How full-time parents can reclaim a full-time job

You don’t have to be paid for your efforts to list them as work experience on your resume.


Sonja Frye’s kids were getting older, and she decided she wanted to return to the workforce. The problem was, she didn’t have a resume. She hadn’t worked in years, she told her resume writer, Mandy Minor. What experience could she even put on a resume?

Frye had plenty of work experience, said Minor, co-founder and president of J Allan Writing and Design Studios, who helped Frye write a new resume. She just called it by a different name.

Minor interviewed Frye for several hours and mined a treasure trove of work experience related to her field that would impress any employer. Most of it was related to her position as a council representative to the advisory council of an 800-student elementary school in Florida. There she managed a $419,000 budget overseen by two leadership groups; it represented 100 stakeholders and drafted a 25-page report on the organization’s future direction.

She also served three years as co-president of an elementary school parent-teacher organization, where she managed 25 committees, appointed committee leaders and interim seats for five executive-level positions and raised more than $310,000.

Nothing to put on a resume? Hardly. Those are quantifiable results and verifiable work experiences. More to the point, treating that volunteer work as legitimate work experience did the trick: Frye’s resume, posted on a job board, caught the eye of a recruiter at an educational bookseller that services schools and school libraries. Fry was hired as a literacy resource consultant in November.

Frye is not alone in assuming that years as a full-time parent left her without work experience to impress a would-be employer. Many see their time away from an office as little more than household chores and grocery lists, said Minor and several other professional resume writers who spoke to Ladders. These job seekers disregard relevant work experience done as volunteers or on a part-time basis that can serve as the foundation for an updated, relevant resume.

Consider going back to your previous profession

Like many full-time moms, Elizabeth Moorehead had a part-time job: She worked a few hours per week as a sales clerk at J.C.Penney’s department store to earn some extra money. When her husband’s business hit a rough patch in 2008, she decided she needed to do more than earn a little extra money and began to plot a return to the workforce. Like Frye, she looked back at the past 16 years and didn’t see any current experience relevant to her previous career as a civil engineer. It seemed she would need to start over in a new career or take a less senior job in her profession.

Catherine Jewell, a career coach who recently published ” New Resume, New Career: Get the Job You Want with the Skills and Experience You Already Have,” helped her discover recent, relevant experience as an engineer.

Again, volunteer experience saved the day. Jewell discovered, when interviewing Moorehead, that she had kept her toe in the engineering pool. Thanks to volunteer work as a member of the Education Playground Committee of her local school board, she could list on her resume recent achievements including writing grant applications totaling $30,000; safety-testing equipment; vendor and supplier management on a limited budget; managing 100 volunteers; monitoring construction activities for environmental issues, such as water runoff, erosion and pollution; conducting a limestone inventory for her township to ensure safe groundwater resources; and redesigning a 20-acre park to protect the lake and native plant species.

Those accomplishments, plus her civil-engineering accomplishments from 16 years ago, went to the top of her resume, Jewell said. She used a functional-resume format rather than a chronological resume to highlight those skills. While it was more recent, Moorehead’s work at J.C.Penney’s was pushed to her work history on page two.

The process not only produced a more impressive resume. After several hours of interviews on the topic, Moorehead walked out with new confidence. She realized how current her skills actually were. She no longer felt out of practice.

Present relevant volunteer work as if it were paid

As Frye’s and Moorehead’s stories exhibit, the volunteer work is often directly related to an individual’s professional experience. Professional resume writers say it should be listed without apology on a resume, including all relevant responsibilities and achievements.

“I always ask clients what kind of volunteer work they do,” Minor said. “They teach courses on motorcycle safety, they lead a Boy Scout troop. I always encourage people to do stuff on the side. It really helps your resume.”

Beyond enhancing your resume, volunteering is a great way to meet people who might be in a position to hire or work for someone who is. It’s also a great way to stay curent and sane, Minor said. “I’m a parent,” she said. “If all I did was kid stuff, well, it’s just not healthy. You have to try to get out of that bubble.”

Start volunteering now

What if you’re a full-time parent who hasn’t been volunteering or working full-time? Start doing so as soon as possible, Minor suggests. Volunteer in an industry or profession that directly relates to your dream job. And while you’re embarking on your new volunteer career, make sure to keep track of the numbers so that you’ll have quantifiable achievements to list on your resume.

“Take notes,” Minor said. “Keep track of the size of teams, the amount of money you raise, and, even if you have to write a proposal, how many pages was the proposal or report. Anything to quantify what you’re doing.”

Consider carefully whether to include part-time or survival jobs

In a nutshell: Sometimes “Homemaker 1999-2009” can be more impressive than a fast-food or retail job, Jewell said. If you’re going to list part-time or survival jobs, try to stick to those that have some kind of relevance to your target job.

Consider a “boomerang” career change

The important thing when re-entering the work force after an extended absence is not to get your dream job right out of the gate. Instead, concentrate on getting your foot in the door, Jewell said. “From inside a company, you have greater options for career advancement.”

Moorehead applied for a job in the Water Resources agency in her home state. She was passed over for the job but was urged by the human-resources manager to apply for another job as an air-quality engineer in another department. Air-quality engineer is not her dream job, but she works within the same department, sitting across the aisle from the water-resources engineers. She’s hanging with them. They’re all buddies. When there’s an opening, she’ll be there, right across the hall. And she’s back to work.