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.