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The question:

Are employers turned off by women who stayed at home for a number of years to take care of the children and/or follow their husband on his international job postings? We recently moved back to Toronto and I have been away from a regular job for about 10 years. I've been very busy though, earning degrees, having two kids, volunteering and working on small contracts with high-profile federal MPs. I explain that in my cover letter, yet I'm not having any luck finding work. I can't help feeling insecure.

The answer:

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Whenever there is a gap in employment, employers do take notice, and prospective employees need to explain why, but only when specifically asked.

It does not sound like you have a 10-year gap to begin with. As you said, you have been busy pursuing education, as well as working on small contracts. Make sure that is noted in your résumé. Give the years you were self-employed (even if it was not steady), and list the employers you worked with, along with the type of work that you did. Talk about the skills you used, your accomplishments and the degrees you have earned. Draw attention away from the "lack of work" during this time, and talk about the work you did.

Do not rely on your cover letter to explain why you have a gap. It almost sounds like you draw attention to it in a letter. My advice would be never to do this – only focus on the positive, which is your employment history, education and skills that you bring to the table. Again, in a cover letter, address how you match the qualifications the employer is looking for.

When it comes to the interview, never answer a question that was not asked of you in the first place: Unless the interviewer brings it up, you don't either. But be prepared with an answer. Something like "I chose to take some time to work on small contracts and upgrade my education, as well as focus on a young family. Some of the highlights during my career at this time are …." Again, focus on the positive experience you had, as well as the skills you used to enrich this portion of your career.

Finally, and most importantly, embark on a proactive job search that focuses more on networking and building relationships, and less time scouring job boards. You will find you will receive more leads and better results with this strategy, coupled with a positive outlook on how your 10-year "gap" only makes you more employable.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for McRae Inc. in Calgary.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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