Resume and Cover Letter Tips for Those Reentering the Workforce

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Resume and Cover Letter Tips for Those Reentering the Workforce

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It’s quite common these days to leave the workforce, only to reenter it later. People take time off for a number of reasons, such as having and raising children, or deciding to go back to school. When it’s time to rejoin the workforce, one might feel like Rip Van Winkle, hardly recognizing the world after sleeping for so many years. Just a few years off will likely require readjustment to a job market in flux and to workforce dynamics that often change rapidly.

All that to say: your outdated resume and cover letter might not pass muster after your break. First of all, they’re probably not ready for the attack of the machines — and no, I’m not referring to the cyborgs in the Terminator movies, but to the ATS, or applicant tracking system, that may reject your resume and cover letter before they even have a chance to reach a living, breathing human. Companies swamped with applications have been using such computer software for a while now, and its purpose is to quickly screen out large numbers of seemingly unsuitable candidates. The ATS does so by checking your resume and cover letter for the right keywords and phrases — which explains why you simply can’t “blast” the same resume and cover letter to employers and expect results anymore. Instead, you need to tailor each document to the position in question by carefully integrating words from the job description into your resume and cover letter. Additionally, don’t hesitate to intersperse the text with industry-specific terms and acronyms — this scores points with both the ATS and the human reader.

Which leads us to the next tip: employ the services of a professional, if keyword optimization isn’t your strength. If you’ve been out of the workforce for a long period of time, your knowledge of the latest industry buzzwords is probably in need of some refreshment. Besides, it’s not easy to weave these words and phrases into the text in a manner that looks natural. If writing isn’t your strongest suit, consider hiring an expert to look over your resume and cover letter — hopefully this will increase your chances of moving past the ATS. You can alternatively also employ the help of the internet to both research industry buzzwords and put together your resume and cover letter. With the availability of online services to help you prepare for the job search, you can generate a cover letter in just a few minutes from your browser.


If you’re reentering the workforce, you may be unaware that some of the rules have changed when it comes to resumes and cover letters. With so many people applying to the few jobs out there, hiring managers can no longer devote much time to reading every resume and cover letter. Consequently, you need to adapt your application materials to their increasingly short attention spans. In most professions, your resume should be less than two pages, but one page is the preferred length. Avoid large paragraphs in favor of bullet points, and prominently display your contact information. If the hiring manager (or, for that matter, the ATS) has to put in extra effort to read your documents, don’t count on getting any callbacks.

Then there’s that huge, unavoidable hurdle: explaining your employment gap. It seems like employers have grown more intolerant of gaps in employment; at the very least, they’ll demand an explanation. Your best bet is to minimize the gap’s impact by not addressing it in your cover letter and finding ways to fill in the hole in your resume. Reflect on the worthwhile and productive activities and projects you’ve been involved in — for example, volunteer or community work. Resumes are not for showcasing only paid work. The time and effort you devoted to the PTA or charity work and fundraisers you’ve helped with can all be used to demonstrate your work ethic and teamwork skills. If you’ve been attending college classes or taking advantage of other continuing-education opportunities, include those on your resume.

You can get creative with your job titles if you’ve been earning money as a freelancer. When used correctly, the terms “self-employed” and “entrepreneur” can make a home-based business sound downright sexy. And if worse comes to worse, you can always use a functional resume format instead of a chronological format: group key skills and experiences by category, rather than arranging them in reverse-chronological order, as most often do.

Reentering the workforce after a prolonged absence is hardly easy, and the prospect of having to restructure your resume and cover letter might make you queasy. But this task is not optional; it is an unavoidable part of the process. Make the transition easier by embracing change: a new resume, a new cover letter, and in time, a new career.

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