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Helpful hints for moms returning to the workplace

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,
I'm applying for full-time regular teaching jobs, however I have HUGE gaps in my work history, directly related to having had six kids. How do I address this in my cover letters? My inclination is to say I was on the mommy-track, in a nutshell, but I'm thinking that doesn't sound right.

Thankfully, the mommy track is quite common so you won't be their first applicant that has gaps on the resume. And frankly, the mommy track is far preferable to other reasons for taking huge chunks of time off. The only big concern it evokes is if you aren't quite finished with the mommy track aspect and that you'll be taking every third day off because you have a sick child.

First of all, once you get a job, you don't need to mention the gaps on a cover letter or resume again. People don't generally care about what you were doing before you got your previous job - they just want to hear about the latest thing. So, once you've gotten a job, as long as you continue working, you don't have to mention this again.

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Second, you may have to adjust your goals and expectations. Depending on where you live and what subject you teach, the schools may be overrun with applications or they may be desperate. (It's easier to find a job as a science or math teacher than it it is to find one teaching English.) It may take working as a substitute, for instance, to get a foot in the door.

But, onto the letter. I'm a fan of addressing why you were unemployed straight out. Others say it's not necessary to bring it up at all, but when potential hiring managers look at your resume, with a last employment date of 2002, they'll wonder. The first thought will be children, but second thoughts conjure up all manner of horrible reasons. People's minds wander in bad ways.

But the fact that you've been raising children is not nearly as relevant as your other qualifications. So, you mention the fact that you've been unemployed, but you also need to mention the things that you did that are relevant to the career you're trying for. If you home schooled at any point, for instance, you can talk about writing lesson plans or grading papers. If you worked on the PTA, you can add how you can bring perspective from both sides of the table. If you ran the church's Vacation Bible School, you've got not only teaching experience, but management and organizational skills under your belt.

Are your certifications up to date? If not, unless you have an extremely rare skill set, you will get thrown out. Make sure you mention you are licensed to teach. If you maintained that license over the years through continuing education credits, you can mention that. If you had to renew it through a certification class, you can bring that up. (Both should be directly on your resume as well, but it doesn't hurt to let them know right up front that you are ready to go.)

In short, there are no magic words to use. But being honest while simultaneously letting them know why you'd be fabulous can go a long way in helping get back on that career path. Make sure your personality comes out in your cover letter. It's part of your marketing document, and you need to market yourself as who you are.

One bit of caution: I know a lot of women who quit work to stay home with the kids and go back later because teenagers tend to be a heck of a lot more expensive than toddlers, and there are those pesky college bills coming. While we all work because we need the money, anything that mentions your need for actual pay make you sound desperate. I know it's very silly. But, if you say you need the money, the assumption is if the hubby gets a raise you'll be out the door, or that you've had some financial crisis which will take up lots of your time. Additionally, we tend to want to think of teachers as altruistic, so any mention that there is something in this for you can be met with subconscious skepticism. You don't need that strike against you.

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to

Photo courtesy Flickr user kevin dooley.

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