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In the face of caregiver bias and unemployment bias, it’s important to help parents returning to work navigate the gap strategically. This includes helping clients tailor the approach to their career break uniquely for their LinkedIn profile compared with a resume that will be uploaded into an applicant tracking system (ATS).
On a resume, a “career break” or “full-time parenting” entry satisfies the ATS and bypasses any resume gap filtering parameter. As long as you aren’t immediately disqualified via knockout questions in the initial application process, your client’s resume has potential to meet recruiter eyeballs.
On LinkedIn, a “career break” for any reason, including “full-time parenting,” is weighted the same in the algorithm as “unemployed,” which hurts your client’s ranking in recruiter searches.
While many of the following strategies do not focus on highlighting parenting experience, full-time caregiving is valuable, skilled work. Supporting clients to structure their job search documents to mitigate potential bias can help them get to the interview stage – where they can talk up the relevant, transferable skills they’ve cultivated during their career break for caregiving.
A 2018 study, From Opt Out to Blocked Out: The Challenges for Labor Market Re-entry After Family-Related Employment Lapses, found that employers would prefer to hire an unemployed job candidate over a stay-at-home parent. According to this research, stay-at-home parents are seen to be unreliable, less committed and less deserving of a job compared with other candidates, and receive half the number of call-backs as parents who are unemployed due to job loss. ResumeGo found that including “Career break to raise a family” as a reason for a gap in employment received the lowest call-back rate.
A client’s resume can be a powerful tool to counter these misconceptions – provided they take an effective approach. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” for resumes for parents returning to work after a career break.
- Axe the word “Professional” from the header “Professional Experience.” Now, you can add volunteer and other unpaid work.
- Include side gigs, contracts, admin for the family business, consulting or volunteer work as separate entries in the “gap.” (Unpaid work should be clearly identified. For instance, the verb in the description could be “Volunteered …” or “Consulted pro bono …”)
- Include current/recent upskilling in the “gap” (e.g. courses, programs, certificates).
- Tell stories with numbers. Data shows impact. Ask your client:
- How many hours have you invested in X [coursework, industry research, etc.]?
- How many projects have you consulted for?
- What percentage of engagement increase / revenue increase / client retention was gained from your direct involvement in the family business?
- How many referrals have been made as a result of your excellent client management / customer service?
- What kind of budgets do you manage in volunteer positions (e.g. parent council)?
- What kind of community engagement did you foster/solicit/facilitate?
- How much money was fundraised each year that you worked on XYZ committee?
- What type and size of events have you organized?
- How many skills have you sharpened as a result of navigating (lack of) support or services for children with disabilities or illness or who are neurodiverse?
- How many hours of advocacy (letter writing, petitions, fundraising initiatives, etc.) have you invested?
- How often do you coach your child’s _____?
- How often do you host meetings to discuss planning/organization for XYZ?
- Use a “cute” or unusual title for your career break (think: “Master Domestic Chef” or “Child-rearing Goddess”). Applicant tracking systems may not recognize them. While your client might be creative or fun, ATS parsing won’t appreciate the humour. Leave the creative wordsmithing for the LinkedIn About section or cover letter.
Last year, LinkedIn introduced a new Career Break feature, where users could include employment gaps in their experience section, choosing from options such as health/well-being, layoff, bereavement – and full-time parenting. While some lauded the move, others raised concerns.
Trish Foster, DEI consultant and former executive director at The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University, advised proceeding with caution: “Putting this kind of status on your LinkedIn profile remains risky – discrimination against stay-at-home parents is still very much alive.”
However, there are other ways to use LinkedIn’s features to help your client put their best foot forward when returning to work. The “do’s” for LinkedIn have been adapted from career strategist Kevin D. Turner.
- Create a company page with a logo, then add a position, if your client has been consulting or doing pro-bono work.
- Advise your client to volunteer for an organization and add it as their current position.
- Add a self-employed or freelance position, if your client feels comfortable marketing their skills/services on sites like Upwork.com
Why should clients aim for these options?
- LinkedIn’s algorithm favours “All-Star” profiles, which are marked as complete when they match certain criteria, including a current employer.
- The “career break” option doesn’t complete your profile to satisfy the algorithm (if it is chosen as the first entry).
- “All-Star” candidates will rank higher in the results than jobseekers with “career break” as their current entry.
- Use the “career break” / “full-time parent” function for the most recent entry, as it ranks you lower in recruiter searches (because of unemployment bias).
- Use the “stay-at-home parent” option (because of caregiver bias).
The effectiveness of putting “full-time parent” (via career break function) or “stay at home parent” (via job title function) on one’s LinkedIn profile depends on the role and industry they’re targeting, and the company culture of prospective employers.
If your client’s target companies have incredible work-life balance, paid leave, maternity benefits, etc. and use these things to attract talent, and if employers comment publicly about the value parents bring to the table and it’s clear the industry would view a parenting hiatus in a positive light, then including “full-time parent” as a current entry on your client’s LinkedIn profile might be less risky.
Also, signal your client’s career break loud and clear if they’re solely focused on landing a returnship. This means creating a LinkedIn entry “career break” to effectively “call out the break.” Companies that recruit for returnships have criteria for accepting applicants into their programs, often requiring a 1-2-year career break. Recruiters for returnship programs will be able to locate potential candidates who meet the criteria by filtering for people with “career break” as a current entry. They’ll also be able to quickly verify that an applicant qualifies for the program if their LinkedIn profile is set up to clearly showcase a career break.
A resume and LinkedIn profile are tools to get clients through the door to talk to someone. Strategize wisely. Don’t invite bias out the gate.
To join the conversation on returning to work after full-time caregiving and to learn more about LinkedIn’s “career break” function, see my LinkedIn post.