Stay-At-Home Mom? How to Fix Your Resume

Workshopping your resume
Workshopping your resume

No one needs to tell a stay-at-home parent how much work she does. (The answer? All of it.) But often, someone does need to help her figure out how to craft her resume.

For a military mom dealing with an empty nest, an upcoming transition or an important life change, that challenge can be all too daunting. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

"I'm Mom, Family CEO," says Jill, a 43-year-old Air Force wife. "Some people say being a stay-at-home-mom is not a job. They clearly haven't done it."

Jill is mother to three girls and wife to an all-too-frequently-PCSing airman who relies on her to completely manage the household.

"He works at work, I work at home, that's the way we see it," she says. "I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. It's my favorite thing."

With her SAHM job comes a laundry list (quite literally) of to-dos. "I balance the checkbook. I pay the bills. I buy the groceries, make the dinners, plan and pack the lunches, order the soccer uniforms, coordinate the family visits, file the taxes, stay on top of the prescriptions, meet with the teachers, volunteer at the PTA, do everything related to the PCS, feed the kids, put them to bed, make sure everyone lives and thrives, and still manage to get makeup on in the morning."

No doubt about it: Jill is a Master of Doing. There's no argument there. Unfortunately, none of it fit on her resume.

"Really, I have no idea what I should put there. I guess that ‘Head of Finding Lost Socks’ isn't on the list," she laughs. 

But as every stay-at-home parent knows, being a SAHM involves a lot more than sock recovery and packed lunches. 

"I've been a room mom for the last six years," says Dorene, a Navy wife. "Being a full-time mom made sense for me and for my family, so you don't really think of all the things you do as a mom in any other category than being a mom. But there's a lot you do that is resume appropriate in that category."

It was finding those things and committing them to print that let Dorene begin crafting a successful resume.

Do: List your volunteer service

"I've done a lot a volunteer work," Dorene says. "But I didn't see it that way initially. It was just part of my mom job. But it added up -- I planned our school auction for three years. I was in charge of two benefit dinners for a charity in our town. I was in charge of all the children's educational ministries at our church for five years. I was room mom for all four of my kids all through elementary school. That's real work." 

Dorene is right. When you have experienced large gaps in your resume because you have assumed the role of mom (or dad), the daily tasks that consumed your time can get lost as you try to transform your life into a resume story.

Instead of trying to make light of the work you’ve done at home, seriously relay the mountain of volunteer and other work you have successfully done to keep your family afloat. It might not be resume typical, but that does not mean it is not resume worthy.

Do: Project-base your resume

Putting all of that Super Mom volunteer experience into your resume is all about thinking in terms of project management. "Future employers will be interested in seeing what you've done," Dorene says. "They think we eat bon-bons all day. This is where you can show them how much work we do."

What kind of work have you done with your children’s school? If you have home schooled, how did you develop your curriculum? Have you actively participated in athletic groups, extracurriculars or civic activities? Those things all belong on your resume. After all, they are the job tasks that have filled your time as a stay-at-home parent.

Bring up your old work experience -- even if it's dated

No matter what your work history looks like, your resume is the place to bring it up. If you've been out of the work force for a decade as a must-have parent or you last worked at Claire’s when Nirvana was cool, do list all your old work experience on your resume.

"I learned that job history at all is relevant when you're putting together a resume for the first time," Jill advises. "I skipped it when I was doing my resume for the first time, but I worked with a great resume coach on our base who told me I should put it in. It was the best advice I got from him. It made me look like a professional person even with me being absent from the work force for nearly two decades."

Adding in your previous work experience legitimizes you as a potential employee. If you had a strong work experience before you began stay-at-home parenting, consider moving those job skills to the top of your resume. If you had only minor professional experience before taking on your family’s helm, you do not need to highlight it, but you do still need to list it.

Related: The Military Spouse Employment Manual

Don't: Leave a blank space where your SAHM era should be

Your work at home is serious. We know that. So it is important that you treat it that way in your resume.

Take care to present your tasks, projects and accomplishments distinctly, just like you would if you were delineating the tasks of any given position in a corporate job. "Be aware that the person looking at your resume may have a thing against us SAHMs," Jill says. "It's your job to take yourself seriously so they take you seriously, too."  

Don't: Get creative with how you list your experience

“Don’t try to be funny,” Dorene says. “It looks worse than not saying anything at all.”

A moment of blunt honesty: A future employer has every reason to be skeptical of an applicant who has not been in the work force lately. That is as true for stay-at-home moms as for the unemployed, and the only way around it is to face these concerns head on.

"I listed things thematically for a while," said Dorene, something plenty of SAHMs do in their first resumes. "But then I was at this job fair and the guy asked what I was hiding. He wanted to know where the years were. Not having a chronological resume worked against me."

Recommendations to re-work your resume in a creative way to highlight your project management skills or communications capabilities are a dime a dozen. So are prospective employees.

Keep your resume streamlined, clear and concise, and avoid hiding what you have been doing for the last few years. While choosing a chronological approach for your resume might make you afraid of the glaring gap in your professional experience, because of its clarity and ease of reading, it is still the right method for most applicants. If you do choose a more creative approach, be sure to workshop your draft with a career adviser. 

Don't: Make any jokes about finding socks, no matter how funny

"Like an idiot, I said I was an expert at finding missing socks," Jill confesses. "This would have been fine water-cooler humor after I was hired, but my cover letter was the wrong place for it. "

It might seem obvious, but mistakes like this are all too easy to make. To avoid belittling your own worth, focus on your strengths and stay positive. If your future employer wants to joke about your time at home, take it in stride, but do not do it yourself in your resume.

"Above all else, take yourself seriously," Dorene says. "If you don't, no one else will."

Moving from SAHM-hood to the job market is never easy. But with a strong resume in hand, you can be confident that your skills and experience -- gained on the playground or in the pantry -- are as smartly expressed as possible. 

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Job Search section.

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