I’ve been out of the workforce for several years,” a reader e-mailed me. "Should I address the gap on my resume in a cover letter? What about salary requirements? And what do I do about the fact that all my references are from 10+ years ago, besides the PTA president? (I’ve already told my 12 year old that I’m not going to use her, even though she’s teaching me power point!)"
Here’s how I responded:
1.) If you haven’t explained the gap on your resume, then by all means explain it in a cover letter. In fact, even if you have a line on your resume about your career break, address the issue in your cover letter as well. Do it briefly and unapologetically. (See the sample below.) Do not go on and on about why you stayed home.
2.) The key is to address the gap (so prospective employers don’t think you were in jail or conjure up other unseemly excuses for your absence from the workforce) and make it clear that you’re ready to return to work now. Employers are less concerned about the gap, per se, and more concerned about whether you’re logistically and psychologically ready to work and whether you have the skills, despite your absence, to perform on the job.
3.) Your goal, in your cover letter, is to reassure them, briefly, that you are ready, willing and able to return to work.
4.) Do not mention salary requirements at all in a cover letter, nor during the first few interviews. Wait until the employer brings it up.
5.) As far as references go, you do not need to mention them in the cover letter or resume. But you should try to line up two or three references, even if they’re from years ago. (One of the three could be from your recent volunteer work, like the PTA president). E-mail or call your old bosses, tell them you’re seeking to return to the workforce, and ask them if they’re willing to serve as a reference. Assure them that you’ll only give their name and phone number to those who are seriously interested in hiring you. Thank them profusely. Although you haven’t spoken in years, if you did good work, they should be willing to vouch for you. And, who knows, maybe they’ll even have a job lead!
Sample Relauncher Cover Letter:
I am very interested in the A opportunity at Company B, and believe my skills and experience make me a strong candidate. As you can see from the attached resume, I spent X years doing very similar work as a Y at Z Company. In addition, I developed C skills in my D years at E Company. Although I have focused on my family for the last G years and have not worked for pay, I have kept up with developments in the field by reading Most Important Trade Magazines 1 and 2 and attending H conferences. I’ve also updated my computer skills so I’m ready to hit the ground running. Finally, my involvement with I Volunteer Organization has honed my organizational and interpersonal skills.
How to handle sticky situations in your cover letter
A few sentences in your cover letter can help explain a long gap in your work history. Check out these examples for help finding the right words.
Get inspiration for explaining your work history.
Are you wondering how to deal with a sticky work history issue? Whether you were laid off from your last position, took time off to raise children, or are looking to change careers, the cover letter is the perfect place to address potential red flags.
One caveat: Keep the explanation brief. Writing a cover letter is an exercise in selling yourself, so the tone should be upbeat and positive. Review these examples to get inspiration for explaining your sticky situation:
Last month, ABC Co. made the difficult decision to dissolve its operations, so I am available for immediate employment. I am eager to continue my ______ career and was very excited when I learned about your job opportunity -- it’s a perfect match to my qualifications and career goals.
Although I was a top producer for ABC Co., my position was eliminated during a major corporate restructuring. I have been searching for a position in the industry, but the economy has made positions in ______ very difficult to find. In the interim, I have been networking at industry events and keeping my skills fresh, but I am eager to resume my career in the ______ field.
(Note: Don’t disclose medical information that could jeopardize your chance of landing a job -- disclosure is your personal choice.)
After taking time off to undergo back surgery, I left ABC Co. (on excellent terms) to focus on my recovery. As I regained my strength, I went to school part-time and received certifications in ______ and ______. Now fully recovered, I have been given an “excellent” bill of health by my doctor, and am highly motivated to return to the full-time workforce.
Time off caring for an ill family member
In the last couple of years, I served as primary caregiver to my father, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. During this difficult period, I kept my work skills updated by independently studying ______ and actively participating in industry news groups. At this time, I am available to return to work, and am confident that I would be an asset to your team.
Time off raising children
After stepping away from the workforce to start a family, I am eager to resume my professional career now that my children are school-aged. I have kept my skills and connections current through active volunteer work, including leadership roles in school and charitable organizations.
I plan to relocate to ______ to be closer to family, and your opening presents an excellent opportunity. I am available immediately for a telephone interview and can arrange to meet in person on short notice.
Although successful in my ______ career, I have realized that the aspects of my work that I find the most rewarding are all in ______-related functions. I am currently pursuing a full-time position in this area, and am confident in my ability to excel in this field.
After building a successful small business (where I grew revenues from zero to six figures in two years), I recently closed the operation to pursue my passion for the ______ field. Your opening is an excellent opportunity, and I look forward to speaking with you about how I can help expand your operation.
Although I have changed jobs more than I would have liked in the past few years, I am searching for a position where I can make a long-term commitment. If you agree that my credentials are an excellent fit to your needs, please feel free to call or email me to arrange a meeting.
Most recently, I have contracted with ABC Agency and have completed a number of interesting assignments (detailed on the attached resume). While this work is rewarding, the short-term nature of temping does not let me provide the kind of enduring, value-added contributions I find to be most fulfilling as I could as a full-time team member.
Budget cuts required me to take a ______ position in order to remain employed, but I am confident in my ability to step back up to a management position and hit the ground running. I would welcome the chance for an interview to discuss your goals and outline ways I can help you achieve them.
Job search next steps
Now that you know how to handle a tricky job situation on your cover letter, it's time to get your resume in order. Want help making the most of your resume?Join Monster today today and get a free resume review from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. Our experts can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter, even with a tricky work gap.