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How to explain the resume gap when you opt back in

Addressing it in the cover letter is one good option

by Carol Cohen and Vivian Rabin  |  92496 views  |  4 comments  |        Rate this now! 

I’ve been out of the workforce for several years,” a reader e-mailed me. "Should I address the gap on my resume in a cover letter? What about salary requirements? And what do I do about the fact that all my references are from 10+ years ago, besides the PTA president? (I’ve already told my 12 year old that I’m not going to use her, even though she’s teaching me power point!)"

Here’s how I responded:

1.) If you haven’t explained the gap on your resume, then by all means explain it in a cover letter. In fact, even if you have a line on your resume about your career break, address the issue in your cover letter as well. Do it briefly and unapologetically. (See the sample below.) Do not go on and on about why you stayed home.

2.) The key is to address the gap (so prospective employers don’t think you were in jail or conjure up other unseemly excuses for your absence from the workforce) and make it clear that you’re ready to return to work now. Employers are less concerned about the gap, per se, and more concerned about whether you’re logistically and psychologically ready to work and whether you have the skills, despite your absence, to perform on the job.

3.) Your goal, in your cover letter, is to reassure them, briefly, that you are ready, willing and able to return to work.

4.) Do not mention salary requirements at all in a cover letter, nor during the first few interviews. Wait until the employer brings it up.

5.) As far as references go, you do not need to mention them in the cover letter or resume. But you should try to line up two or three references, even if they’re from years ago. (One of the three could be from your recent volunteer work, like the PTA president). E-mail or call your old bosses, tell them you’re seeking to return to the workforce, and ask them if they’re willing to serve as a reference. Assure them that you’ll only give their name and phone number to those who are seriously interested in hiring you. Thank them profusely. Although you haven’t spoken in years, if you did good work, they should be willing to vouch for you. And, who knows, maybe they’ll even have a job lead!

Sample Relauncher Cover Letter:

Dear _______:

I am very interested in the A opportunity at Company B, and believe my skills and experience make me a strong candidate. As you can see from the attached resume, I spent X years doing very similar work as a Y at Z Company. In addition, I developed C skills in my D years at E Company. Although I have focused on my family for the last G years and have not worked for pay, I have kept up with developments in the field by reading Most Important Trade Magazines 1 and 2 and attending H conferences. I’ve also updated my computer skills so I’m ready to hit the ground running. Finally, my involvement with I Volunteer Organization has honed my organizational and interpersonal skills.

About the Author

Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are the co-authors of the acclaimed career reentry book Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, and the co-founders of iRelaunch, a company providing career reentry programming, events, and information to employers, universities, organizations and to mid-career professionals in all stages of career break. They also blog at

Read more by Carol Cohen and Vivian Rabin

4 comments so far...

  • I disagree with pointing out the gap on a cover letter, as that is not the place to bring up anything about yourself that could be viewed as a negative in any way, so you certainly shouldn't draw attention to it.
    A gap in employment does not have to mean a gap on your resume. Unless they specifically require you to enter chronological work history, when you have those gaps such as are common with stay-at-home parents or military spouses, you should be using a functional resume format, instead. Learn to translate the skills you've learned both on & off the job into function area. Do not discount your volunteer experience, as it also can provide relevant skills & should be included.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by KP on 2nd June 2012

  • I have decided to return to work after six years. My child started school this year and I think it is time. The problem I am having is that I went from a stay at home mom when the economy was good and now looking for work then career now that the job market is very slow. I have plenty of office skills but no one seems to have any openings. I really think my issue is that everyone wants you to apply online so they can't meet me and then they see the hugh work gap on my resume. Well, its tuff out there but I wont give up.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by cali on 1st June 2011

  • Great article, ladies. This is often a sore spot for moms returning to work.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Roxanne Ravenel JobSearchCoach on 20th July 2008

  • I too recently returned to the workforce, and addressed this same problem and fears. I was able to seek the advice of a career counselor and we talked about what i've been doing during that large work gap. She helped me realise that though my resume wasn't about work skills in the work force that my time was a Domestic CEO (stay at home mom) i had picked up some very important skills that was just as valuable because they were in life experience skills. i was hired within a week.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by qweenblaz on 18th July 2008