How to transition back into the workforce after caring for a sick relative

Tackling a job search always feels overwhelming — especially when you have a large gap on your resume after becoming the full-time caretaker for a loved one who fell ill.

Considering that 61% of caregivers have experienced some sort of change in their employment — be it decreasing their hours, receiving a performance warning, or even giving up working entirely — due to caring for a loved one, it’s understandable that you’re afraid the career detour could hinder your job hunt.

Beyond that, you’re left with a lot of lingering questions. Should you openly address why you were out of the workforce for that time? Or, is it better to wait to see if you’re asked? Will employers think less of you because of that time off?

Here’s what you need to know about getting back in the game after taking that time off.

1. Be honest

If there’s one thing that’s bound to poke holes in your confidence during your job search, it’s that gap in your employment.

Before you rush your resume out the door, consider whether you have something to help fill in that blank space on your resume, even if it’s not conventional paid work.

“This may be volunteer work that you did, as long as your volunteer work is related to the type of work that you want to do,” explains Victoria A. LoCascio, President of Ace Your Interview. Or, perhaps you did some consulting work on the side while providing for your sick relative or friend.

Still, many people who were consumed with caregiving and are now looking to rejoin the workforce may not have had any free time for side jobs. In those instances, it’s best to be up front and honest about why you stepped away from office life —rather than waiting for an employer to ask you about it (or worse, make assumptions). Most people can relate and sympathize with needing to sacrifice personal goals in order to prioritize the needs of family (whether it’s a new child or an aging parent).

When and where you choose to explain your employment gap is up to you. Some people choose to include it directly in their cover letter — for fear that they may not get an in-person chance to explain that gap — while others wait to see if they land an interview to divulge that information. There’s not one right way to go about it. Ultimately, it’s up to what makes you most comfortable.

2. Extract value from your experience

Your time away from work was anything but a vacation — more often than not, it was stressful and incredibly trying. But, it was probably enlightening as well.

When you go through a challenging experience, you’re bound to learn a few valuable lessons. Highlighting those can make for an incredibly powerful career story and piece of your overall personal brand.

Perhaps you were taught the importance of patience, dedication, and priorities (or all of the above). Or, maybe that experience revealed an entirely new career path you want to explore.

Those are critical things that you may or may not have realized had you not taken that time off. So, don’t forget to look at your employment gap with a more positive spin and pull out some of the valuable things you learned.

You only need to share as much detail as you feel comfortable with. But, emphasizing those lessons is an effective way to show prospective employers that your time off was more than just a break from work — it was an important chapter in your entire story.

3. Do your research

Research is the foundation of any successful job search. And, this is especially true when you’ve been far removed from the working world for a longer amount of time.

Before pulling together your resume, it’s time to brush up on what’s been going on in your profession. Have there been any major industry shifts or updates? Is there something new required of people in your field — meaning you need to expand your skill set? Has the technology you used to use as part of the job changed?

The world moves at a rapid pace. So, whether you were caring for your loved one for a couple of months or a couple of years, it’s worth taking the time to figure out exactly what you need to do to remain competitive in your chosen field.

With that knowledge in your back pocket, you can knock the cobwebs off your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile and give them a much-needed refresh. Remember, including information that’s seriously outdated or no longer relevant to your desired position is a surefire way to find your application in the hiring manager’s wastebasket.

4. Put yourself back out there

Once you’re feeling a little more confident about what sort of value you bring to the table, it’s time to take a deep breath and start putting yourself out there once again.

“First, sign up for daily alerts on LinkedIn and Indeed for job titles in which you may be interested in applying,” shares LoCascio, “Apply to as many positions as you can during a two-week to three-week period when you start your job search.”

LoCascio explains that this sort of strategy will hopefully keep things moving at the same pace and thus supply you with more options— meaning you won’t feel like you need to accept the very first job that’s offered to you.

Your network can be another powerful asset to you as you hit the ground running in your job search as well. Reach out to industry peers, past colleagues, friends, and really anybody else that you think might be able to help you in order to let them know that you’re restarting your career.

Considering that one study claims that 85% of all open jobs are filled via networking, it can’t hurt to reach out to your web of contacts and enlist their help in your search for a new position.

5. Don’t apologize

The fact that you’re a little rusty in your profession is enough to inspire sweaty palms and some feelings of guilt or embarrassment, but cut yourself some slack.

While offering some explanation for that gap in your employment is understandable (and oftentimes even encouraged), resist the urge to profusely apologize for it — it’s nothing to feel shameful about. Quite the contrary, in fact.

“Taking time off to care for a relative is okay for your career, and it’s admirable,” concludes LoCascio, “Show companies that you are ready to re-enter the workforce and give 110% to your job, and you will be able to land a new role.”