Getting Back on the Career Track
Would you like to return to the paid labor force but are concerned about how to find an opportunity that will allow 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 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:
1. RElaunch or Not: You Decide. If financial reasons require you to return to work, go to step 2. 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.
2. Practice Confidence. If a lack of confidence is one of the obstacles holding you back, don’t worry. You can regain it. Remember, 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.
3. Assess Your Career Options. Don’t think that returning to the conventional full time workforce is the only way to resume your career. The moms we interviewed did everything from heading up a nonprofit to running career services for a graduate school to job sharing a social work position to spearheading a corporate marketing campaign from home.
Play Job Building Blocks (think Lego): 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. Genuine enthusiasm is hard to fake, and lukewarm pursuit of a position won’t cut it. (See the Job Building Blocks Worksheet in Chapter 3 of our book, Back on the Career Track.)
4. 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 that summarizes your expertise and the kind of opportunity you seek. (We walk you through this process in Chapter 4.)
5. Network and Market Yourself. Start with one simple step. Order yourself a business card with your name and contact information.
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.
You may think you don’t know anyone who could be helpful, but if you systematically review people from your past and present networks, you will surely identify people who can be resources for you. If not, create a new network. One of the women we interviewed established a college alumni organization for her alma mater in her city, where none existed, and reaped the benefit of new relationships.
Prior to formal interviews, make sure you prepare extensively by studying the employer’s website 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 that you’re now eager to get back to the workplace.
6. 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 that with extra income you might be able to outsource some of the tasks that 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.
7. Handle the Job or Find Another One. Congratulations! You found the right opportunity and you’ve relaunched. 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.
Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are the authors of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay at Home Moms who Want to Return to Work (Warner Books, June 2007). For more information and/or to contact them, please visit www.backonthecareertrack.com