Short answer: Maybe.
In April I wrote about LinkedIn’s new feature allowing people to include career breaks, for caregiving and other reasons, to their profiles. I applauded the move — LinkedIn’s profile had been overly rigid and made accounting for time out of the paid workforce very difficult. Making our profiles more customizable to fit our actual lives is an important step in recognizing that not every career follows a simple script.
I also called on employers — not moms! — to be the ones to destigmatize caregiving breaks by creating pathways to welcome caregivers and others back into the workforce. I run a nonprofit that is on a mission to empower returning caregivers to get back into the paid workforce. And our primary focus is on working with employers to create returnships and other return to work programs so it makes sense that I’m encouraging employers to create opportunities for returning professionals. I also believe it’s fundamentally unfair to ask the individuals who are affected by discrimination to lead the charge to end that discrimination. I understand that lots of moms, dads, and other caregivers using this feature would raise awareness and normalize career breaks. I also understand that many of those individuals may be passed over for opportunities that they might not have been by identifying something that too many managers still believe indicates a lack of ambition.
So, what should you, dear job seeker with a career break, do? Should you call out your break or not?
The argument for using the feature, aside from raising awareness, is that it will help companies find eligible candidates for programs they have that offer formal pathways for returning caregivers. These programs, often called returnships, usually require a break in employment. In these situations, of course it makes good sense for caregivers to identify themselves as eligible for the program. But does that mean they should include that information on their public LinkedIn profile for every hiring manager to see?
Here’s the thing: my organization, Path Forward, estimates that there are about 200 companies that have ever run any kind of formal return-to-work program in the U.S. At Path Forward we are on track to launch 50 programs in 2022. Beyond our network, there will probably be another 50 or so programs running, bringing this year’s total up to about 100 employers. That might mean there will be a few thousand opportunities for returners to gain reentry through a formal program. It’s not nearly enough to help the millions of women who left the workforce — most long before the pandemic — to return to paid work.
So most returners will find their way back to work through “regular” jobs. And when seeking those jobs, having a career break prominently called out on your LinkedIn profile may not help.
The decision comes down to a simple question: What would you put there instead?
If you’ve been freelancing, consulting, doing part-time work or volunteering during your break those things should be at the top of your LinkedIn profile, especially if you leveraged skills that are transferable to paid (or better-paid) work. These activities will not disqualify you from returnship programs — you can easily specify in your returnship application that you’ve been primarily caregiving and you should absolutely include your career break on the resume you submit for that program. But that way you won’t miss out on opportunities with employers who might pass you over if they see “career break” at the top of your LinkedIn profile.
However, If you don’t have specific activities that make sense to put in that spot, using the career break feature is a great way to quickly and easily explain why you haven’t been employed. In those cases you aren’t risking being passed over — an employer who wouldn’t consider you for having a career break for caregiving wouldn’t consider you if the space was blank either. In that case, the career break feature is perfect. And it offers you the opportunity to call out the soft skills you’ve gained or honed in your years of caregiving. (See this blog post for some thoughts on the many caregiving experiences that translate into tangible business skills.)
While you can only have one LinkedIn profile, any career coach worth a dime will tell you that you need to customize your job applications. You don’t need a different resume for every job you apply for, but most job seekers have a few versions that emphasize different skills and experiences. It is perfectly reasonable, and I’d argue necessary, for returners to have a version of their resume that highlights their gap and therefore their eligibility for return to work programs and another version that calls it out less prominently and highlights other aspects of that time for applying to regular jobs.
LinkedIn is an important platform, but it’s also a blunt tool for job seekers. The decision to use their career break feature should be based on what the most neutral version of your public profile is at any given time, and may well change over the course of your career.
I applaud LinkedIn. Adding the career break feature is a long-overdue recognition that caregiving is important work that should be valued and appreciated, and that it confers skills and experiences that employers should be seeking out. As employers step up and take more action to seek out, and not discriminate against, those returning to the workforce I guarantee that people will be much more open to identifying their breaks.
Tami Forman is the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.