Employers today look at more than just what a resume says. They look at what it doesn’t say. If you’re re-entering the workforce after an absence or if you are entering the workforce for the first time, employers will want to know why. They aren’t necessarily looking for a detailed explanation as much as they want to know what will make you a good fit for their team.
So what can you do to make sure you shine upon your workforce entrance?
1. Start With Your Resume
Resumes don’t have to follow one strict chronological format. If you have employment gaps, focus on your skills and accomplishments with a functional resume. This format will highlight your skills and abilities rather than a timeline.
Use Years Only
When you do add your employment history, you can use years only, rather than months and years. If you’re asked during an interview about any gaps in the years of your employment, explain briefly, but honestly. Try to avoid a vague response that will draw additional questions. Focus on why you feel you will be an asset to their company and that you are looking forward to returning to work.
Include Volunteer Time and Additional Skills
If you don’t have any work history but have spent time volunteering, highlight that experience. Have you held any positions on committees, such as treasurer or secretary? Detail any bookkeeping, accounting or typing skills.
Have you organized a fundraiser for your child’s school sports team or clubs or sold Avon or Tupperware at home parties? You have marketing and public relations skills. Have you learned any computer skills, like Microsoft Office or website creation? List the software programs you’ve used and how long you’ve been working with them.
2. Gain Experience in What Interests You
Have you gone to school or college for a particular career field? Highlight what you’ve done to stay active in the profession. If you’ve decided to change your career field, find out if there are opportunities for intern or apprentice work.
Become an Apprentice or Volunteer
Consider taking an entry level, part-time or temporary position in that field.
If dog grooming is something you would like to do, ask a local groomer if they will take hire you part-time and teach you. You may start with just bathing dogs, and then shadow a more experienced groomer as you learn.
Parents who have volunteered at their children’s schools may consider taking a paraprofessional position at the same or a different school. If you have a unique skill or ability, such as playing a musical instrument, speaking a language or an aptitude for math or science, consider teaching or tutoring. Local community colleges or technical schools often hire adjunct instructors for their adult learning classes.
Remain Open to Opportunities
Sometimes, a direction may choose you. If your bake sale items sell out first, or at potlucks, everyone asks for your recipe, consider applying at a restaurant to apprentice with a chef or work at a bakery.
Are you skilled at organizing birthday or holiday parties? Consider working with a wedding and event planner to further hone your expertise. Often job opportunities are right in front of you if you look at what you enjoy doing and what you are skilled at.
One other tip to keep in mind: While starting your own business may sound appealing in the beginning, think before jumping into it. It is easier to find a full or part-time “day job” first and transition into your own business by making it your second or weekend job.
3. Network With Who You Know
Have you ever heard of the game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” It is based on the six degrees of separation concept that all living things are connected in six or less steps. In the Kevin Bacon version, a person calculates how they could be connected in six steps or less to Kevin Bacon. Successful businesses call that networking. Their success often comes from of word of mouth, and finding a job can be the same way.
Network by reaching out to people you know in the business you’d like to work in. Let them know you are looking for a job and ask if they can let you know if they hear of any openings. Reach out to family, friends and acquaintances. Consider creating a profile on LinkedIn and connect to people you know as well as follow industry newsletters and pages.
4. Look the Part and Practice Your Interview Skills
When you do get that interview — because you will — dress for success. Know what the general dress code is for the business, and make sure you appear clean and prepared to make your best impression. If you’re concerned about purchasing a whole new wardrobe and aren’t in a financial place to do so, some organizations help you find business suits and clothes for interviews, and sometimes the first few weeks of work until your first paycheck.
Have a friend “interview” you to practice. You’ll be able to decide how you will explain any gaps in employment so that you aren’t nervous.
No matter how you choose to re-enter the work force, learning as you go or following your dreams, be confident in your abilities — and in yourself.
Sarah Landrum is a lifestyle and career writer with a passion for equality and happiness in the workplace. She’s also the founder of Punched Clocks, a career blog for professional women to find happiness and success both at work and in their personal lives.