Would you like to return to the work world but are concerned about how to find an opportunity allowing you to fulfill your family or other non-work obligations, nervous about how to “market yourself” to potential employers, or unsure about what type of work you want to do? We know how you feel.
We took time out to be home with our children, and then relaunched our careers years later. Based upon our experience, and that of the 100+ women we interviewed for our forthcoming book, as well as the career counselors, recruiters and employers whose advice we sought, we’ve developed a detailed process to help you negotiate this major transition. Here it is in a nutshell:
- Relaunch or not: you decide. If financial reasons require you to return to work, skip to the second step. If not, determine whether you are ready to go back to paid work or whether deepening your volunteer involvement or engaging in a non-work passion might satisfy your restlessness. If you’re not sure whether or not you want to return to paid work, visit www.backonthecareertrack.com and take our Relaunch Readiness Quiz.
- Learn confidence. If a lack of confidence is one of the obstacles holding you back, don’t worry. You can regain it. Remember, whether you are a nurse, speech therapist, computer programmer, scientific researcher or salesperson, your former colleagues’ and classmates’ image of you is frozen in time. They think of you as a consummate professional, and as you start to renew your professional persona and reconnect to the professional world, your confidence will grow. Following Steps 3 and 4 will also help increase your confidence as you update your professional knowledge and become more articulate in expressing what you want to do and why.
- Assess your career options. Don’t think returning to the conventional full time workforce is the only way to resume your career. The moms we interviewed did everything from starting a home based after school enrichment program (former teacher) to running career services for a law school on a flexible schedule (former public defender) to job sharing a hospice administrator position (former social worker) to creating a marketing campaign for a new mutual fund from home (former mid level marketing executive). Break down your old job(s) or volunteer experiences into their component parts and focus on what you did best and what you liked best. Then try to think of new opportunities that build on those skills and interests.
- Update your professional and job search skills. A sure way to increase your confidence and bolster your employability is to update yourself. Read relevant journals, take continuing education classes and attend industry events. In terms of job search skills, develop an elevator story (a two minute talk answering the “what do you want to do” question) summarizing your expertise and the kind of opportunity you seek in a few key sentences.
- Network and market yourself. Order business cards with your name and contact information. This way you don’t have to scribble on a piece of scrap paper if you meet someone who wants to keep in touch with you. Then, start talking to people, beginning with those you know well. Branch out to those to whom they refer you, and discuss your professional interests and the kinds of opportunities you’d like to explore. These informal conversations essentially function as interview rehearsals, as you gradually hone your message. Prior to formal interviews, make sure you prepare extensively by studying the employer’s Web site and practicing answers to the most common interview questions. When asked about your resume gap, answer matter-of-factly that you took some time out to raise your children/take care of an elderly parent, etc., but you’re now eager to get back to work.
- Channel family support. Get your spouse, if you have one, on board with your plans as soon as possible. If you encounter resistance, make it clear how important this is to you and point out with extra income you might be able to outsource some of the tasks neither of you wants to perform, such as cleaning and shopping. The older your children are, the sooner you should tell them as well. If you need to change your childcare arrangements, try to implement the changes before you start your new job, so you can work out any problems. Streamline your household routines to maximize time to devote to either work or family. Develop a support network of family and/or neighbors to help you out in a jam.
- Handle the job or find another one. You found the right opportunity and you’ve relaunched. Initially, keep your employer’s expectations low. Better to under-promise and over-deliver, rather than the other way around. Ask for early and frequent reviews — ideally, every six months, because neither you nor your employer will be able to predict the rate of your career trajectory. Help your colleagues whenever possible, so they’ll reciprocate when you need them. And, remember, this is just your first foray back to the professional marketplace. If it doesn’t work out, you can always make a change.
(c) 2007 Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin
Authors: Carol Fishman Cohen, a former investment banker, is now a consultant to women, organizations and employers on the issue of career reentry. She lives in Newton, MA, with her husband and four children. Vivian Steir Rabin, a former finance and human resources professional, now runs her own executive search business. She lives in Clifton, NJ, with her husband and five children. They are the authors of “Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay at Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work”
For more information, please visit www.backonthecareertrack.com.