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Re-entering The Job MarketSue Campbell offers over 15 years experience as a professional resume writer and career management strategist.
by Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com

For whatever reason, you find yourself re-entering the job market after an extended absence. Not only do you need to overcome a lack of recent job experience, but hiring managers often view employed candidates as more desirable.

Does this mean you can't compete? No. It simply means that you may need to be more diligent in your search and have a more solid game plan in place.

 Answering the Question

At some point, you'll be required to answer the question, "What have you been doing?" The question is really asking, "Why haven't you been working?"

For parents who have been busy raising children, the question can feel a bit like an affront. You have been working, thank you. In fact, you have been working your tail off without pay. For others, the question can be a bit more complex. People leave the workforce in order to take care of sick relatives, because of personal disabilities or illness, due to accidents or recovery, because of incarceration, because of a poor past work performance, and a wide variety of other reasons.

It's important to remember that your goal here is not to defend your absence. Rather, you need to frame this time in your life so that it: 1) makes sense to a potential employer (is logical), 2) provides some perspective with regard to where you are today and what you have to offer for the future, and 3) becomes a non-issue.

That was then. This is now.

Being prepared to answer this question is your first step, because it may be the greatest obstacle in your job search - even if answering the question won't come into the process until many steps later. In order to do this effectively you need to be ready to define the:

"That was then."
What you were doing during this time period, what you gained or learned from the experience as a result (always focus on what you've gained, rather than anything you may have lost), and how this experience has or will impact you positively as you begin the next stage of your life.

and frame the "This is now" part of the equation, with great clarity. Be able to communicate what you have to offer and what you plan to do with your future. AND be able to communicate how the "this is now" part of your life is different from the "that was then" part of your life.

Initially, it's going to be your job to alleviate any potential concerns a potential employer may have regarding whether the the "that was then" issues will reemerge, to become, once again, present-day concerns.

If you are preparing to begin a job search several months from now, and are just beginning to research the steps for re-entry in to the job market, you are at an advantage. Use this time to learn a skill, take a course, volunteer at an organization (and gain applied skills), and network with others.

Evaluating What You Bring To The Table

You have applicable skills. This isn't a question. You have applicable skills.

You have something valuable to contribute. Every day you are using skills, real skills, valuable skills. And now it's your job to identify what these skills are and how they may benefit a potential employer.

Grab a pad of paper and pen or pencil. Start writing down every skill you possess that you can think of. To help you get started, the following is a list of skills that are valuable within most employment positions, many of which are skills you probably already possess:

  • Communication Skills
  • Problem Solving Skills
  • Mathematical Abilities
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Time Management Abilities
  • Project Management Skills
  • Sales Skills (are you able to influence the actions or decisions of others?)
  • Mechanical Abilities

  • Inventory Management Skills
  • Reading Skills
  • Writing Skills
  • Artistic Abilities
  • Computer Proficiency
  • Planning & Implementation Skills
  • Organizational (Organizing) Abilities
  • Coordination (Coordinating) Skills
  • Unique talents or Interests

Before you say, "no, no, no," really give this some thought. For example, communication skills have to do with how well one is able to communicate ideas to others and how well one is able to listen to the ideas of others and understand what has been stated. Problem solving skills are used by most of us, daily. Interpersonal skills have to do with how well we relate to others, our sense of empathy, and how well others relate to us, in return. Project management skills have to do with the organization of an event or project (isn't life a series of projects?); from concept through completion.

Next to each of the personal skills you've listed, write down where and how these skills have been used, and give real world examples. Write down everything you can think of.

For example, if you've been a stay-at-home parent and one of your responsibilities has been to manage the family finances, this implies a mathematical skill. It may also be a computer proficiency skill ("Taught myself Quicken to manage our checking, savings and mortgage accounts"). It may also be a time management skill. It may also be a financial management skill ("I restructured our accounts in order to pay off debt more quickly, saving $$$ in the first year").

Next, write down the benefits that have resulted from your efforts and contributions within these various skill sets. For example, using the situation from above, teaching oneself a software application, such as Quicken, is a computer proficiency skill and an achievement. If learning this software application allowed you to better manage the family finances, ensured that the bills were paid on time... if you kept precise, accurate documentation... and debt had been consolidated in such a manner as to generate an increase in savings because of the steps you applied, then these are all benefits from your applied skills.

Experience Doesn't Have To Be "PAID" to Count

If you've ever volunteered for or participated in any event or organization, this is experience. Experience doesn't have to be "paid experience" to count.

One of the best ways to gain applied experience is to volunteer your skills and services to an organization in need. Trade your time for the opportunity to learn or hone a new skill. There are literally thousands of organizations and associations that would gladly accept your offer of free time and service in exchange for training or the opportunity to gain a few applicable skills.

New graduates see: Resume Advice for the New Graduate.

Going Back In Time - Previous Work Experience

While you may question the value of listing employment history from a distant past, showing a potential employer that you have had work experience is important. It shows capability. When you're including this older work history make certain that you write your skills and responsibilities so that they're relevant to today's work environment. For example, there's no good reason to emphasize that the computer you worked on in 1983 operated on DOS. For current value and relevance, it would only be necessary to let your reader know that you did work on a computer and that certain responsibilities included the application of computer skills.

Don't fabricate the truth, either. It would look pretty funny to see Windows XP listed for a position held in 1992, and lying is a very good way to terminate all further interest.

Stick to the truth. Things are going to get much easier once you've secured that next position. Don't jeopardize your chances by lying. Have a little faith in what you can honestly accomplish.

Putting It All Together

There are two basic formats for resumes: reverse chronological, and functional.

A functional resume format focuses on skill sets and leaves job listings (titles, company names, dates, etc.) for last. While this may be one of the few times a functional format makes sense, I'd still suggest you avoid using it. Functional formats are mostly used by candidates who have gaps in their work history, who are applying for jobs outside their previous experience, who are trying to make transferable skills more apparent, or who are trying to "hide" other things - and employers and hiring managers know this. This makes a functional resume questionable from the onset. With no recent work experience, you already have one hurdle to overcome without creating another.

A reverse chronological format provides a logical listing of one's experience, moving from the most recent experience to the least. It can incorporate some of the features of a functional format (highlighting skill sets) without jeopardizing the integrity of the candidate.

To create a reverse chronological format, begin your document by creating a summary section that highlights those unique skills and characteristics you possess that will allow you to excel at the types of positions and companies being targeted. See free resume examples for some ideas on what a summary section looks like. Next, divide your document into headings that include "RELEVANT EXPERIENCE," "VOLUNTEER" or "COMMUNITY SERVICE," and "PREVIOUS WORK HISTORY."

Under "Relevant Experience," list any experience that is relevant to the jobs you're currently targeting, whether paid or unpaid. If all of your volunteer experience falls under this category, then forgo the "COMMUNITY SERVICE" heading and list all your volunteer positions here.

Use active action words to lead each statement of responsibility: "Led," "Directed," "Managed," "Assisted," "Provided," (see more under Resume Basics), and include the benefits and achievements of your efforts and contributions: "Enabled...," "Ensured...," "Secured...," "Increased...," "Improved...," etc.

Include an "EDUCATION" heading for any courses, certifications or education completed. If you've had some higher education, but didn't achieve a degree, then let your reader know how many credits you've completed or how many years you've attended. List the individual course titles if this will add strength to your presentation.

Review the other documents on this site for more information on creating an effective resume, as well as articles on the Do's and Don'ts of an Effective Job Search (lots of strategies you can apply, here), Interview Prep, Salary Requirements, and more. Also worth your review: Equal Employment Opportunity Laws - U.S.

If you find yourself getting stuck, don't hesitate to e-mail me. I'll be glad to help.

Should I Hire a Professional Resume Writer?  /  1st-Writer.com Services

See more articles on job hunting

Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help!


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This page last updated: 04/23/2012