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.
If you’re feeling stuck in your job search or just need some fresh new ideas about how to move the ball forward, here is my list of Top 10 Resources for Job Seekers. Many of these are free and easy to take advantage of. So whether you’re ready to return and find yourself at an impasse, or if you just want to think ahead, pick one of these to investigate this week.
My Top 10 Resources for Women Returning to Work
- Community College – many of their job search classes are free to job-seekers. This is also a great place to take low-cost classes that help you demonstrate that you’re a continuous learner and fill your skill gaps.
- Job search groups – many of these are run out of churches, and you don’t always have to be a member of the church to join the group. They provide support, community and speakers on topics of interest to job seekers. In my area, for instance, First Baptist in Cary runs a big job-seeking group.
- Groups that provide technology skills training, some are focused specifically on women:
- Women Who Code is a national group that holds meetings, runs courses and provides lots of online resources
- Mozilla offers online resources and courses for learning and refreshing tech skills
- Girl Develop It – now in 58 cities, they offer meet-ups for women learning to code
Meet-Ups seem to have a group for every specific coding language that exists! Google “code meet-ups (your city name)” to find out what exists in your area
- Local networking groups that hold periodic networking lunches and events for women. This is a great way to meet people and make new connections. Again, either google or search MeetUp.com to find groups. Remember, you must get out of the house and meet people to advance your job search!
- Flexjobs is an online job board that posts flexible and part-time jobs
- If you need professional help putting your resume together, there are plenty of coaches out there who will help you with this and you can find them on LinkedIn. We use Mir Garvy of RTP Resumes or Catherine Tuttle of Forward Thinking Resumes. Both of these resume experts will work with you remotely if you’re not local and are interested in their services.
- Here’s a terrific book that I highly recommend: Back on the Career Track by Vivian Steir Rabin and Carol Fishman Cohen. It’s written just for stay-at-home-moms returning to the workforce and full of practical advice. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark is another great read that will inspire you on your job search. Dorie’s advice: “Find the common thread between your past and where you want to go in the future.”
- Learn a new skill or refresh a current one by taking online courses on LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Udemy.com. There are smart and economical ways to brush up on your Excel skills and many others, and some of these courses are free.
- Additional online resources that focus on women:
- Power To Fly – job board that staffs women on virtual jobs
- Werk – Werk’s mission is to promote flexibility in the workplace
- Apres – online resource and job board for women returning to work
Let me know what other resources you have found to be helpful.
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 #1: Get a sample excel file from http://www.contextures.com/xlSampleData01.html
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.
This week we have a guest blogger: Successful career relauncher Barbara Ann Spangler shares her return-to-work story. Barbara Ann talks about how she networked to discover an internship position and to learn what skills she needed to acquire to succeed in that role. Barbara Ann is a panelist at the Back to Business Women’s Conference on our Panel of Women Who Have Successfully Re-launched Careers.
I began my return to work journey a couple of years ago. Through this journey I struggled with how to approach returning to work. I met with several staffing companies and the feedback was that it had been too long since I had been working and it would be a hard sell to place me in a position. They suggested I start as a temp or an administrative assistant. While I was open to exploring that, I found that the jobs they targeted for me were less than challenging. I began to explore career changes as another path. I have a BA in Economics/Business Administration with previous work experience in data and financial analysis, process improvement, and technical documentation.
I connected with a peer of my husband’s who works in marketing at a local technology company. She set up a few meet and greets with other workers within the company so I could explore what their jobs were and what skills were required as well as get ideas on how to position myself. In one of the meetings with a Senior Director of Marketing Operations, we discussed the growing area of marketing analytics and how my background in data analysis meant I already had the skill set, but did not have experience with the tools. I had already explored the business analytics program at Wake Tech and signed up for their accelerated program to get a certificate in Marketing Analytics. The Sr. Director of Marketing Operations I had spoken to had an intern position for the summer and offered me the opportunity as a way to gain experience with the tools. I am currently working with their group using my process analysis and technical documentation skills to aid their group while gaining experience and exposure.
I had doubts that networking would be of benefit to me in my journey. However, it was through networking that I met people who took time to meet with me, tell me about their jobs, and help me on my journey. They offered me advice, suggestions and insight into what tools to learn and referred me to tech staffing companies. In the end, it led to a job.
I highly encourage you to go meet with people, ask questions about their jobs, think about what you want to do and be open to where the journey may take you.
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 may be especially important since your career is not necessarily following a linear path. Chose just one of these: 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 Quintessential Careers 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, Former Manager of Alumni Career Services for the NC State Alumni Association and 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.