While you’re on a career break, it’s critical that you keep a list of things you’re doing that will help you make the case that you are a better employee because of your break.
Quick! Grab a pen and write down 5 things you’ve done while out of the paid workforce that a future employer might be interested in.
Need help? Here are some ideas to jumpstart your list:
-took an online course (LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, etc.)
-kept up a professional certification
-developed a new skill (what was it and how did you develop it?)
-took a course at a community college, a bootcamp, or anywhere
-managed a project at your kids school, your church, or a non-profit
-joined an industry association and attended their meetings or continuing education courses
-volunteered for a political campaign supporting a cause or a candidate that you believed in
-taught something (such as faith formation classes at your place of worship)
-started a group to get people with common interests connected
-joined a book club and participated in monthly discussions
-served on your homeowners association
-organized social events for an organization/school/church/neighborhood you are connected to
-took on gig or project work
-attended a conference that inspired you, taught you something, or kept you in touch with your profession or network
Why is this important?
For many reasons! For starters, as you update your resume you’ll draw on this list to fill the gap in your employment history. It’s also important because when you get to the interview stage of your job search, you will be asked what you did while you were out of the paid workforce. It will be up to you to tell a compelling story that convinces employers that you are a constant learner with a growth mindset.
This week I met with a recruiter at a great local company and we talked about hiring women (and men!) who are returning to work after a career break. She’s interviewed lots of career relaunchers: The ones who rose to the top are those that spoke about their time out of the workforce as a time of growth and convinced her that they were busy using skills that transfer well to the workplace.
My advice to you: Keep track of all the things you do while on a career break.
Start a google doc or a page in your journal to list every project and volunteer post you take on along with the skills you used and the outcome of the project. Don’t forget the outcome! If you’re ready to return to work and you haven’t been keeping track, no worries! Start your list now and spend the next few days adding to the list as you remember what’s been keeping you so busy all this time.
What if my list stinks? 🙂
OK, say you start your list and you decide it’s not impressive. Start doing list-building activities today by finding a course to enroll in, a group to join or a volunteer activity that will help you grow. Here’s a link to my blog about resources for job seekers that contains some ideas for you. I repeat, start today!
Being home with kids is a full-time job!
Yet so many of you manage to do this well in addition to volunteering, managing projects and improving yourselves on a daily basis. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I always marveled at how that title really missed the mark: I was never home! Between all the activities my children and I got involved in, I was constantly on-the-go. I even took a fencing class with one of my children, which let me to include “Beginning Fencer” under the Interests section at the bottom of my resume. I didn’t exactly learn practical job skills in the fencing class, but it was a great conversation starter! Also, it gave me the opportunity to talk about how my career break allowed me to explore some unique activities that expanded my mind and kept me physically fit.
So start that list and keep adding to it as you craft your story around how you used your career break to get better and how that will benefit your future employer.
Fluency in Microsoft Excel is not just a nice-to-have: it’s a requirement for many jobs and considered a foundational job skill. If it’s been a while since you’ve used Excel, or you’ve never quite mastered it, I encourage you to get comfortable with this tool. When you’re in a job interview, you’ll want to demonstrate your mastery of Excel by describing a recent project where you used it and talking about the Excel refresher you just took.
There are many resources out there, including friends and family members, you could use to brush-up your Excel skills. Contextures.com is a great resource – I receive their weekly tips and training suggestions.
Excel – My Favorite Function
I use Excel at work every day and have a few favorite tricks I’ll share. You’ll need to use your computer, instead of a mobile device, so you can follow along with me for our Excel mini-lesson.
Sorting and Filtering –
This is where Excel really shines for me! When I have a spreadsheet full of numbers, it’s useless until I can extract some type of insight out of it. Sorting and filtering the data so I can look at it from different angles or drill down in one area is the best way I’ve found to bring data to life.
Do this along with me so you can really learn how this works.
Step #2: Copy and paste the data file labeled “Sample Data” into excel so we can work with it (step-by-step instructions are on the page)
Step #3: Save the file so you’ll have it to practice with
Step #4: At the top left of your data file is a gray triangle – click this to highlight your entire worksheet:
Step #5: On the far-right side of the tool bar across the top of your spreadsheet, find the “Sort & Filter” drop-down menu, click on it, then select “Filter”.
You’ll see drop-downs that look like little triangles appear in the corner of the top cell of each of your data columns:
Now we’re ready to filter the data! This is really exciting!
Step #6: This table contains sales data for an imaginary stationary company. The sales are listed in chronological order, but let’s filter this table to see the sales for each region so we can determine which region is doing the best.
Click on the drop-down in the “Region” cell, then click on “Select all” to deselect this and then click on “Central”. Now you see just the orders for the Central region.
Step#7: Let’s drill down on each rep’s orders. Click on the drop-down in column C. Deselect “Select All” and then select Andrews. Now you can see just Andrews orders in the Central region.
If you look at the bottom of your table, you’ll see that Excel has tallied the number of records for you: There are 4 records showing when you filter on Andrews in the Central region.
Step #8: To go back to your full data table, select the drop-down for the columns where you have filtered the data and click on “select All”. Your full data table should re-appear.
Step #9: Play around with the data table and find some different ways to sort the data and gather insights from the table.
Now you know how to filter data in an Excel table, which is a great skill to have!
Bonus Excel Tip: When you have a data table, shade the first row a light color and bold the text to make your header row stand out. If there’s one column of data in particular that you want to highlight, shade it so that your reader’s eye will immediately be drawn to the important part of the table. Always make your tables visually appealing.
I encourage you to update your Excel skills. Check your local market for refresher courses or there are plenty of online tutorials.
Need some data to practice with and a reason to use Excel? Put your household budget in Excel so you can get your finances in order while brushing up on this extremely useful tool.
I’d like to address LinkedIn and how important it is in your job search from a slightly different angle and share some smart strategies for using LinkedIn as a job searcher that you can do today.
Remember, LinkedIn is your ticket to finding out who works where and who’s hiring. For a job seeker, this is important information.
Here are 3 things to try on LinkedIn today:
TIP #1: Look up your dream company using the feature that allows you to see “people who work at…”. Are you connected to anyone who works there? If yes, send them a message asking for a phone call. It can read something like this:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m considering my next career move and have always been really interested in XYZ Company because my background in project management seems like a great fit for the roles XYZ is currently hiring for. Would you have 15 minutes during the next week or two for a phone call so I could ask you a few questions about the company and hear about your experience there?
Thanks in advance!
If you aren’t connected to anyone there, look at the second-degree connections and pick out someone you know who has a connection at the company. This can be either someone in the department you’re interested in (preferably) or a recruiter. Send a message to your connection asking for an introduction.
Here’s a template you can use:
I see you’re connected to Jane Smith on LinkedIn and Jane works at XYZ where I’m really interested in getting a job. Would you be able to introduce Jane and me via email or LinkedIn? My email address is xxx. Thanks for your help!
Did you try it? It’s pretty easy, right? Now try it a few more times – your goal is to expand your network and this will take work every day. Once you get an introduction or schedule a phone call, be ready with great questions, your elevator pitch, and an offer of “what can I do for you?”
Tip #2: For our next trick, message someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time to keep the connection fresh. Just a very brief “hello” is all we’re after here. Here’s an example:
It’s been a while, but I’ve enjoyed following your success on LinkedIn and hope things are going well for you at XYZ Company. I’m working on my return to work after taking a career break and I’m really excited about the possibilities!
Why do this? Because you never know who Bill knows or what kind of help he may be able to provide. If nothing else, you’ve done what people always say they plan to do (keep in touch with their network) but never seem to get around to actually doing – so good for you! Your contacts will recognize that this is smart networking and give you credit for it. Plus, if you need to reach out to Bill with a specific request in the near future, it won’t be so awkward because you’ve checked in with him recently.
Tip #3: Ask for recommendations! Having multiple recommendations is a great way to fill out your profile and asking for them is easy. Use the “Ask for recommendations” feature on LinkedIn. Or you can send your request via email. Allow me to get you started:
Hi Sally, I’m planning my next career move and filling out my LinkedIn profile as part of the process. Would you write a brief recommendation for me? I was hoping you could reference our work together as project managers/my technical skills/the great teamwork we had while working together at X Company. I’d be happy to do the same for you so please let me know if that would be helpful. Thank you!
A few things to keep in mind about your request:
Be specific about what you’d like people to comment on. This helps them write something quickly and gets you just what you want on your LinkedIn profile.
Offer to reciprocate.
Keep your request brief!
Don’t shy away from asking people for recommendations even if it’s been many years since you worked together. They’ll remember you and the work you did.
Try these out today. Why today? Because doing this now while it’s fresh in your mind is your best bet for getting it done. Also, because these are things you need to do on a regular basis and you’ll get more comfortable as you do them more often. Start today and then do them again tomorrow.
Remember, your job as a job seeker is to expand your network. If you’re returning to work after a career break you’re going to have to tap into your network to find your next opportunity and LinkedIn is a great way to do this.
When not offering tips on making LinkedIn the focus of your job search…well, actually, because LinkedIn IS that important, Katie can always be found offering LinkedIn assistance to her UNC MBA Candidates and women like her who are returning to the workforce. For more information and tips, check out www.backtobusinessconference.com.
Whether you’re ready to go back to work after taking time off or just thinking about it, my Returning to Work After a Career Break Webinar will be helpful. It’s full of the professional advice that I use in my position as Senior Associate Director, Career & Leadership at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School but geared toward women returning to work. Sign-up to receive the Webinar Replay that you can watch at your convenience — it’s about 30 minutes — and the accompanying Worksheet, and return to work the right way.
Returning to Work Webinar Replay
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There’s no shortage of advice on the internet for job-seekers when it comes to resumes. But women returning to work after a career gap have a special situation: You’ve been very busy while out of the paid workforce but don’t necessarily have a job title or professional accomplishments to show for it. Here are a few suggestions to help you as you put together your resume:
Use an objective or summary statement. An objective or summary at the top of the resume is especially important when your career does not follow a linear path. The objective is handy if you are applying for a job for which you may not be an obvious fit or you are a career-switcher, like many women returning to the workforce after a career break.
The objective briefly states what type of job you are looking for and the specific skills you have that relate to that job, but must be framed so that it clearly states what you can do for the employer. Here’s an example of a well-crafted objective statement: “Obtain a position at Back to Business where I can use my marketing and business development skills to help grow the organization.”
A summary statement summarizes your skills, areas of expertise and anything that might distinguish you from other applicants. An effective summary reads like this: “Experienced Project Manager with 10 years of experience in the telecommunications industry and knowledge of Global Networks. Proven ability to manage projects in emerging and established markets.”
Whether you choose to do an objective or a summary, remember that this part of your resume will need to be carefully tailored to each position you apply for and should include keywords that recruiters will search on when filling the job.
Use action words such as developed, designed, established, expanded, grew, launched and achieved to start your bullet points and capture the reader’s interest. Each of your resume bullets should convey an accomplishment, rather than simply listing your responsibilities.
Where possible, provide evidence that you possess these most sought-after skills, according to Quintessential Careers: communication skills, analytical/reasoning skills, computer/technical literacy, flexibility/ability to manage multiple priorities, interpersonal skills and leadership/management skills. Regardless of what functional area you are seeking work in, these skills are highly prized by employers. Visit LiveCareers.com for an excellent article on how to articulate these skills in your resume.
Know the right keywords for your target industry and use them effectively. You can determine what keywords are most commonly used in job postings by reading through multiple job postings on Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com or another job search website. Pay close attention to the words used in any job listing you are responding to and be sure those exact words appear in your resume and cover letter whenever possible.
Quantify the statements in your resume bullets. Be specific when stating your accomplishments. You are aiming for bullets such as “Increased sales by x%”, “Reduced costs by $50,000”, “Brought in 10 new clients” or “Hired and trained over 500 people”. If enough time has passed that it’s difficult to recall specifics about your previous professional accomplishments, check out former co-workers profiles on LinkedIn and see if you can get clues from how they talk about their experience. While you’re there, invite them to connect, congratulate them on a recent career move or just drop them a line to keep the relationship fresh.
Here’s some expert advice from Catherine Tuttle, Owner of Forward Thinking Resumes:
“Returning to work after a career break doesn’t mean you have to have lots of white space on your resume. Keep in mind, just because you weren’t getting paid for what you were doing outside the home doesn’t mean it’s not relevant experience. Think about everything you’ve done since you left your most recent full time position and evaluate how it relates to your next career move. For example, were you volunteering for a political campaign – canvassing neighborhoods and speaking out about the issues? Were you part of an alumni network planning opportunities for others to engage on and off campus? Were you working with the PTA to raise awareness and funding for your child’s school? These experiences aren’t trivial and if communicated appropriately, represent a number of key skills that employers value including communication, initiative, relationship building, fundraising, and event planning just to name a few. As women we tend to downplay our success, so talk with friends and family or work with a professional to evaluate your experience, embrace your accomplishments, and articulate them clearly on paper.”
Getting started is the hardest part, so set aside some time to produce your first draft, then ask a trusted friend or adviser to review it for you. Having a resume you are proud of is a key step in being ready to face the job market as a prepared, confident job seeker.