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.
Today I want to share 4 big lessons in restarting a career that I’ve learned over the past 5 years from my own personal experience of returning to work after a career break and that of the hundreds of women I’ve talked to and coached through this transition.
It can be done, but it often takes longer than you think it should
The big take-away here is “it can be done.” I promise, it can. There are lots of women out there who have taken career breaks and then resumed their careers. And while we both know that you’re amazing and highly qualified for that awesome job, job search is called a “process” for a reason. It can move slowly, and it often involves trial-and-error that can lead to changing directions. Be flexible and be prepared for a long process. Keep a journal along the way so you can capture all that you’re learning about yourself and the companies and people you encounter. There is nothing wasted in this process, you can use almost every experience to get better. Even the frustrating ones!
You control much of the process
Keep this in mind, especially on the days when if feels like you’re not making progress. You control how much time you put in on your job search, what your resume looks like, how prepared you are for an interview, the types of jobs you apply for, how good your cover letter is and how you present yourself to potential employers, among other things. You do not control a hiring manager’s decisions. Importantly, you also control your reaction after you receive bad news (or no news, as is often the case) while you are job-searching. Focus on what you can control and do your very best with those things. Invest in yourself. Take a class to keep your credentials fresh. Re-activate your network by reaching out to former colleagues. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!
You don’t pick up where you left off
I’ve heard the following from so many women: “I took a job making a lot less than I used to but it was worth it just to get my foot in the door.” Ladies, all you need is a place to start, or re-start. When it presents itself, take it and run with it. Just yesterday I received this email:
“ I attended your first Back to Business Conference and it gave me hope I could return to the corporate world after taking 16 yrs off to raise 4 children.
Thanks to networking, I was able to relaunch my career nearly 3.5 years ago. There were definitely challenges returning… I basically started back at entry level working with recent college grads and accepted a salary significantly less than I made in 2000! But now, the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.”
I love this! My favorite part is: “the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.” It’s almost magic how recent work experience practically erases the impact of a career break on your resume. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Take that step.
The people who get out from behind their computers are the ones who make it happen
Let me guess: You’ve been applying for jobs online, diligently attaching your resume and cover letter to job applications. Stop doing that! Your time is much better spent connecting personally with people who do what you want to do or who work at companies you’d like to work for. You don’t have to stop applying altogether, but have a balanced job search plan that includes as much person-to-person talking and meeting as you can schedule. The online job application is often a black hole, while meeting in person with another human is not. Tell the people you meet with exactly what you’re looking for so they know how to help you.
To wrap up, remember to be patient and stay positive when returning to work takes longer than you expected, focus on what you can control, take a long-term view and don’t worry about returning to work at a lower level or salary than you previously had. And finally, focus your job-search efforts on making personal connections.
You’ve got this – I believe in you!
Job fairs are a great addition to your job search toolkit. But the thought of all those employers in one big room and lots of other job seekers circulating around the room might be intimidating to some.
Never fear – I’m going to walk you through a foolproof guide to knock it out of the job fair ballpark. When you follow these steps, you’ll be prepared, confident and ready for success. Let’s get started!
First, find the right job fair. Many are free for job seekers or charge a small fee, so look carefully at any job fair that comes with a hefty admission price. Do your research – call the organizer and ask some questions before paying to attend a job fair as a job seeker. The right job fair will have employers there that you are interested in, or at least that you are open to learning more about.
Register in advance. This signifies a commitment on your part and will help ensure that you don’t back out!
Research the list of companies that are attending. Look them up and note the following things about each one:
- What the company does
- How big it is
- What types of jobs they list on their website that they’re hiring for now
- Which of their available jobs you are interested in and are a good fit for
- How the company describes their culture
- One interesting fact about the company that you can bring up in conversation with a recruiter
Apply to positions with those companies prior to the job fair.
Go to LinkedIn to search for a recruiter or Human Resources contact at the company. This is gold! Now send an InMail message or email to this recruiter to let her know you are a perfect fit for this job and will be at the job fair. Include your resume. Send it just a few days in advance of the job fair. Be brief – you want your note to be read, so after you write it, cut it in half and then send it!
Prioritize the employers attending the job fair in order of how interested you are in each one.
Practice your personal pitch. You should have a 20-second version of your pitch for a job fair that includes the following:
- A firm and friendly handshake while you look the recruiter in the eye, smile and introduce yourself
- A mention of your key skills and how they tie to the work this company does
- The specific job opening you saw on their website that you are interested in. We want it to be obvious that you did your homework before arriving
Your pitch should sound polished, but not like a recitation. Keep it conversational. Record yourself delivering it (I like the Voice Recorder & Audio Editor app for iPhone) so you can get good at it.
On game day, wear a suit. You are a job seeker, and job seekers need to look professional. Many other people there won’t be in suits and you will stand out for your professionalism. If your closet no longer holds suits, pull together the most professional outfit you can and go for it.
Bring copies of your resume. Print them out on regular white paper, no need to buy the fancy paper we used to print our resumes on in the old days! Put these in a padfolio or a nice folder along with some blank paper so you can take notes. Also bring business cards with your contact info if you have them. You can get these made at Staples or any other office supply store on really short notice and for very little money.
Arrive early: If you arrive close to the beginning of the job fair, you’ll wait in fewer lines and catch recruiters while they’re fresh. If the job fair starts at 8:30am, plan to arrive by 8:45am – let recruiters have their coffee and get set up before you arrive.
Look at the floor plan for the job fair and note where each company has their booth. Start with a company that is not one of your top priorities. You want to get practice giving your pitch and really hit your stride by the time you approach your most desired company. I also want you to avoid looking like a lost soul wandering around the room.
Enter the room like you own it! You are the reason job fairs exist, after all. Job fairs hope to attract qualified, professional candidates and that’s exactly what you are! So walk in with purpose and get started with the companies you want to meet. Here’s a sample pitch:
“Hi, my name is Elizabeth Smith. It’s nice to meet you. I’m a marketing manager with an expertise in digital marketing and I’m really interested in IBM because you set the standard in the tech field. I applied for a Digital Marketing Manager position online and would like to talk to you about it.” Then ask a smart question about it.
Before you leave the table, offer your resume and business card and ask for the recruiter’s card. Also, ask about the best way to follow up and if it’s OK for you to check in with them in a few days. (You’ll need to have the recruiters contact info to follow up.)
Need a break? Step into the lobby, find a comfy chair and write down some notes while you take a breather. Notes like this are helpful:
Met Cindy Smith at IBM. Hiring in digital marketing, but not in partner marketing. Call on Monday to follow up. Also have openings in Watson Health area.
Don’t rely on your memory when you get home, because if you visit multiple booths they’ll all start to blend together in your mind.
Within 24 hours, reach out to the people you met. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a personalized message or send an email – or both. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them, remind them of your conversation or the position you applied for and express interest in meeting again soon. Don’t skip this step. Follow up is very important and very few job seekers do it. It will set you apart.
Good luck at the job fair!
You’ve heard of the informational interview, and you may have thought these were just for kids looking for their first job out of college. Think again!
Informational interviews are an essential component of your job search, especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while. An informational interview is when you have an informal conversation with someone who works in a field you’re interested in or at a company you’re interested in. I’m going to walk you through how to conduct a successful face-to-face informational interview from start to finish. Here is a Quick Glance Graphic of an informational interview that will also be helpful.
A good informational interview starts with clear goals in mind.
3 Goals to keep in mind when doing an informational interview:
1 Learn about your interviewer’s job, company and industry.
This information will help you target your job search and perform better in interviews.
2 Enlist your interviewer as an advocate.
When you show up for the interview looking sharp, meticulously prepared and wanting to share information, your interviewer is going to want to mention your name in their next conversation with their HR resource or colleagues who have job openings.
3 Offer knowledge and contacts that will benefit your interviewer.
Informational interviewing isn’t all about learning – if done correctly it’s also about teaching. You want to have some knowledge that you can offer to your interviewer that will benefit them. It’s a two-way street.
My formula for a winning informational interview
Step 1: Do your research
You must be knowledgeable about the industry and role you are going to talk to people about. Although you’re there to gather information, researching in advance will give you context for what you’re going to learn and enable you to carry on an intelligent conversation. Good sources for research: Local business news to learn who’s hiring and who’s laying off locally, online job postings from Indeed or Glassdoor to learn about the skills required in the industry and company websites and LinkedIn pages.
Step 2: Pick your target
I recommend starting with an easy target to get warmed up – ask your neighbor, a friend or a friend’s spouse if they’d meet you for coffee. Keep your ask simple and casual – it’s fine to do it via email. Here’s an example:
I know you’ve been at Lenovo for a few years and had a lot of success there. I’m interested in returning to tech product marketing. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. Would you have time to meet next week? Do any of these days/times work for you?
Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm
Thanks for considering my request.
Once you have a few of these meetings under your belt, you will have the confidence and contacts to move on to hiring managers and recruiters – actual decision-makers in the hiring process. Here’s what an ask can sound like as you approach these higher-value targets:
Karen Smith suggested I contact you to talk about your role at Cisco. I’m a former marketing manager with 5 years of experience in the tech industry and I’m currently looking for a new opportunity. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. I’ve done quite a bit of research on cloud computing and would love to get your perspective on where the industry is headed. Would you have time to meet next week for a cup of coffee? If a phone call is more convenient, I’d really appreciate your time and be happy to work around your schedule. Do any of these days/times work for you?
Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm
Thanks for considering my request.
Step 3: Plan an agenda for your informational interview
An agenda will help keep your interview moving along and productive. You requested the meeting, so you should drive it. Respect your interviewer’s calendar and stick to the agreed-upon time limit. You may want to position yourself where you can see a clock without being distracted or place your phone (on silent) on the table so you can glance at it occasionally to keep on track.
Download a Sample Agenda for a 30-Minute Interview Here
Step 4: Execute the Plan: Learn, Share and Get Referrals
Buy the coffee and start the conversation off on a friendly note by thanking them for their time. Then give your elevator pitch, learn about their industry and job and share with them what you know from your research. Ask to be referred to others who are open to a conversation and might have wisdom to share about your intended field.
Step 5: Follow up
After they depart, take a few minutes and jot down everything they told you that might be useful. Compose a thank you email – keep it brief and mention any next steps either of you agreed to take (“I look forward to having you introduce me via email to your friend Bob”). Then look up your interview partner on LinkedIn and send them a personalized invitation to connect if you haven’t already done so.
After you connect with Bob and have a conversation, the savviest networkers will email back to the person who connected you to say “Thanks for this introduction. I spoke with Bob this morning and he was extremely helpful, just as you said he’d be. I really appreciate your efforts.” Everyone likes to think of themselves as a connector of people and you just confirmed with someone that they are exactly that.
Boom. Done. Network grown. Industry knowledge gained. Advocate secured. Pat yourself on the back and then find three more people to engage in informational interviews this week. You didn’t think I was going to let you off that easy, did you?
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.