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What to Do About Cover Letters and References if you Haven't Worked in Years?

by Vivian Steir Rabin

“I’ve been out of the workforce for several years,” a reader e-mailed me. "Should I address the gap on my resume in a cover letter? What about salary requirements? And what do I do about the fact that all my references are from 10+ years ago, besides the PTA president. (I’ve already told my 12-year-old that I’m not going to use her, even though she’s teaching me power point!)"

Here’s how I responded:

If you haven’t explained the gap on your resume, then by all means explain it in a cover letter. In fact, even if you have a line on your resume about your career break, address the issue in your cover letter as well. Do it briefly and unapologetically. (See the sample below.)Do not go on and on about why you stayed home.

The key is to address the gap (so prospective employers don’t think you were in jail or conjure up other unseemly excuses for your absence from the workforce) and make it clear that you’re ready to return to work now. Employers are less concerned about the gap per se and more concerned about whether you’re logistically and psychologically ready to work and whether you have the skills, despite your absence, to perform on the job.

Your goal, in your cover letter, is to reassure them, briefly, that you are ready, willing and able to return to work.

Do not mention salary requirements at all in a cover letter, nor during the first few interviews. Wait until the employer brings it up.

As far as references go, you do not need to mention them in the cover letter or resume. But you should try to line up 2-3 references, even if they’re from years ago. (One of the three could be from your recent volunteer work, like the PTA president). Email or call your old bosses, tell them you’re seeking to return to the workforce, and ask them if they’re willing to serve as a reference. Assure them that you’ll only give their name and phone number to those who are seriously interested in hiring you. Thank them profusely. Although you haven’t spoken in years, if you did good work, they should be willing to vouch for you. And, who knows, maybe they’ll even have a job lead!

Sample Relauncher Cover Letter:

Dear:

I am very interested in the A opportunity at Company B, and believe my skills and experience make me a strong candidate. As you can see from the attached resume, I spent X years doing very similar work as a Y at Z Company. In addition, I developed C skills in my D years at E Company. Although I have focused on my family for the last G years and have not worked for pay, I have kept up with developments in the field by reading Most Important Trade Magazines 1 and 2 and attending H conferences. I’ve also updated my computer skills so I’m ready to hit the ground running. Finally, my involvement with I Volunteer Organization has honed my organizational and interpersonal skills.

I am very eager to return to the workforce and believe my pent-up enthusiasm for work, combined with my relevant educational and professional credentials, will help me contribute meaningfully to the organization.

I look forward to the opportunity to discuss my potential fit for this position by phone or in person at your convenience.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Jane Realdough