How do you know if you’re ready to return to work? As with many of the choices we make as parents, this decision affects others besides ourselves and can be a difficult one indeed.
Here’s how I knew I was ready to return to a full-time role after working part-time for 12 years:
- I found myself thinking “I can’t wait until I’m at work and my kids have to figure out on their own how to solve many of the problems they come to me for help with now.” Let’s be clear: By “problems” I don’t mean the real issues that kids today face (and I believe there are many), because I plan to always be there to help guide my children in the important matters. I know that the bond I’ve invested in forming with them will allow me to do that whether I’m working outside of the home or not. By problems, I mean the simple stuff that arises on a daily basis. Maybe you’re familiar with these crises: “Where’s my sports uniform?”, “I need a clean shirt for tomorrow!” or “I can’t think of anything to write about for this homework assignment.” I admit that sometimes, against my better judgment, I’ll solve their problems for them because it’s quicker, easier and lets us get places on time. But imagine if they had to solve the small stuff on their own. They’d be forced to take initiative and exercise the time management skills that would compel them to plan ahead and organize. I know that being independent and self-reliant enough to handle small issues on their own would translate into the confidence to tackle some of life’s bigger issues down the road.
- You feel like you’ve paid your dues as a school volunteer and no longer need to chaperone every field trip, run every fundraiser or serve on every school committee. You’re looking forward to giving someone else a chance to get this experience. I used to feel a nagging obligation to respond to every Sign-Up Genius I received, but after years of PTA, room mom, sports and general school volunteering, I am comfortable being selective about which volunteer gigs I sign up for. It’s still important to me to do my share, but the key words here are “my share.”
- You’re interested in what the people around you do for a living. You find yourself asking people where they work, what’s new in their industry and how they got into that line of work. Without even realizing it, you are networking and this is a great way to enter into that exploratory phase of job-hunting. Figuring out where in the marketplace you fit and who will value your skills is a key step in a successful job search.
- You’re craving a more intellectual outlet for your talent. Stop referring to the years you worked as “my past life” and realize that you are a perfect accumulation of all of the experiences you’ve had over your lifetime. The “working you” is no different from the “mom you” or the “volunteer you”. It’s all you! You’re just exercising different skills at different times. And, by the way, all of those skills are valuable – you just have to market them the right way when approaching potential employers.
Transitioning back into the workforce after stepping off the career track can be a daunting task. I found myself looking for an opportunity to refresh my business skills in order to feel confident heading into the job market. I loved the time I spent at home with my family and would make the same choice if given the chance to do it over again.
In order to help other women embrace their choices and ease their transition back into the workforce, I created the Back to Business – I hope it’s helpful.
Once upon a time, it was our kids. Babies, just home from the hospital. When they were awake during the night they demanded your attention and food. When they slept, you watched them sleep to make sure they were still breathing. Then they grew up and became teenagers who could stay out later than you could stay awake. But even when you slept then, you had one eye open like only a mom can.
Now you’re thinking about going back to work and what keeps you up at night are all the what if’s and the how on earths. What if I go back to work and my family needs me at home? What if my child needs a ride and I’m not available? How will my kids play sports/do after-school activities if I can’t pick them up every day? How will dinner get made every night if I’m not there to do it?
Here’s the answer to all those questions: Forget about them for now.
Returning to work after a career break is a multi-step process. Solving those problems before you have a job isn’t even possible because you’re working out of order.
For example, why worry about who’s going to pick up the kids until you know you have a job that requires you to be at work during pick-up time? You may wind up in a job with the flexibility to leave early on days you need to pick people up. Or the kids may find their own rides, or have their licenses by then, or (my favorite) a neighbor will ask you to carpool. Here’s my point: don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back from pursuing a job you’re interested in. Once you get the job, you can figure all the rest out. I know you can – you’re so smart!
Take it one step at a time. The step that comes first is focusing on you. What kind of job do you want? What are the companies where you can do that kind of work? What skill gaps do you need to fill to be able to get that job?
When I was looking for a job, our oldest son was playing on a lacrosse team that practiced 30 minutes from home every afternoon. I was so worried about how he’d continue to play on the team once I went back to work and couldn’t drive him there every day. Guess what? I didn’t go back to work until well after the season ended. This wasn’t a problem I needed to solve, but occasionally I used it as an excuse to put less than 100% into my job search. In hindsight, that was silly.
Allow me to sum it all up for you: Tackle the problem at hand first, then worry about the other stuff. Get the job and then find help where you need it.
You can do this.
If you are working on your professional comeback, there are so many things you need to think about: your resume, career direction, LinkedIn presence, cover letter, professional wardrobe, preparing your family for a big change, and on and on.
But how about you? Yes — you! Do you feel ready? Are you nervous? Need a confidence boost so you can get out there and present yourself in the very best light?
Job seekers tend to spend a lot of time on the tools of job search that I mentioned above, but my experience tells me that women returning to work often need a big shot of confidence in this stage of their life. You’ve been doing amazing things during your years out of the paid workforce but you may be unsure of how they translate to your next career move.
Someone told me recently that they appreciated that the Back to Business Women’s Conference dealt with more than just the tools of job search; we took the confidence issue head-on for women returning to work after a career gap.
I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot today because I spent the afternoon doing the high ropes course and zip-line at Bond Park in Cary, North Carolina where we live with our 4 children. Originally, I signed our 11-year old twins up for the open ropes course afternoon, but when one of them asked me “Aren’t you going to do it too?” I went back and signed myself up also.
This was not my typical Saturday! We climbed up a shaky 35 ft rope ladder, walked across a balance beam in the sky, crossed rope bridges and zip-lined. It was scary! But during the ground training we learned that we were protected by a two-fold security system: we wore two harnesses and were clipped into 2 carabiners. So, although it was scary, we were not going to fall. There was no way we could fail.
What if you couldn’t fail? What if you approached your return to work knowing that you could not fail? Would you walk a little taller? Be a little bolder about reaching out to people you’d like to meet or work with? Speak up about your accomplishments and skills with a different voice?
Well, guess what? I’m here to tell you that you cannot fail in this endeavor. It may take longer than you’d like and you may hear a number of “no’s” along the way, but all you need is one “yes.” And I promise you, eventually you will transition back to work. Approach it like you know you cannot fail.
Another thing I was reminded of while walking high among the tree-tops today is the importance of trust. When we climbed the rope ladder today, we had to have a spotter and before we began we had to say “Trust on” to verbally acknowledge that we trusted our spotter.
Who’s spotting you during your transition back to work? I hope you have people you trust to encourage and support you as you look for a job and return to work.
During the Back to Business Women’s Conference, we seat women with others who live near them and suggest that they get to know each other and continue to meet after the Conference to support each other. Some of these groups met for a year or more after the conference – as members started new jobs and left the groups, they introduced friends who took their places. Many women have told me what a great source of support their Back to Business group has been during their job search.
Making it fun
Let’s face it – going back to work is hard work. Whenever possible, let’s make it fun.
If you’re in our area, I hope you’re planning to join us for the Back to Business MeetUps that will take place over the next few months. We’ll have fun as we share job search advice and hear from women who have successfully made the transition so you can learn from them. Check out the full schedule of upcoming Back to Business events here.
If you’re not in our area, you can access all the information you need here from recaps of MeetUps to How to Conduct an Informational Interview and pretty soon some online content.
So now that we know we can’t fail, let’s get Back to Business!
You can do this.
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.
Preparing to re-enter the workforce can be overwhelming! Download this step-by-step plan to get you going in the right direction.
Your resume is your single most important job search tool, but it can be very frustrating to complete. Download this Resume Checklist to get started and to help you through some of the rough spots.