Whether you took time off from work to pursue personal interests like finishing school or exploring the world or if you were a stay-at-home parent, take ownership of your decision to leave the workforce when you meet with prospective employers. Re-entering the workforce after a lengthy or not-so-lengthy absence isn't an anomaly as many job seekers would believe. It's a work-life or career stage that you should be able to explain during your interview. Use your cover letter for the intended purpose: to give the recruiter or hiring manager a reason to actually read your resume.
The introduction to your cover letter should state that you're interested in learning more about the job you're applying for, where you saw the job posting or how you learned about the job. Two or three sentences usually is sufficient. If you were personally referred by another employee, always mention the referral in your introductory paragraph to help you make a greater impact. Brevity is a key factor in sustaining the reader's interest.
The purpose of your cover letter is to persuade the recruiter or hiring manager to give your resume attention and to contact you for an interview. Although you'll have to explain it at some point, refrain from excusing your absence from the workforce with apologetic language or tone. An effective cover letter emphasizes what you bring to the organization, not why you haven't been in the workforce. Nor does your cover letter attempt to explain how long you've been out of the workforce -- the reader can glean that from your resume. Use two to three sentences to explain your qualifications and your accomplishments using present-tense descriptions. For example, instead of writing, "When I was events coordinator for ABC Foundation from 2000 until 2005, I managed all of the fund development activities," write, "My qualifications include event planning and management for nonprofit and charitable foundations' fund development activities." The former version dates your work experience and it may lose the reader's interest by suggesting your knowledge and skills aren't current.
Instead of justifying why you should be considered for an interview, despite your absence from the workforce, describe work-related activities that you participated in during the time you weren't working. For example, if you maintained industry knowledge through continuing education coursework and workshops, weave into your cover letter current knowledge of your field. Likewise, if you donated your time to volunteer efforts that utilized your professional skills, include that in your cover letter as well as your resume. List volunteer positions on your resume using the same format as paid positions. Many employers won't be concerned about your absence -- they're concerned that you may have let your skills atrophy when you weren't working. Therefore, use your cover letter to emphasize that your skills are up-to-date and that you are worthy of consideration.
Bullet points draw the reader's attention to significant achievements in your career. Use two to four bullet points that quantify your performance or results in previous jobs. For example, if you're returning to the events management field, you could say, "My professional competencies include managing logistics for annual fundraising drives, venue selection, delegating committee assignments and negotiating vendors' contracts." Construct similar bullet points for both paid work and non-paid work.
End your cover letter using the same closing you would as if you were currently employed. Again, refrain from saying something like, "I am looking forward to returning to the workforce and would welcome the opportunity to interview with you." Reiterate your interest in learning more about the job, and close the letter with a phrase such as, "Thank you in advance for your favorable consideration."
About the Author
Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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Are you a mom or dad returning to the job market after having taken time off to raise your kids? Here are some tips about how your cover letter can make that transition a little smoother.
Many moms and dads who find themselves re-entering the workforce after one or many years of child rearing are unsure about their place in the current job market. If you're a re-entry job hunter, you may be scratching your head and asking questions like these:
- How do I explain so many years of "not working"?
- Do I have the skills to compete in the current world of employment?
- How do I market myself to an industry that has been zooming ahead while I’ve been busy changing diapers, shuttling kids, and doing volunteer work?
Before you put any energy into your job search, it’s important to know that your role as a parent, family manager, community volunteer, student, or freelance worker (to mention just a few of the things you might have been doing while your kids learned how to walk) is valuable and marketable to an employer. In these roles, you maintained and developed skills, many of which are relevant to your new job objective.
Although you weren't paid for work you did as a parent, your experience can be mentioned in your cover letter (and resume) with dignity and relevance. By the way, this applies to full-time dads as well as moms.
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Marketable Skills for Moms and Dads Returning to Work
Raising a family is hard work, requiring many skills. I don't need to tell you that — you of all people know! To prepare for your job search, make a list of the skills it took (or takes) to be the good parent you are. Your skills list might include the following:
Once you create your skills list, check off the ones that are relevant to your new job. Now you know what your marketable skills are from your family management experience.
Volunteerism Pays Off
Many employers feel that what a job seeker does for no pay speaks louder about her character and commitment than what she does for money. State your volunteer experience proudly in your cover letter (and resume) to demonstrate that you have the skills, experience, personality, and, yes, passion (perhaps for a relevant social cause or humanitarian effort) for the job you seek. To help you realize what skills you've developed through your community service, take a look at the following talents used by many volunteers:
Fundraising (aka "development" in the nonprofit world)
Now make a list of skills you used (or use) in your community service. Again, check off the skills that will be useful in your new job.
See how much you have to offer an employer? You just have to talk confidently about your skills and experience in your cover letter.
Susan Hamilton, a woman re-entering the job market after raising a family of 4 over the last 17 years. By speaking with dignity about her full-time parenting, Susan portrays it as an asset. Take a look: