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It is self-explanatory - but let me give you some personal details:

I was laid off from a professional position a year and a half ago. I've been applying for work since then, but also caring for my ailing mother. I need to re-enter the job market during a time when the economy is suffering. How and when to explain this season of my life to an employer - in my resume? Cover letter?

Thanks!

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You tell the truth. As caring for aging parents becomes part of the everyday scenario in corporate America, the more family caregivers are forthcoming with employers, the sooner businesses and corporations will start listening. There is absolutely no shame in caring for a beloved family member. If you need to...remind the person interviewing you that if you can do caregiving, you can probably do anything!
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When my sister was very ill with cancer I relocated to where she was to take care of her, which also I needed to find a job to care for my expenses. I didn't put any information in my resume or cover letter about it. I got an interview and during the interview I just explained what was going on with things. My employer was very compassionate and was willing to accommodate me any way they could. I assured them that I had most of the ground covered except for extreme emergencies. My niece and sister's friends were awesome in helping me out, so I never had to take any real time off until the very end. If they are really interested in employing you and you advise them of your situation in advance I'm sure it will iron itself out. Good luck
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This is really no different from what happens when a mother takes off time to care for children before reentering the job market. Employers don't have a problem with the fact that the job applicant wasn't working fo this reason unless the period of time is long enough for the applicant to no longer be up-to-date in his/her field. Employers are always worried that childcare will cause undue absences and need to be reassured that you have everything well under control. The same is true if you are the caregiver of an elderly person who is ill. You just have to convince your prospective employer that you have worked things out, including a backup plan such that your job as a caregiver will not interfere with your ability to do the job.
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I volutarilry left the job market after two years of temping following a job loss because I planned to file for divorce the following week and would have uo sell my house and deal and live with a vindictive spouse. My dad was going downhill fast after 41 years of diabetes and I was making frequent out of state visits. He fell and I spent three months overseeing his care and burial. Less than a year later, I was diagnosed with Stage III Breast Cancer. I made it through that alone, then updated all of my tech skills and started a second Masters,in Global Higher Ed and life long learning for adults, when I turned 50. I have done some temp and grant funded work. I explain my gap as family medical
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Wasnt done yet...followed by a serious illness that I have recovered from, with a few limitations. I am probably healthier than many of my peers. If a potential employer has a problem with that then that is somewhere I dont want towork.
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Just moved mom into a small, home-style ALF and now I am also looking into the job market. I just entered it on my resume as my job for the time period I quit work to be caregiver. It was a huge job and I don't think we should discount it. Of course, if you are still going to be caring for mom around the job then I like what angelwhyspers said about explaining the situation during an interview.
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I feel honesty is the best policy. You had a duty and a prospective employer should realize that this is an obligation you did not turn away from. What with the aging population we have today, employers should realize that it will be affecting many of their employees and should make reasonable accommodations in regard to this issue.
Of course, you should give an honest assessment as to how long the caregiving will be going on and let the person make their decision to hire you based on the company's needs. Good luck to you.
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As galileo43 said....I would list the time away as "Family Medical Leave". If you can fit in any continuing education during your time "off" (which I realize isn't easy to do when caregiving.....maybe online?? Sometimes there are free online CEU courses, and I've also found sites for my profession where I pay a flat fee per year and can take as many CEU classes as I can fit in for that year.) it can be helpful to show that you have continued to keep up with your field/profession, etc. even while not actively working in it. List the CEU classes on your resume, with the topic and DATE you obtained.
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I forgot to mention, should you get the job, apply for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act,) through your human resources. I did this on my last job to protect it as I was having to leave work to attend to both of my parents. FMLA protects your job in the event of family emergency, check it out!
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I promised God I would be there for both Dad and Mom till the end. They won't let me leave and every time I do some disaster happens. A result has been re-locating them to ALF. Now I find myself jobless as well as caring for immediate neighbors as well w/o compensation from the facility. What do you do when the neighbor is standing outside his apt. in PJ's begging for help. I carried him inside only to be ignored by staff because POA was "on the way". I find it shameful that elderly are @ the mercy of corporations are more concerned about liability than caregiving.
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