Coming from a full-time caregiving role, re-entering the workforce can be daunting. For jobseeker parents – primarily mothers – boosting confidence in the face of a current resume gap is paramount. Here are eight tips for career development practitioners to better support parents with reaching their career goals.
1. Start with the right message: ‘You have value’
Full stop. Full-time caregiver parents’ work is not compensated. It is undervalued and often invisible. Accepting a caregiving role as “a labour of love” effectively wipes out all value from the plethora of transferrable skills in the mom tool belt.
You’ll see confidence is often low among clients anticipating (or in the throes of) workforce re-entry after a stint of full-time caregiving, and experiences of isolation and loss of identity are common. Full-time caregivers are more likely than working moms to experience sadness, anger, and depression; additionally, parental burnout is real across the board in the wake of the pandemic and is the number one mental health issue for full-time caregiver mothers, according to one psychotherapist focused on motherhood (Forbes, March 2023).
Validate the work your clients have done and the time they’ve put in. Show that you understand that full-time caregiving is an unpaid job that often feels invisible yet requires countless skills (e.g. adaptability, communication, collaboration, empathy). When a client feels like you “get” them, this increases trust and safety in the client-coach relationship.
2. Nail non-negotiables
After reflecting on goals, values, and skills that bring joy, the next step is to guide mom in assessing her current or approaching life “season.” For instance, a parent with young children might have a different capacity to take on work than a parent of teenagers. Other life shifts could include changes in their partner’s workload, access to childcare, recovery from illness/accident or relocation. Encouraging moms to know their season (and bandwidth within it) is foundational to making informed decisions toward a sustainable and enjoyable career path.
“Show that you understand that full-time caregiving is an unpaid job that often feels invisible yet requires countless skills.”
Non-negotiables may include compensation, hours, remote/on-site, company culture/values alignment, health benefits, paid time off, etc. The needs clients outline will help focus their job search by eliminating potential roles that don’t meet the criteria.
3. Align a fleshed-out personal brand to target roles (or vice versa)
Personal branding is the glue that holds mom’s candidacy together. Fleshing it out is an exercise in values alignment and finding joy in the skills she brings to the table. A solid personal brand brings life, energy and a contagious authenticity that is unique, solutions-focused and immediately relevant to employers’ pain points.
After targeting specific roles, her personal brand will bring consistency and focus to both the job search process and to her application documents (resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile/presence). Knowing what she does, for whom (target employers/industry) and how (unique value proposition) will help narrow the pool of target roles she’ll apply for.
Tip: If personal branding isn’t in your toolbelt, consider directing your client to resources such as this recent article I wrote.
4. Understand gap bias
A resume gap of six months (or more) is traditionally a red flag for employers for many reasons (all of which include bias). The reality is that a career break signifies a period where no consistent compensation was received. It has nothing to do with the quality or quantity of the activities occurring during time away from pay. Unfortunately, some applicant tracking systems (ATS) can be programmed to filter out resumes with unexplained (lengthy) employment gaps. Recruiters/hiring teams could also fill the gap with their own assumptions and biases.
Within/under the umbrella unemployment bias, caregiver bias is its own thing. When it appears that parents chose to care for children full-time over a career, doubts about commitment, reliability, less recent experience and even whether parents coming out of full-time caregiving are deserving of a job can cloud decision-makers’ judgment.
Always be up front and show the value of this time in career documents: Fill the resume gap with transferable skills from caregiving, volunteer work, contract work, a side-gig, or upskilling endeavours. Many clients’ resume gaps can effectively be eliminated by making entries for all relevant experiences (paid or unpaid).
Tip: A functional resume is often used to attempt to mask a career gap, but this format can be a red flag with hiring teams. Instead, stick to a traditional, reverse-chronological resume.
5. Encourage upskilling to fill resume gaps
It’s going to be tempting for moms to apply for the same role they had pre-baby, believing that those are the only skills they know or the only position they’d be hired for. However, online (and often free) resources for learning new skills are truly endless. Remind clients that while they may feel stuck with a particular position or industry, the reality is the opposite: Re-entry moms can reach for the stars and transition into a new role, given time and determination.
Inspire clients to enroll in an online course to start upskilling or reskilling toward their goal(s). This will increase their confidence and add a current, relevant entry on their application. Upskilling shows initiative and commitment to ongoing learning, demonstrates a growth mindset, and broadens target role options.
Tip: If clients are applying to roles while upskilling, they can indicate a course is “in progress” to ease the anxiety that comes with a gap. A short course completed over several hours or a few days is ideal to start.
6. Offer guidance for networking
Informational interviews are hands down the best way to learn more about a role, company, industry or career path. Parents may want to leverage the pre-baby skills they have and “pick up where they left off” – but there’s nothing preventing career exploration.
Encourage clients to have informal chats to gather insights about a new career trajectory. Better yet, provide ready-made templates for clients to use when reaching out to contacts. This can reduce the anxiety that often comes with networking in a professional environment for the first time after full-time caregiving.
7. Enlist partner’s support
It is crucial to encourage mom to have a conversation with her partner or support network about support during the job search (aka carving out time for research, networking and applying/interviewing) as well as mapping out what the division of labour for childcare and housework will look like after she begins working.
8. Coach for interview mindset
Coach clients to be confident about the gap if asked about it during an interview, which means a quick, 2-3 sentence nod to the parenting stint will suffice. Jobseekers should avoid getting off-track talking about parenting and instead redirect the conversation toward the current situation and what solutions they bring to the table for the employer. “Yes! I worked full-time caring for my child(ren) and I’m happy with my decision to spend that time with them. I did XYZ (measurable transferable skills relevant to target role) and learned (X and Y valuable skills). Gracie’s now in full-time daycare/school and I’m energized to get back to paid work and find a great fit for the skills [XYZ] I bring to the table.”