Answering Common Questions about Career Reentry Resumes


Have you taken a career hiatus? Are you planning your reentry to the workforce? Recently I was asked these questions about writing a resume following an extended career break. If you are planning a reentry, some of these tactics may help you write your new resume. Also, check out the video, "Resumes for Reentry," located in the Podcast area of our website.

Do you mention your career break on a resume or try to fill the gap?

Every situation is unique. The following are three basic strategies. Your goal and history are unique. Therefore, you may use a variation or combination of these.

Break Statement:

Write a brief one or two-line career break statement when applying for a re-entry program. This calls attention to your break, which is one of the qualifications for such programs. Also, include a break statement when you do not have significant experience to fill your gap.

Filling the Gap:

Fill the gap when applying for a job (not part of a re-entry program) and when you have substantial, relevant experience. This experience could be a paid or unpaid position. It could be part or full time. Examples include: leadership roles at non-profit, part-time work, consulting, business venture, academic program, and more.

Limiting the Impact of the Gap:

Add relevant, substantial academic, volunteer, part-time, freelance, entrepreneurial, or other experience to bolster your candidacy. If it is not substantial enough to warrant filling the gap in the experience section of your resume, you can create special categories, such as “Community Leadership,” “Entrepreneurial Experience,” or “Additional Experience.”

How much experience (history) should be included on your resume?

The amount of history you show will vary by person. For some, it might be ten years. For others it might be 15 or 20 years.

How do you write your resume when your most relevant experience is 20+ years ago and your most recent is not as relevant to your goal? Or, what if your break has been 15 years and the relevant experience precedes the break?

Each situation is unique. Below are two examples of how one might handle a situation in which the relevant history is very early in the career and possibly 20+ years ago an at the bottom of the resume or excluded from the resume. If the most relevant part of your experience is at the beginning of our career, you can all out aspects of that history in the early part of your resume.

> Consider mentioning your early role in the resume profile, such as “Former U.S. Attorney” or “Co-Founder of Pied Piper.”

> Add a career highlights section beneath your opening profile section. Include 3 to 5 top accomplishments from any time in your career.

Is it necessary to show starting/ending dates for all jobs listed on the resume? What about graduation dates?

Yes, include starting and ending years for every job (2016 to 2018 for example). You do not have to include months. It's alright to show years only. You can omit dates for graduation if your graduation date is long ago and if you have a gap of time between your grad date and earliest job on your resume. The standard today is to only show a graduation date if you are a recent graduate and the date helps to explain why you have little experience.

What have been the biggest changes in resumes over the last dozen years?

> Resumes are more customized. It's wise to customize your resume for each submission.

> Your LinkedIn profile is equally important as a resume.

> ATS (Applicant tracking software is more prevalent.)

Does volunteer work go in the main body of the resume or in a volunteer section?

If the volunteer experience is substantial or highly relevant to your current career goal, you can include that in the experience section of your resume to fill your career break. If it is somewhat relevant but not as significant in duration or level of responsibility, it might be best to include it in a community leadership or volunteer experience section.

How do you write a resume when you have two career goals? How does it work if I have two resumes but one LinkedIn profile?

It is always wise to customize your resume for each career goal/target job type. Take advantage of the profile section of the resume and the areas of strength (AKA core competencies, areas of expertise) section of your resume to show how you are an excellent candidate for the target job. In other words, you are matching your skills and accomplishments with the requirements of the target employer.

However, LinkedIn should be more comprehensive so that it covers the skills/accomplishments for both (or more) goals. On LinkedIn emphasize the skills/accomplishments common to both goals. In the LinkedIn summary section, write it in such a way that you show a common thread between both goals. This could be through common skills, supporting accomplishments, or expertise. Also take advantage of the 50 spaces available on LinkedIn to insert your relevant skills.

Should I lead with recent coursework or put it at the end?

Degrees belong in the education section of the resume, which follows experience for an established candidate. Only a recent graduate would show education near the top (following the profile and area of strength sections. Also, you may have a section for industry certifications, or a section for professional development. If the education, certification, or recent coursework is highly relevant to your goal, mention it in the profile in addition to the education section.

What is the appropriate strategy for a technical candidate? Should they list technical skills on the resume?

If a candidate is a hands-on user of a technology, such as a programming language or database, they should create a technical skills inventory to house the skills that are relevant to their target job. Remove all antiquated technologies or technologies not useful in the target job. If you find that you have gaps in skills, update your skills and add them to your resume to bolster your candidacy.

Each person’s situation is unique so the strategy for the resume will be unique. Assess your history, activities during your career break, and your goal to make decisions. There is not a single answer to fit every candidate.

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