Business writing is challenging to even seasoned professionals. So it's not surprising that often, when a woman decides to re-enter the workforce after a period at home as a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM), one of her biggest concerns is putting together an effective cover letter and resume. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be as difficult as it might seem at first glance.
Just as every great story starts with a compelling introduction, you will want to prepare an effective "Cover Letter" to accompany the resume you send to prospective employers.
Your objective is to grab the attention of the readers by showing how you are the right person for this job and to entice them to review your resume.
Start by giving reasons for your interest in working for this company. Let them know how you can meet their needs by drawing correlations between a couple of major requirements and challenges listed in the position description and your experience, skills and accomplishments. Be concise and professional. This is also your opportunity to mention any updates to your contact information and availability (like the best time of day and the best number to reach you). You will want to be gracious and thank the readers for their consideration. The cover letter can determine whether or not your resume will even be reviewed, so making the effort upfront to give the readers an interesting and meaningful “snapshot” of you as a candidate may very well impact your opportunity to make your case in a job interview.
Just as your cover letter is your introduction, your resume is your marketing material, your "brochure," your sales tool. As such, it's important to understand which resume format is best for your unique needs. The two most common resume formats are "chronological" and "functional."
The chronological format is the most widely recognized, with former positions listed in reverse chronological order. A SAHM who has not been out of the workforce very long, or one who has a rich and relevant history of volunteer/community work, might choose a chronological resume format.
Other SAHM's should consider a functional resume. The functional resume is often a better choice for those with gaps in their employment history or lack of relevant work experience, as this is a format that highlights skills rather than specific experience.
It's important to recognize the impact of a targeted resume versus a more generic one. We recommend all candidates craft a resume template that they can then customize quickly on a position-by-position basis; or, at the very least, create different versions, specific to the types of positions they are seeking. (For example: a customer service oriented resume, an administrative oriented resume, a banking resume, and an insurance resume.) These would, of course, include a more targeted objective or qualifications summary, as well as highlight specific skills of value to the organization for the position sought.
Electronic versions of your resume, in different, common file types, should be kept handy for emailed responses to online job postings. It's also common for resumes that are copied and pasted into the bodies of emails to lose their formatting when the email is opened. We recommend a plain text version for this application or, better yet, send your resumes as attached files.
Today, recruiters or hiring managers report spending only twelve to twenty seconds scanning a resume before deciding if they will interview a candidate. To pass this initial scan, it's critical to create visually pleasing resumes with consistent style. We recommend looking into the many templates available online or in common software packages. Bulleted formats deliver the most information in the shortest time, and create a nice visual balance between text and white space.
Keywords or buzzwords (descriptive action words to describe accomplishments on your resume) are also important to utilize, especially for electronically submitted resumes that may be pre-screened by software programs that scan for relevant keywords. One way to include more keywords is to set your font color to white or transparent and include a single line of "invisible" keywords across the very bottom or top of your resume. The computer will be able to read them, but as they will match the background color of the paper or computer screen, they won't print or be apparent to a viewer.
For many SAHMs re-entering the workforce, age discrimination is a real threat. By listing terms rather than dates on your resume, you make it more unlikely that a reader can determine your age. (ie: "Ten year experience" rather than 1990-2000). Years of graduation are also not necessary on your resume. It is commonly recommended that cities and states of schools attended and jobs held be included, however.
References should be listed on a separate sheet of paper with the same heading style and font as your resume and cover letter. References should not be included with your resume when it is submitted for a position; instead, bring this to the interview. It goes without saying that your references should have already agreed to provide you with a recommendation and that you have personally checked their contact information for accuracy.
Finally, because presentation is so important to a resume's effectiveness, you should always print your resume on a good quality, heavyweight paper, using a classic font (no smaller than 10pt). Consistent style in the cover letter, resume, reference sheet, and envelope are good rules of thumb. For resumes that are mailed in to the organization, we recommend a large envelope that can accommodate the documents without folding them, for a crisp presentation.
This post was contributed by two former stay at home moms, Valorie Margalit and Dawn Walker, and now Interview Angel team members. The next post in our series about returning to the workforce will cover job search tips for SAHMs, such as the importance of lining up reliable childcare, transitioning your family smoothly, and effective job search methods in today’s competitive employment market. We invite you to tweet or link to this post if of value to you, and please add your stories and comments to our discussion so we can address specific concerns in future posts.