Stay-at-home mothers looking to go back to work are benefiting from today's prevailing thinking about women who take time away from the workplace to raise kids. In a nutshell, these are women who can — and have — done it all and who would be assets to their future employers.
"Being a mother is an asset, not a liability," says Sarah Olin, an executive and leadership coach who's worked with clients from Amazon and Google and who founded Luscious Mother, a collective of coaches who work to empower women in their careers. "Mothers are smarter, better at improvising and problem-solving, and more organized than they've ever been before."
However, the trick for many women is learning how to articulate your skill set and how you've used these skills during your time away from the traditional workforce. On that front, there's good news.
Thanks to the pandemic, there's been a groundswell of understanding of just how much mothers are juggling; between managing online schooling, increased domestic duties, and their remote work, mothers are wearing more hats than ever before.
LinkedIn recently acknowledged this by adding "stay-at-home-mom" as a possible job title to its profile options. This is an important move, according to Olin, because "moms make things operate more efficiently. We are Chief Everything Officers. And employers need to know that.
Here are seven tips for what you should put on your resume after time spent as a stay-at-home mother:
1. Update your mindset
In the past, when a mom took time off to raise children, she was counseled to use a resume format that de-emphasized her work history so that her absences were less noticeable. That's not the thinking for all women returning to work anymore.
In fact, in May 2021, HeyMama, a membership-based online community for working mothers, launched the #motherhoodontheresume initiative to "validate the unpaid labor of moms, de-stigmatize taking time off from work for motherhood, and recognize the strengths moms bring to their professional lives" by adding "mother" to their LinkedIn profiles. Further, LinkedIn recently began allowing users to use "stay-at-home mom" or "stay-at-home dad" as a job title on their profile as part of the company's goal of providing more ways for job seekers to explain gaps in their employment history.
"No more apologies for taking time off," says Olin. This means that stay-at-home moms with gaps on their resume aren't limited to a functional resume format anymore. If you've been away from work for a few years but have substantial experience in the field to which you plan to return, a chronological or combination resume format that notes the dates and reasons for your absence is perfectly fine to use.
2. Own your story
Everyone's career tells a story. The functions you've performed and the projects you've worked on all add to your unique skill set. Your job is to figure out how to explain it to potential employers.
"Look for a narrative thread in your career path and focus on the outcome of what your work delivers," says Katie Fogarty, a career strategist and the founder of The Reboot Group, a consultancy that's worked with employees from American Express and Fox News. Because ultimately, "a company doesn't hire you just because of where you've been, but because of what you can bring to them," Fogarty explains.
Whether you are focusing on past professional accomplishments, successful volunteer work during your hiatus or educational or professional growth opportunities you pursued during your time away from work, using data and metrics to quantify your achievements can help prospective employers understand what you'll bring to the table.
3. Highlight your transferable skills
Is there something you've done or participated in during your time out of the office related to your role at work, like being a leader in a community organization or fundraising for your child's school or daycare? "Even if you weren't paid for it, it's still relevant experience," explains Selina Meere, vice president of marketing and business development of Park Place Payments, a woman-owned fintech company with a direct sales force composed mainly of women who are re-entering the workforce.
So, add it to your resume in a way that sounds professional and highlights how the skill will be helpful going forward. Use similar language to describe an accomplishment at work, such as advocated, improved, lead, achieved, resolved, strategized. And, as mentioned above, always quantify your achievements using data and numbers.
If you're still on parental leave and can manage some time for an online course or anything that might refresh your skills, Meere recommends doing it. "Think about it as investing in yourself for the long run," says Meere because it will bolster your expertise and give you something new to put on your resume.
4. Don't make assumptions about attitudes
While it's true that many industries are becoming more understanding of the challenges facing working women and are trying to create onramps for women to return to the workforce, progress can be slow. That's why choosing what you highlight in your background is critical to success.
"More traditional industries just aren't there yet," says Gina Hadley, the co-founder of The Second Shift, a platform that connects qualified female candidates to companies that offer family-friendly professional opportunities. "So, be cautious about presuming that these new norms are universal."
To that end, you'll want to write a resume that focuses on what you'll bring to the table if you are hired, rather than solely on the responsibilities you had as a stay-at-home mom. Before sending your resume, research the company online to assess its vibe and how family-friendly it appears. Are there women in top positions? Is there any information available about the company's corporate culture? Once you have a feel for that, you can better decide how to talk about your time at home.
5. Choose the right resume format
If you just took a few months or a year to bond with your baby and apply to similar roles like the one you held before the baby, a combination or chronological resume format is fine to use. However, If you've been out of the workforce for many years or are looking to make a career change, using a functional resume format is a better way to organize your skills and experience.
A functional resume format will allow you to downplay a short or spotty work history and highlight critical skills you possess. This format will enable you to organize your skills by category, such as "Organizational Skills" or "Management Experience," which can help you corral skills and experiences from different parts of your life — parenting, volunteering, and professional — under easy-to-scan headers.
6. Customize each resume to the job ad
Another tip: Make sure the language on your resume mirrors what's in the job posting. For example, if they're seeking someone who can "organize" and "oversee," or "conceptualize" and "follow-through," use those words in the descriptions of your skills and accomplishments.
Today, many employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes for critical keywords to weed out unqualified applicants. Choosing language that matches what's in the job ad will help your resume pass through an ATS and onto the desk of a human recruiter.
7. Realize your resume is only one piece of your application package
Resumes are essential, so it's critical to have a clear, thorough, and well-designed one. But in today's job market, "they're just one piece of the pie," says Olin. "Today, it's about relationships, humanity, and connection. It's about who you are and what skills you have. It's your values," Olin adds.
Fogarty also wants you to remember that since it's hard to explain your whole career story on a paper resume, it's essential to use other career resources such as a well-tended LinkedIn profile and a cover letter that explains why you're suited for the available job and what value you can bring to the company. These are crucial tools, Forgarty explains, for elaborating on how the skills you acquired during a gap make you an even better candidate.
Ultimately, it's time to recognize that mothers' experiences at home can be valuable in the workplace. But for that to happen, moms have to reframe how they think about their time away and be proactive about integrating their new skills into what they can offer. Once that's mastered, Olin believes that "whatever it is that you want — it's all possible."