Many Utah women choose to take work or work breaks to raise children, with Utah ranking in the top 10 states for having at least one full-time stay-at-home parent with children. But once their children are all in school or launched, most want to get back into the workforce, part-time or full-time. Over the years, hundreds of mothers have contacted me and asked for advice on how to prepare to “find a job”, “return to the workforce” or “relaunch their career”. Whatever term women may use, the resume advice I’m going to provide applies to anyone who’s taken a “career break” for caregiving responsibilities.
Let’s start by looking at some research so my advice makes more sense. First, researchers have studied the “motherhood penalty” for many years. Basically, the ‘penalty’ occurs when mothers seek to return to gainful employment after leaving to care for children; they are automatically perceived – by both men and women – as less committed to their work and less competent, so they are less likely to be hired and are also recommended lower starting salaries.
Second, in 2021, there was a study presented at a conference I attended on the subject of resizing CVs to facilitate the reintegration of mothers into the labor market. Researchers have conducted several experimental studies to measure unlawful discrimination and find solutions. They were looking for a way to frame returning mothers’ resumes so that there was less discrimination. They took a regular resume with dates of employment (e.g. customer service manager, 2015-2018) and simply listed the number of years worked (customer service manager, 3 years). They then gave thousands of study participants four different versions: (1) a traditional resume with dates of experience and an unexplained career hiatus; (2) a traditional resume with dates of experience and a gap explained; (3) a traditional resume with experience dates and no gaps at all; and (4) a resume without dates, but emphasizing years of experience.
What they found was interesting. Across all types of industries, regions, and countries, the resume that had a number of years (e.g., customer service manager, 3 years) instead of specific employment dates did better than any which 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 are taking career breaks to care for their kids? Redesigning your resume or CV from “dates of experience” to “years of experience” can increase your call-back rates. These researchers found that this strategy makes the experience you have more noticeable. Because these cropped resumes did better in their studies than even resumes without gaps, researchers recommend this strategy for everyone.
We all have biases and make assumptions, and that includes people who hire in all Utah workplaces. We all make quick judgments based on our notions of 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 left the scale. By reframing your experience, you can make it easier for hiring managers to see your experience rather than your career shortcomings. This simple change makes the difference. Utah Women: You have more experience than you think. Do not doubt yourself. Your experience and skills are needed in the job market. Adjust your CV and send it. You are better prepared than you think!
Susan R. Madsen is the Karen Haight Huntsman Professor of Leadership at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and founding director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.