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Guest opinion: A great resume tip for moms returning to the workforce

By Susan Madsen - Special to the Daily Herald | May 28, 2022

Susan Madsen

Many Utah women choose to take job or career breaks to raise children, with Utah ranking in the top 10 states for having at least one parent home full time with kids. But once their kids are all in school or are launched, most want to reenter the workforce — either part time or full time. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of mothers reach out and ask for advice on how to prepare to “get a job,” “return to the labor force” or “relaunch their careers.” Whatever phrase women may use, the resume tip I will provide is applicable to anyone who has taken a “career break” for caregiving responsibilities.

Let’s start by looking at some research so my tip will make more sense. First, researchers have studied the “motherhood penalty” for many years. Basically, the “penalty” happens when mothers seek to return to paid employment after having left to tend to children; they are automatically perceived — by men and women — to be less committed to their work and less competent, so they are less likely to be hired and are recommended lower starting salaries as well.

Second, in 2021, there was a study presented at a conference I attended on the topic of reframing resumes to facilitate mothers’ reentry to the labor force. The researchers did multiple experimental studies to measure illegal discrimination and find solutions. They were looking for a way to frame returning mothers’ resumes so there was less discrimination. They took a regular resume with employment dates (for example, customer service manager, 2015-2018) and instead simply listed the number of years worked (customer service manager, 3 years). They then gave to thousands of study participants four different versions: (1) a traditional resume with dates of experience and an unexplained career gap; (2) a traditional resume with dates of experience and an explained gap; (3) a traditional resume with dates of experience and no gap at all; and (4) a resume with no dates, but a focus on years of experience.

What they found was interesting. In all types of industries, regions and countries, the resume that had number of years (for example, customer service manager, 3 years) instead of any specific employment dates did better than any of the other three — even the one with no gaps at all!

So, what does all of this mean for Utah women (and men) who take career breaks to care for their children? Recrafting your resume or CV from “dates of experience” to “years of experience” can increase your callback rates. These researchers found that this strategy makes the experience you have more noticeable. Because these reframed resumes did better in their studies than even those resumes with no gaps — the researchers recommend this strategy for everyone.

All of us have biases and make assumptions, and this includes people who are doing the hiring in every single workplace in Utah. We all make quick judgements based on our notions about what an ideal employment history should look like, namely an unbroken, upward climb on the career ladder. This kind of unconscious bias punishes anyone who has stepped off the ladder. By reframing your experience, you can make it easier for hiring managers to see your experience rather than your career gaps. This simple change makes a difference. Utah women: You have more experience than you think. Don’t second guess yourself. Your experience and competence are needed in the workforce. Tweak your resume and send. You are more prepared than you think!

Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

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