Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 16 News List

[ LIFESTYLE ] US soccer dads say hello to resume gaps

While the business world understands that women may have to stop working temporarily for family reasons, men have a tougher case going back

By Lisa Belkin  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The resume gap isn’t just for mothers anymore.

As more men leave the work force to care for their children — 160,000 according to the most recent US Census (nearly three times as many as a decade ago but a tiny number compared with the roughly 6 million stay-at-home moms) — they get to wrestle with questions that mothers who opt back in have long faced. How to camouflage that glaring white space between your last job and the present? How to strategically describe the time spent at home?

The good news seems to be that gaps on resumes are now so common in the US as to be the norm, recruiters and consultants say.

The bad news? That’s true, unless you are a man.

“The business world finally understands women leaving the workplace and then returning,” said Elaine Varelas, a managing partner of Keystone Associates, an outplacement and career management firm in Boston. “But men who do it are often considered suspect in terms of their investment in their career. They have a tougher case to make going back.”

Acceptance of returning fathers “seems to be generational,” said Brian Reid, 33, who in 2002 founded RebelDad.com, a site about the “stay-at-home dad trend.” “It makes dads nervous knowing that they are not likely to be interviewed by a peer, who gets this, but by a 55-year-old middle manager, who might have a wife or a daughter who has left the workplace and come back, but who doesn’t understand it in a man.”

The small but growing group of stay-at-home men would be well advised to take some cues from the women who blazed the trail. There is poetic turnaround in that suggestion. For so long, women entering the working world tried to act like men, and now men leaving that world are studying the hard-won lessons of returning women.

Lesson one seems to be “leave strategically.” In the decade that I have covered life and work, I have been puzzled at how women didn’t take full advantage of their moment of departure. An employee never has more power than when she is willing to leave. But women were simply leaving rather than using their leverage to ask for the moon — a sharply decreased workload or increased salary or guarantee of a job upon return — on the chance they might get it. In recent years, women have negotiated more, a trend not lost on men.

Colin Pritchard, for one, was not inclined to leave without a plan. “I lined up freelance work so I wasn’t breaking ties all of a sudden,” he said of his 2005 departure from a full-time job as a graphic designer of food packaging, when his first son was 8 months old. His wife, a registered nurse, had been promoted to department manager, and her new salary was enough to support the family while he provided childcare.

In part what men have learned is to keep a mental eye on their resume during their years out of the work force. Earlier this decade, too many women were surprised that large blank spaces did not impress those who hire. Now a lot more advice is available online, in local community center classes, from career counselors on how to structure a resume to work around that gap.

Nat Hefferman, who left a job in financial services a decade ago to stay home with his two daughters, now 11 and 5, has taken such a class. (He was the only man in the room.) He did so long before he was actually ready to go back to work, he said.

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