Do I Put ‘Cared for Dying Relative’ On My Resume?

Dear J.T. & Dale: A good friend of mine is struggling with how to approach re-entering the work force. She left work to care for her husband, who had cancer and eventually died. One of her friends has suggested that she include the reason for her absence in her cover letter. I disagree, and believe she should wait to bring it up in an interview, although she has some concerns about becoming emotional during such an explanation. What are your thoughts? - Bill

J.T.: To start, I would list on her resume a “Leave of Absence” with a single bullet point stating that she cared for her sick husband, who has since passed. Second, it would be OK to include it in the cover letter if she were able to put a positive spin on it.

Dale: “Positive spin”?

J.T.: Not about her husband dying, of course, but about her return to the work force, explaining that she is looking forward to working as a way to start a new, happier chapter in her life.

Dale: I can see, Bill, why you advised your friend to wait for the interview. The mention of a dark topic risks having the hiring manager simply look away and set the application aside. In this case, however, I’m coming down on the side of J.T.’s conclusion. The fact that your friend left work to care for her husband demonstrates her character, and reassures the hiring manager that the absence was not the result of something that may recur. Further, the best kind of manager will react sympathetically. And, if your friend has explained the absence in the cover letter and resume, it might give her confidence about the interview to follow, knowing she’s meeting with someone who knows and understands.

One Response

  1. Julie O'Malley, CPRW Says:

    I agree in general with your conclusion, but I disagree about the level of detail you’re suggesting — I think it’s inappropriate to state that it was her husband and that he died. That labels her as a grieving widow, which may raise employers’ concerns about her readiness to resume full-time duties, etc. Instead, I would state in the cover letter that during her leave of absence she served as the “primary caregiver for a family member,” and then leave the resolution vague (e.g. it’s none of their business if it was a spouse who passed away, an elderly parent who went into assisted living, a mentally ill sibling who’s back on their feet, or whatever). The “positive spin” should also be vague, along the lines of, “Having had the honor to fulfill that role, I now look forward to bringing my strong qualifications back into the professional arena ….”

    Too many people are too uncomfortable around the topic of death. It shouldn’t be mentioned before they’ve met you — in my humble opinion.

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