Use your cover letter to explain gaps in your resume, experts...

Use your cover letter to explain gaps in your resume, experts say.  Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/ER_Creative

Life happens. Maybe you took time off to raise your child, to explore the world or start your own business. Perhaps a serious illness sidelined you, or you were a parent's or spouse's primary caretaker. For any number of reasons, you spent a few years out of the workforce.

When the time comes for you to jump back into working life, how to do you do that and get the results you want?

Be honest

Tell the truth about why you took time off. Let employers know that pause in your resume was reasonable, be it because of health problems, family responsibilities or starting your own business. "Let employers know you weren’t just dormant,” says Joe Flanagan, a senior career adviser at

Use your cover letter to say what your resume can’t. “Explain why you were out of the workforce. Emphasize ways you continued honing your skills and how that could be beneficial to the employer,” says Lauren Herring, CEO of Impact Group in St. Louis.

Focus on your strengths

Before you update your resume, reflect on your skills. “This is not about what you did in your past career, what your title was, but what you loved," says Addie Swartz, CEO of reacHIRE, a Concord, Massachusetts, firm that helps women return to the workforce. 

"What projects made you most proud? What were your best skills? Where did you make an impact? This assessment will help you decide where to go now,” she adds.

Do a tech refresh

Update your tech skills. Look for programs and workshops in your area from companies that offer advanced technology training to non-techies, says Swartz.

Get back in the mix

Volunteer, network with former colleagues, attend professional “meet-ups” where you can meet people in your industry.

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