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Articles by Wendy Enelow

Expert Resume Formats: Return-to-Work Job Seekers

By Wendy Enelow, CCM, MRW, JCTC, CPRW

This article is excerpted and edited from Expert Resumes for People Returning To Work (JIST Publishing).



Every group of job seekers has their own unique requirements and challenges. College students have to write resumes that showcase their "potential" talents; career changers have to write resumes that highlight their transferable skills; IT professionals and web designers must be certain to prominently display their current technology expertise in an ever-changing industry … you get the idea.


Returning-to-work job seekers have even a greater challenge for they have to overcome the stigma that is often associated with being unemployed. How can they create a dynamic resume that showcases their talents and achievements while simultaneously downplaying the fact that they haven’t been employed for a while?


Top 3 Recommended Resume Formats


In the following section, you will find three resume formats that are designed for specific returning-to-work situations. Begin by identifying which category is appropriate for you, based on your particular situation, and then utilize that specific format as a template for your resume.


Use the following as the foundation for your resume, customizing and reformatting as necessary to create your own winning resume that prominently displays your skills, qualifications, talents, achievements, project highlights, and career highlights. Remember, resume writing boils down to one significant challenge – writing and designing a resume that demonstrates your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or Unique Value Proposition (UVP) – what makes you a great hire!


Resume Format #1


This format is recommended for the following categories of returning-to-work job seekers:


·         Stay-at-home moms, dads, wives, husbands, and partners

·         After an extended illness, serious accident, death of spouse or child, divorce, or dramatic change in financial situation

·         After being a full-time caregiver

·         After retirement

·         After a long-term volunteer assignment or an extended period of travel and adventure

·         After a period of incarceration


NOTE: The above information is presented with the assumption that the job seeker has been unemployed for at least one year, a long enough period of time to change the resume format from a more-traditional chronological style (focuses on past employment experience in a reverse-chronological format) to a more functional style (focuses on skills and qualifications while still including, but de-emphasizing, specific employment history).


Resume Focus:


The focus of Resume Format #1 is on your skills, qualifications, project highlights, and achievements. You want to draw your readers’ attention to the experience, knowledge, and value you bring to their organization, so that you’re presenting all of the relevant and positive information as the primary component of your resume. Then, your employment history is succinctly presented – sometimes with brief descriptions and sometimes not – near the end of the resume so that you’re not drawing attention to the fact that you haven’t worked for years.


Primary Resume Components:


·         Detailed Career Summary (cornerstone of Resume Format #1)

·         Consolidated Listing of Employment Experience

·         Education


Resume Format #2


This format is recommended for the following categories of returning-to-work job seekers:


·         After earning a college degree, advanced degree, or other type of educational training and/or certification

·         After a sabbatical or other type of academic or research leave of absence


Resume Focus:


The focus of Resume Format #2 is on your recent academic, training, and educational experiences. These are your greatest selling points to a prospective employer, so you must be sure to bring them to the forefront of your resume.


Primary Resume Components:


·         Brief Career Summary

·         Education, Training & Related Experiences (cornerstone of Resume Format #2)

·         Professional Employment


Resume Format #3


This format is recommended for the following categories of returning-to-work job seekers:


·         After a layoff or extended period of unemployment (6+ months)

·         After owning a business

·         After relocating

·         After moving to the United States from a foreign country


Resume Focus:


The focus of Resume Format #1 is on your work experience. Just as with resumes you have seen for people who are currently employed, the #1 selling point you offer to a prospective employer is your work experience, even though it may not be current. Don’t be intimidated into thinking you have to “cover up” a great work history just because you’re not currently working. If your situation is one of the above, then this format is right for you.


Primary Resume Components:


·         Career Summary

·         Detailed Presentation of Professional Experience (cornerstone of Resume Format #3)

·         Education


NOTE: If this is your situation, you may want to be "creative" in presenting your dates of employment. Here are your options:


·         Rather than writing "2000 to 2004," which clearly communicates that you haven’t worked in three years, consider writing "4 years" as your date. In this situation, we’re not kidding anyone … it will be obvious you haven’t worked in a while. However, you can at least draw attention away from how long you’ve been unemployed and refocus on how long you were employed!

·         Position your dates "quietly" on your resume – where you have to almost look to find them.

·         Exclude your dates entirely. Although not my preferred option, it may be the right option for you.


Despite the fact that dates of employment generally present an "issue" for returning-to-working job seekers, if the content of your resume is strong enough and the visual presentation sharp enough, a prospective employer will most likely contact you to discuss your specific employment experience. If that happens, you’ve won! Remember, the sole objective of your resume is to generate action – a phone call, email, or direct personal contact. Then, it’s up to you to sell yourself, get the interview and land the job!