A friend of mine recently asked me to help her with her CV. She’s taken a ‘career-break’ to look after her three children, and hasn’t worked in the conventional sense for seven years. She was worried about how to communicate this on her CV, without coming across as out of touch or a bit rusty.
She began looking back at skills and experience she could draw on from her previous job, but she was concerned that it looked like she was delving into the past for evidence of her abilities. It struck us then that we shouldn’t skim over the past seven years, but that her experience within this time was both valid and valuable.
There’s a common misconception that parents of either sex who take time off work to look after children spend all of their time cleaning and drinking tea. There’s certainly some tea and cleaning involved, but looking after children (and a home) involves a great deal more than that, and during those years you develop skills that are easily transferable, and would be beneficial in any workplace.
In fact there are very few paid positions that require such a vast variety of skills. When you become a parent there is no training, and often little support. You have to think on your feet, make tough decisions, and carry out a multitude of demanding tasks every day.
We looked at the skills that had been well-honed during the past seven years and these included:
Organisational skills – speak to most parents and they will say their calendar is the most important thing in their house. Not only are you organising your own life, but you’re responsible for numerous little people getting to and from various schools, pre-schools, swimming lessons, clubs, and social commitments, often all at the same time. Then there are meals, packed lunches, uniforms, presents, and countless other things to think about. Managing an office diary is a doddle when you’ve been through that.
Multi-tasking – from the earliest days of becoming a parent this becomes second nature. In fact, if you’re only doing one thing at once you start to wonder what’s wrong.
Quick-thinking – when a wheel falls off a bike when you’re halfway home from the park and you’re faced with the prospect of carrying both a broken bike and a screaming toddler home, it’s amazing how innovative you can be.
Negotiation skills – from a surprisingly young age children are shrewd negotiators, and the ability to debate and agree on a compromise is imperative.
Learning new skills – there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end, and when you first become a parent that’s exactly what happens. Within days you’re an expert on feeding, winding, changing, dressing and all the things that had previously filled you with terror (admit it, everyone’s scared of even holding a newborn before they have their own). This doesn’t stop either. As your child grows up you’re continually learning new things to keep up with them and support them through all their new ventures.
Communication skills – as well as learning to communicate with your children on their level (interpreting their early utterances, encouraging them to tell you what’s bothering them, explaining difficult concepts to them), parents also have to learn to communicate effectively with a host of other adults at various levels, dealing with problems or situations that can be challenging, sensitive or embarrassing.
And this list is far from comprehensive. Being a parent is by far the most difficult job you could have, and it’s a life-long commitment that doesn’t get easier! We’d all shy away from putting this experience on our CV’s for fear of not being taken seriously, but surely any employer would be lucky to have someone with all of these skills.
By Helen Young
This article appears in our Feb/Mar 2012 issues - click here to read the All Things Local issue of your choice.