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Coach's Corner--July 28, 2008

Returning to workplace post-illness takes timing, finesse

The Client
Name: Lindsey
Age: 45
Title: Nurse
Years in profession:  15 
Industry: Health care
Issue: Returning to work after an illness
Q. I’m planning to re-enter the workforce after an 18-month absence for treatment of leukemia. What’s the best way for me to reflect this gap in employment on my résumé without hurting my chances of being viewed as a good candidate? I have no problem being forthcoming about my illness, but I would rather discuss it during an interview.

A. Your situation calls for sharing the right information at the right time and developing a résumé that emphasizes your strengths.

The inner game
Start by checking your attitude related to the job search. An optimistic and positive perspective will serve you well; if you’re feeling pessimistic or worried, take time to focus on the positive outcome that you’re seeking.

Plan how you’ll keep your energy up. Even without the extra challenge you face, looking for a job can be draining. Build time into your day to do things that energize and inspire you.

Check in with the profession, talking to colleagues about changes that have occurred in your absence. You’ll be able to address new challenges in your résumé, rather than looking out of touch.

Develop a profile of your strengths so that you’re prepared to make a strong positive impression. Include all of the skills that prepare you for your new position, and also identify specific accomplishments in each area.

The outer game
It’s time to redesign your résumé.

Start by selecting a résumé structure. A chronological résumé probably won’t serve you well because it highlights your absence from the job market. Instead, try an approach that focuses on your professional accomplishments, areas of expertise, education, and certifications. Try looking at sample résumés online to find language and layout ideas that fit for you.

One idea is to lead with your objective and career profile. Your objective indicates where you’d like to work and the type of position you’re seeking. Your profile provides a bulleted list of your greatest professional strengths and accomplishments, along with interpersonal, management, or other skills you bring to the workplace.

Next, provide information about your education, certifications, licenses, and other credentials. Be sure to mention any honors you’ve earned or extra training that you’ve completed.

Finally, outline your professional experience. Provide the basics — employer, dates, and title — then emphasize positive results you’ve achieved in the workplace. Review the accomplishments you identified in your inner work. Share these in your résumé using action-oriented language to give potential employers a sense of the quality of employee they’d be gaining by hiring you. One hint: Drop the months when providing dates of employment. This cleans up the look of the résumé and draws less attention to the gap.

If you send a cover letter, make a passing reference to your return to the job market, if you wish, just to show that you aren’t hiding anything. Keep it general, without describing the reason, and use a professional and positive tone. Also consider getting feedback from a trusted colleague.

The last word
While it’s challenging to find a new job when you’ve been out of the job market, articulating your strengths will position you to find the opportunity you’re looking for.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted July 27, 2008
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