This post is the first of several where I will share the information I picked up while interviewing Tanya Clonan from Resumes Plus. She is an expert in the field of job search and resume creation and I have picked her brain on everything from what to do while you are still on leave to what to wear to an interview to what to include on your resume.
For many mothers considering a return to work creating or updating your CV / resume is the most overwhelming step to take. Depending on how long you have been at home there are so many questions about how to do this, what to include, what to leave out, how to phrase things in such a way that you land yourself the coveted interview.
Since this is a series about returning to work I am assuming you have created a resume in the past so have not asked Tanya too much about how to actually write one in general. My questions to her always focused on things in the context of mothers who have been at home and are now facing accounting for the gap in their career, possibly looking for flexibility, getting back into the frame of mind needed for a job search etc.
If you need help creating the actual basic structure of a resume / CV you can use a firm like Resumes Plus (Tanya will review your existing CV and give free feedback as to whether she can help you), get a few books on CVs and job searches, or read freely online.
How far back should you go?
This question almost feels like “how long is a piece of string?” The answer will vary from person to person and depend on how long you have worked and what you did. In Australia you generally include 10-15 years on your CV. If that period fully covers your skills then you can stop there. If a role prior to that period demonstrates a key skill you need to include then do so. If you had a long break you would go further back to include all your relevant experience.
What information should you include?
The number one question to keep in mind as you write your resume is this: “am I adding value?” Ask yourself that constantly. Are you adding value by including that piece of information or is it just extra padding or worse – does it detract from your resume. Recruiters have too many resumes to read through and you cannot guarantee they will read every word on your resume – make sure the ones they do read count and create the best possible picture of you and your skills. Don’t waste their time and don’t lose your chance to impress them by mentioning random facts or generic information. If what you include does not add value it will actually detract from what does.
As an example, when considering what to include from your time spent at home:
Leave off – short term roles like 3 months spent selling tupperware (unless you are now going for a sales job) or volunteering reading in your child’s classroom.
Include – things like project managing a home renovation for a year or a volunteer role that included committee work or some management of people or a project.
In my own research I saw several mentions of including your parenting and home duties and putting a corporate spin on them (ie time management skills demonstrated,etc), but both Tanya and my other interviewee (Jo – a Human Resources manager I will feature in another post) said you can’t sell “running a household” on your resume. Jo advised that “career break – parenting” implies all of the usual duties, volunteering etc and only to include details of major roles like P & C president at school rather than the more common tuck shop duties, classroom involvement, household juggling etc. Obviously this comes down to the advice you find and decide to take in your own case, but always come back to the filter of “is this information adding value to my resume?”
If I have two (or more) skill sets should I have 1 combined resume featuring both?
Perhaps you have changed careers or while you have been at home you set up a small business from a hobby. Whatever the case we return to the value question. Your resume should always be job specific so tailor it accordingly to each job you are applying for. In each case think about whether the skills transfer across industries. If they do, then include them on the resume. If you had a side business that was not relevant, and did not increase your skills related to the job you are applying for, then leave it off. If the role explains a gap in your timeline then include it (ie spent three years on a photography business). Always talk about the skills rather than the industry or business type.
What should I include in the “profile” section of my resume?
This is the first part of the resume and should be a summary of your work career / progression. This would be a short paragraph that sums things up for the recruiter and then you have the opportunity to expand on this in the interview. For this, and all sections of your resume, don’t feel pressure to include every detail of your career and time at home. Your CV is the marketing tool that gets you the interview. In the interview you have the opportunity to expand on things and answer specific questions. You want your CV to make the recruiter want to continue the exploration in person and need to leave some details for that stage.
How do I convey to recruiters that I am serious about returning to work?
As I said above you can simply address the gap in your career with the line “Career break – Parenting” or another variation on that wording. What you want the rest of your resume to convey is “I chose to stay at home, I am ready to go back to work now, and this is what I have done to prepare”.
Demonstrate that you researched what was needed for the role you are applying for. Did you take a course to update your skills specifically to prepare for a return to work? Have you highlighted your specific skills within your resume and given evidence of how you have demonstrated these skills in the past? Rather than using terms like “good communication skills” you need to be specific with language that shows how you have used these skills in various jobs (ie Wrote newsletter distributed to offices in our network or wrote and presented marketing materials and promotional campaigns).
If you are returning to work in a new industry or at a lower level than you left (common scenario) the pressure to demonstrate knowledge is less than if you are trying to return to your previous role or level. In that case you need to show how you kept current and in touch with your industry and specific skill sets.
How should you handle references if you have been away from work for a long time?
It may be tempting to ask non-work acquaintances and those who know you currently from school volunteering for references. For the sake of a return to work you should seek out referees from your previous jobs along with supervisors if you have any deep voluntary roles (ie if you are the president of the P&C or have been volunteering for years in a job skill -related role somewhere while on career-break).
Update your information on old references – find out their current positions and contact details, get in touch and ask if you can use them as a telephone reference at the very least.
For written references you may have received as you left previous jobs Tanya suggested pulling out a quote of 1 or 2 sentences to put with the job role details in your resume.
Additional reading online:
This article by Penelope Trunk on “How to edit your resume like a professional resume writer” reiterates and adds to what we learned from Tanya. Sample quote “A resume is like a first date. You only show your best stuff and you don’t show it all.”
This Forbes article is about writing cover letters.
Although American, this site has many templates and examples which can help you format or figure out how to word things on your resume.
Do you have any tips to add based on your own experience? I would love you to share them in the comments.
Find your simple,
About Tanya Clonan and Resumes Plus: Click through to read more about what services they offer.
“At Resumés Plus, we are experts in our field. It’s our responsibility to establish what it is that you have to offer the employer that others do not. We achieve this through ensuring that all your relevant achievements, expertise, career history and attributes are clearly demonstrated to give you the competitive edge over other candidates.”
This post is part of a series on mothers returning to work.Below are all the posts in the series.
Return to work series:
Getting started - with Allison Tait (and giveaway of Career Mums book which ends July 19)
While on leave - career breaks
On Flexibility - temp jobs, flexible hours etc