Whether you’ve decided to return to college to pursue a new career or boost your current skill set, you certainly are not alone in your endeavor. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than a third of students enrolled in post-secondary institutions are older than 35. However, if you’re not fully employed while attending college or if there are significant gaps in your employment history, you may be conflicted as to how you should prepare your resume.

Create a Functional Resume

Perhaps you’ve spent the past several years raising your family or caring for an ailing family member. Perhaps your employment history is “spotty” and includes a series of short-term positions that you don’t feel are resume-worthy. If you're an older college student, you may want to consider breaking away from the typical chronological resume format and create what is known as a “functional” resume. This type of resume allows you to group your skills into different categories while shifting the focus away from the actual years of employment. For instance, you could create an “education” section that lists the degree you’re currently pursuing, as well as any other degrees or certifications you’ve acquired. If you’re applying for a management position, you could create a section entitled “management experience” and list any skills you’ve acquired from previous jobs, no matter how short-term. This format helps to highlight your skills while downplaying gaps in your resume.

Use the Cover Letter to Explain

One of the most effective tools for explaining gaps in employment on your resume is the cover letter. When applying to a position, use the cover letter to briefly explain why you’ve decided to return to college, what your degree is going to be in and when you are expecting to graduate. Be cautious, however – you don’t want to give away too many personal details or be too long-winded; rather, briefly and generally explain what circumstances led you to pursue a college degree in your 40s, and include how your age, life experience and level of maturity will certainly be an asset to any employer who offers you a position.

Include Applicable Skills

Even if you have never held a full-time job, chances are that you’ve acquired plenty of skills over the course of your life. For instance, be sure to include any volunteer or civic/community positions you’ve held, whether they were at the local library, with the Boy Scouts or in your child's parent-teacher association. Likewise, if you’re involved in any clubs or organizations at your college, include them on your resume. List these job titles and responsibilities the same way you would a “regular” job under an “additional experience” section on your resume. Or, if you’re using the functional format mentioned above, group the skills you’ve acquired in these positions into categories such as “leadership” or “fundraising.”

Seek Help From Career Services

If your college is like most, it has a career services office whose primary goal is to provide career counseling for its students, including resume and cover letter writing, assessments, interview help, internships and job placements. These services are usually free as long as you’re enrolled as a student, and some offices even provide access to computer workstations with resume-writing software.

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