Accounting for Family Time in Your Professional Timeline

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, July 6, 2008

Q How do you explain a gap in your career on a résumé? As a young professor, I sidelined my career for a few years to have a family. I gave up a tenure-track position at which I was very successful. After seven years, I took an adjunct professor position, and after two more years, I applied for another tenure-track position at the same university and was hired. I have had a successful career, and it is years later, but the gap in my career still haunts me and potentially impedes my advancement to full professor. In academia, reviewers of your résumé take into account when you received your degree and how much you have published since then. I need a professional and succinct way to explain the gap on my résumé so it will not be held against me.

A It seems the hardest part is already behind you. Generally, that first job after you have been out of the workforce for a while is the most difficult to get. Employers -- even in academia -- are most concerned about your recent performance, not what you did (or didn't do) a decade ago.

You do need to address the gap on your résumé to explain why you may have fewer publications than someone else your age. But don't dwell on it, or try to get cutesy about it by dubbing yourself a "domestic engineer" or "family CEO" during that time. (Not that I actually think you would do that -- you strike me as professional almost to a fault -- but those goofy titles are a pet peeve of mine.) Simply insert a line at the appropriate point in the timeline that says "Family Caregiver" and give the dates. That makes your point without belaboring it. If necessary, you can explain further in an interview.

I manage two women who are mothers of similarly aged babies. I am a mother myself and work full time, so I get the juggle.

One of the women has inconsistent day care. She is trying to get another day-care situation, but there is a waiting list at the center her older child attends. Also, she does not call to give me a heads-up when her daughter is coming in -- I hear the baby cooing and realize she is here. This is starting to affect her job, as she is on the phone a lot. If the baby is crying, the other worker has to handle her duties.

I think I need to say something, even though she knows this is not a sustainable situation. It is not fair to the other worker, who I am sure would love to have her baby here, too. I value her as an employee, and I don't want to lose her, but I also want her to know that it cannot continue.

It's a shame your employee doesn't realize how good she has it. I'm sure this day-care situation has her stressed, but many employers would have sent her home the first time she showed up with her baby without asking whether it was okay. She is taking advantage of your understanding nature, and the resentment her behavior is causing is undermining productivity in your office.

You need to handle this quickly, before you lose your temper or get in trouble with your supervisor.

Sit down with your worker and calmly explain your concerns. Emphasize how much you value her as an employee -- and even empathize with her situation -- but make it absolutely clear that this can't continue. Because you haven't said anything, she's assuming it's fine with you if she brings the baby in when her day care is closed. Next, give her a deadline to arrange for more reliable care. At the very least, she should have a regular backup sitter. It's unfortunate that she hasn't gotten into her preferred center, but we can't always get what we want -- especially not when it comes to child care in this area. You need to make it particularly clear that she has to get your permission before bringing the baby into the office. Asking her to do this doesn't make you mean; it makes you the boss.

Next, approach your supervisors about looking into ways to help parents with the juggling act. Subsidized, on-site day care may be the holy grail for working parents, but it's not the only option. Perhaps your organization could arrange for backup care at a nearby center. Even a handout compiling local referral services for licensed child care could help. Finally, consider an official policy that encourages flexible scheduling or teleworking. This could help many workers better balance work with their personal lives, not just the new parents.

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