As a recruiter, one of the most discouraging things I come across on resumes is a large gap in time that has been left unaddressed. Say for example the last job entry posted on a resume ended in 2009. Although there is a chance that the job seeker has actually been unemployed and viably searching for employment since then, 90 percent of the time this isn't the case. I only know this because it's the first thing I address when speaking with them on the phone. I will literally ask, "What have you been doing with yourself since you worked at such and such corporation?" I find this this takes a lot of job seekers off guard, but really, it's a viable question. I need to know, did you just decide to sit around by the pool and eat bon bons for three years? Choose to become a reality TV connoisseur? Determine that you should dedicate all your time to expanding your salt and pepper shaker collection? Probably not. Chances are you've been doing something else that's actually important, you just didn't know how to talk about it on your resume.
Two of the most common reasons I hear for major unemployment gaps are: raising small children and taking care of elderly parents.
Stay at home moms or dads, and responsible adult children taking care of their baby boomer parents need to hear me on this- what you've been doing is worthy work. Recruiters do not look down upon you for having done this. As a matter of fact, when I hear this explanation I tell them that I find this admirable and it's not just a line. I think it's a testimony to the job seeker's integrity, which is something potential employers find attractive. Yes, we are aware that you might need to brush up on your Microsoft Office Suite or other specific computer skills. The likelihood is strong, however, that we'd rather invest ourselves as a company in training someone of this caliber vs. a lazy bon bon eater.
On that note, are you thinking of applying for a job that requires a lot of computer work but are concerned about not being up to date with the latest programs? You have options. You can look up your local community college schedule and take a short class to brush up on techniques. Or, you can go to your local book store to purchase a book on the latest programs, then (depending on the software) download a free trial on your home computer and practice. If either of these are not an option for you, ask an employed friend if you can get some lessons from them until you feel at ease with execution. While most companies will accommodate with training, it doesn't hurt to take a proactive approach and then mention this over the phone to the recruiter or HR rep.
If you have been in a caretaking role and are looking to reenter the workforce, please, do NOT be embarrassed about this. Most importantly, list it as an occupation entry on your resume as recruiters and HR reps don't like to have to guess what a job seeker's been up to. Make the entry simple- state the year range and title it either "Stay at Home Parent" or "Caregiver for Elderly Family Member". Although not always necessary, you can choose the option of putting a description and listing some highlighted responsibilities as well. Contrary to what you might have previously thought, most employers will view this favorably. And if not? You probably don't want to work for a company like that anyway.
Happy job hunting!