that you use appropriate language and terms. No need to talk about systems you know that are no longer in use. If it means taking a computer class to get up to speed, consider it an investment.
When it comes to Education, do include your degree – no need to mention a year but if it’s recent (I’ve seen retirees with newly earned ones), do point that out. And be sure to include any classes you’ve taken in the last 5-10 years, too, if they relate to the job you want. Position yourself as someone who’s in the know and you are much more likely to get a call back.
Back in the Saddle
There are lots of reasons folks drop out of the workforce, and just as many for dropping back in. Layoffs can turn to extended unemployment, particularly in shrinking industries and professions. Perhaps your absence was due to a serious injury or illness (yours or someone you love), or you relocated with a spouse and your old career doesn’t fit well in the new area (think SCUBA instructor moves to Iowa). Job gaps aren’t always negative–maybe you left to raise children, or took a sabbatical.
Whatever the reason, you’ve got a stretch of time you need to account for on your resume. Doing so in a clear, straightforward way is the key to overcoming the stigma (sometimes perceived, sometimes real) of joblessness in its various forms. This is another area where resume writers often clash. I’ve spoken with clients who were warned against any indication that they have a child or an elderly parent. Or, heaven forbid, were sick themselves.
My stance? Above all, your resume needs to be clear and truthful at all times. No, that doesn’t mean sharing every detail of your illness or domestic situation. What it does mean is that you provide a reason that you can speak to in an interview with confidence.
Let’s go back through our resume. You’ve got your title, which aligns with your background, followed by a strong summary paragraph describing your key assets. You’ve got keywords to show relevant skills. All completed as you would at any other time on your career. So now, we come to the Experience section. Here is where you must put on your thinking cap. How to explain this 3 (or 5, or 9) years away fro paid work? What can be done to keep hirers from wincing at the gap before turning to the next candidate?
First, take a look to see if you’ve actually been completely non-working. Did you leave your job as an accountant to stay home with two kids, but take up responsibility as the treasurer of a local non-profit? Have you been bookkeeper for your religious home? If you’re an event planner, did you take over running the PTO and coordinating big fundraisers? If so, judos to you! You’ve stayed active and involved and chances are, hirers will be more likely to overlook the fact that you haven’t drawn a salary for awhile.
Instead of a section heading like “Professional History”, which implies being paid to some, you can simply use “Experience” or “Work History. Beyond that, use the same strategies as you will for the rest of your career. Strong, sharp description of activities combined with examples that emphasize your contributions show that you are engaged and can deliver results,
I used this strategy myself not long ago; an IT Director was looking to re-enter the job market after a 7 year absence. A pretty big gap. But as it turns out, pretty much the entire time she had served as a math tutor. We just started with that, then went into the last paid job, followed by multiple volunteer roles where she had continued to use her technical expertise. Long story short, she found a job, even more quickly than I’d expected.
Maybe you didn’t work at all, but you did continue your education, taking online classes or attending industry seminars and conferences. Be sure to indicate that. In many case, I actually start the Work section with a line that reads as follows: “Since 2008, time spent at home with young children, while earning bachelor’s degree through part-time program.” If you were laid off, you might say. “Following layoff, began volunteering 3 mornings a week providing support to young mothers; currently enrolled in courses to prepare for XYZ certification.” Again, you’re showing activity as well as an understanding of the requirements of your given field.
Once you’ve provided the explanation for what’s going on now, you can return to normal resume protocols to fill out your professional life. Job descriptions, accomplishments, and any other information that pertains to the target role.
A strong cover letter can give you a nice platform to both explain your absence and impress upon employers just how interested you are. Keep the reason simple – “I spent 9 months caring for my elderly mother”, who is now in long term care” – and focus on all that you will bring to the job.
No doubt there are challenges in creating a resume when you’ve been “outside the zone,” professional speaking. But with a little attention to detail, plus a healthy dose of enthusiasm and energy, you’re sure to find some opportunities to get you back in.
To getting the jobs of our dreams – cheers!
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
– Thomas A. Edison