Career-orientated people don’t make a habit of missing work, but sometimes things beyond our control can pull us out of the workforce.

Anyone can face an employment gap, but women are especially prone to them, which can exacerbate the wage gap, contribute to low numbers of women in the C-suite, and leave younger women without female mentors and advisors in the workforce. Part of the reason for this is biological. We have the babies, after all, so it is normal for us to take extended maternity leave or stay home with our children for several years. (That said, both paternity leave and stay-at-home dads are becoming more visible.) What’s more, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, women may account for as much as 75 percent of all family caregivers.

Having children, caring for an elderly or sick family member, and/or being laid off are all legitimate reasons to have an employment gap on your resume. In general, employers understand these absences are circumstantial and don’t reflect poorly on your work ethic or professionalism. However, it is still important that you explain the gap to future employers, framing it as positively as possible.

For example, when I introduce a job candidate with a resume gap, I’m sure to highlight any work the candidate did during their absence that could be relevant to the new role. That work could take the form of serving as a consultant to their previous company, doing volunteer work, or taking classes. If you weren’t able to do any of those things during your employment gap, just be honest and positive about what you were doing. For example:

“My dad became ill and needed my help, so I took a leave of absence to care for him. Things are great now, though, and I’m eager to jump right in and focus on my career again. I’m ready to put all of my energy into my job to make a real difference.”

Make the Most of Your Time Off

If you are facing any time off in the future — whether as the result of a layoff or by design — there are things you can do during your gap time to keep your attitude strong and make your eventual reentry into the workforce smoother:

1. Stay Engaged in Your Industry

When possible, do paid or pro bono work related to your field, stay in touch with your professional network, and keep abreast of what’s happening in your industry. These actions will not only ease your return into the workforce but also fuel your self-esteem. Feeling out of the loop can lead to a loss of confidence, but you can maintain your psychological and professional strength by staying engaged with your field even while you’re out of work.

2. Volunteer

Working with philanthropic organizations looks great on your resume. More importantly, it helps others, and it can be tremendously gratifying.

3. Maintain a Consistent Routine

This is especially important if you’ve been laid off and are actively looking for a job. Get up early and pretend you’re going to work, even if you’re actually just going to a coffee shop to research and apply for jobs. Plan to meet two people in your field each week for coffee to network or build new relationships. Maintaining your career mindset is critical to making a smooth transition back into the workforce.

4. Get Your Resume Into Shape

You may not have needed it for a while, so take time now to update your resume, adding in any industry and volunteer activities you’re engaged in currently. If you’re actively looking for a job, then share your resume with your contacts. If not, your resume will at least be ready when you launch your search!

5. Research Recruiters

As you prepare to go back to work, identify a recruitment firm (or multiple firms) that might be able to help you find the right opportunity. Most recruiters are paid by the employer, not the candidate, so you could have someone looking out for you at no charge. Find a recruiter who is responsive, engaged, and interested in supporting your career goals.

Don’t let an employment gap on your resume hold you back from pursuing a new career opportunity. Just be honest about your situation and show potential employers how committed and enthusiastic you are about getting back to work. You will find the right fit!

Ariel Schur, LCSW, is CEO and founder of ABS Staffing Solutions.

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