Keep Track of Your Career Break Activities
While you are 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. Let’s talk about tracking your career break activities and what you can do with that information.
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. These are your career break activities.
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 are career break activities 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.
For a comprehensive look at how this fits into your job search plan, check out Back to Business’s Ultimate Guide To Returning To Work After A Career Break.
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. Don’t forget to tell future employers how that career break time will benefit them too – it made you who you are today!
How Do Moms Returning To Work Get Started?
Let’s Get Started!
I get this question a lot from moms who want to return to work after a career break. Some of them are unsure of how to get started because they’re planning to return to a career that’s different from the one they left. Some just don’t know yet what kind of work they want to do. Others know, but need a big dose of encouragement before taking the first step.
If encouragement is what you need, you’re not alone. This is a big transition we’re talking about and you’re going to need a healthy dose of self-confidence to pull this off. But don’t worry, because you’ve got that. You may need to remind yourself occasionally, but you’ve got it and I believe in you. So, let’s get started.
Moms, Make a Plan To Return To Work
To get started, we’re going to make a plan. And write it down.
I’ve already started this for you – it’s called the Back to Business Return to Work Checklist.
It’s long, I know. So let me give you just one thing to work on today: Think about what you want to do for work.
Think big. Don’t limit yourself to traditional occupations. The world is a big place and people make a living doing all kinds of things.
Moms Returning To Work Should Think Really Big!
And after you think about each of these things, take the time to write them down. Do it. The difference between thinking about something and writing it down is often the difference between getting something done or not getting it done. Let’s get this done!
Here are some things to consider (and then write down):
- What are the accomplishments that make you most proud when you look back on your life? Don’t limit yourself to accomplishments made while at work. I know you’ve accomplished a lot, so give yourself credit for everything you’ve done. This is no time to be modest. You’re awesome and we all know it. Now, what are your biggest accomplishments?
- What skills and strengths do you possess that could be clues to finding work in a field that you will enjoy? Put another way – where are your natural talents? Think seriously about what these are and let’s find a way to get you using these on a regular basis in a job you’ll love. Ask a friend if you need help answering this. Others often see things in us that we don’t recognize in ourselves.
- Think about your motivation for returning to work. Is it financial? Do you miss using your adult brain and interacting with people your own age? Do you have time on your hands now that your kids are getting older that you want to do something meaningful with? Understanding your motivation will help you determine if that job offer that comes your way is the right one for you.
- And finally, let go of the idea that you have to be pursuing your passion. Grab hold instead of the idea that you will find what you love, get good at it, and develop a passion through hard work and positive feedback. It can be paralyzing to think that you have to know what your passion is before you can get started looking for a job. I think the passion part kicks in once you’ve found the right thing and realize that you’re really good at it – not before you start looking.
Learn From Other Moms Who Have Returned To Work
You are not the first person to make this transition back to work after a career break. Here’s an article that shares lessons from other moms who have returned to work.
So let’s get started on our plan to return to work….You’ll find more tips here
Reasons to Return To Work After A Career Break
There are so many reasons why returning to work after a career break can be a positive experience for you, your children, and your spouse.
Independence. Role Modeling. Responsibility. Additional Income.
These are just a few reasons why returning to work can be good for you and your family. Let’s break this down:
Your kids will learn Independence
Our job as parents is to raise children who will be happy and productive members of society. At the most basic level, they have to be able to support themselves, cook for themselves and do their own laundry if this is ever going to happen. When mom returns to work, a shift occurs in the household and other people pick up more responsibility for the things that we used to do.
This shouldn’t be a burden on our children, it’s an opportunity to develop the life skills that they need. Better that they learn them while you’re around to provide guidance than when they’re out on their own and don’t have you to redirect if necessary.
So go ahead, post directions for using the washer and dryer in the laundry room and let your children have at it! It’s possible to raise successful kids without over-parenting.
You will role model having a balanced life for your kids
You’ve role modeled good parenting, problem solving and many other positive qualities all these years. As a job seeker, you have an opportunity to model successfully navigating a process that your children will one day go through. Let them see you put in the hard work, ask for help when necessary, pursue a goal and deal with the inevitable rejection that is part of the job search process. Talk to your family about what you’re doing so they can learn from you and support you.
Your return to work will give your kids more responsibility at home
This goes along with the independence we talked about above. Don’t just hope your children will step up and help out when you return to work – make it their responsibility to carry part of the weight. They’ll feel good about contributing (even if they don’t say so). And they’ll know that being part of a family has both benefits and obligations. Their future spouses will thank you!
Return to work to earn additional income for your family
Know what college costs these days? Yikes! Even if your brilliant children will earn scholarships and you don’t need the income to feed your family, I promise you’ll feel good earning your own paycheck. For some of you, going back to work isn’t an option – it’s a financial necessity.
And some of you may be facing life changes that require you to return to work, such as a recent divorce. Aside from the necessity of earning, returning to work can help you find new meaning with how you are spending your time and give you the opportunity to develop new skills.
So if you are looking to return to work – enjoy this! Look into the future and imagine yourself with a whole new set of competencies, then make a plan for getting there. Here’s some help with taking those first steps.
And if you’re not certain if you’re ready to return to work, check out our blog on How To Know If You’re Ready to Return To Work.
Also be sure to check out the Back to Business Ultimate Guide to Returning To Work After A Career Break.
Informational Interviews Can Accelerate Your Job Search
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.
Clarify Your Goals
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.
Your Game Plan
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?
Moms, how do you know if you’re ready to go back to work?
As with many of the choices we make as moms, determining if I was ready to go back to work was a decision that affected others besides just myself and that made it somewhat difficult.
Here’s how I knew I was a mom ready to go back to work in a full-time role after not working or 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 a mom 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!”
“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. You no longer feel obligated 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.” As a SAHM, I imagined that if I were a mom back at work, I might feel a little less obligated to volunteer for everything (and I was right!).
- 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! 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 and critical for a mom going back to work. Do more of these “informational interviews”! Check out this blog on how to do a good informational interview.
- You are 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. Moms, as you go back to work, you’ll draw on the organizational, communication, and planning skills you used to manage your family. If you’re looking for some tips on how to get started, I’ve got you covered!
You might consider a Returnship as you return to the paid workforce. These are internship-like positions that were created specifically for people returning to the workforce.
Transitioning back into the workforce after stepping off the career track can be a daunting task. But so is being a parent! If you’re a mom thinking about going back to work, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to start a new chapter in your life.
Let’s dust off that resume, take a look at your skills and see where they are needed in the job market of 2023. You might consider refreshing your skills with a course that will help you fill a gap in your skillset. Or you might consider investing in professional coaching that will help you target the right job, write a modern resume and get started on your job search. Back to Business is here for you when you’re ready.
I loved the time I spent at home with my family and would make the same choice to take a long career break if given the chance to do it over again. And I’m also glad that I returned to the paid workforce when I was ready to do so.
Moms, there is lots of joy to be found both working at home and participating in the paid workforce. Join our community of moms going back to work and let’s support each other through these important life changes.
And if you need a few good reasons to return to work after a career break, check out this blog for inspiration.
I promised you we’d dig deep into Credit Suisse’s Real Returns program and I’m about to deliver on that promise big-time! Back to Business conducted interviews with 4 Real Returns participants and they have given us some great insight into what it’s like to participate in the program. I can’t wait to share it all with you: You’ll hear about every part of their return-to-work experience, including how they knew they were ready to return to work and what their first day was really like.
Real Returns…It’s For Real
Here’s the summary: This program is a fantastic path back to work if you’ve got a career break. Your opinion is valued, your experience is respected, and you are set up for success within a supportive community of relaunchers and mentors. Read on for the details from Sally, Sreedevi, Tatyana and Krithika.
The women interviewed for this article had career breaks ranging from 5 to 29 years. Sally, Tatyana, and Krithika had experience in financial services prior to taking their career break, while Sreedevi had experience in software development.
Real Returns values all kinds of work experience and Credit Suisse strives to put program participants into a role that will draw on the skills they already possess as well as challenge them to expand their skill set.
Even if you don’t have experience in financial services, consider applying. According to Credit Suisse’s Katherine Tallent: “an interest in the financial industry and a willingness to learn are the biggest qualities we look for.”
Tell Me More!
Let’s walk through the Real Returns experience with these ladies from start to finish.
These women made great use of their career breaks! Sally spent almost all of her time out of the paid workforce leading philanthropic organizations in her community. Sreedevi was the software developer in the group, and knew that it was important for her to keep her skill set fresh so she attended training and completed professional certifications during her free time in order to be ready to relaunch her career. “I am always in touch with the latest technology,” she said.
Each of these relaunchers knew the importance of refreshing their skills and highlighting their community-based activities to prepare them to return to work. Krithika reskilled with LinkedIn Learning and by completing a certification in Finance. She also did some skill-based volunteering to get experience working in an office environment. In addition, she attended a return-to-work conference where she learned ways to prepare herself and met a lot of people who were transitioning back into the workforce after a break.
“It was very inspiring to hear from people who have been down the road I just started to walk on! All of this plus my added enthusiasm to work helped me feel recharged and ready to go back to work.”
Lesson Learned: You’ll need current skills to return to work and there are lots of ways to get them!
How They Knew They Were Ready
After extended career breaks, there came a time when they each knew that returning to work should be their next step. In one case, a change in life circumstances was the catalyst, for another it was that her kids were grown. Two of our relaunchers wanted to return to work because it filled important needs for them:
“I missed being around business people and getting tasks and accomplishing them” said Tatyana.
“My time away from work made me realize how much I missed working in a corporate environment and the feeling of being an independent woman,” said Krithika.
Applying for Real Returns
Applying for Real Returns was a straightforward process for these women and they invested time and energy into their applications and interview preparation.
Sally says: “I worked very hard on the application; updated my resume using a professional service. The interviews were panel style and behavioral; I did extensive research about Credit Suisse and various roles within the firm. There was a lunch hosted by CS and I used that opportunity to network.”
Krithika had a similar experience with her application:
“The Credit Suisse Real Returns program application and interview process was seamless and I felt instantly connected with everyone I spoke to during the process right from my recruiting business partner to my hiring manager. Applicants are given the opportunity to choose their areas based on their interests to explore. I had a great discussion with my hiring manager during the interview process and gained more insight about the team and the project that I might work on.”
Apply for Raleigh Real Returns here and New York Real Returns here.
First Day Jitters?
Then the big day comes – The first day back at work after an extended career break! This is an important life moment and these women were certainly up to the challenge.
Shreedevi spent some time preparing her kids for the transition and was pleased that they seemed ready and supportive as she returned to work.
Krithika’s Raleigh Real Returns 2020 program was 100% virtual due to covid and while she was both excited and a little bit nervous on her first day back to work, she was pleased with how well the program was run: “The way the virtual program was organized and conducted is extremely commendable.”
Here’s Sally’s take on her first day, which really illustrates the importance of finding the right job and company: “I was excited and not nervous. Credit Suisse was very supportive; I remember at the end of my first day almost bursting into tears because I knew CS was the right “home” for me to re-launch and build my career.”
Lesson Learned: Don’t believe the hype that getting back to work has to be a crazy time for you or your family. With the proper preparation and the right mindset, this transition can be an exciting time of growth for everyone involved!
Mentorship Makes A Difference
One of the Real Returns perks that makes the experience special is being assigned a mentor to rely on for help. Each of these women had a productive relationship with their mentor and credited them with being an invaluable source of support and guidance. Here, in their own words, are some reflections on their mentor relationship:
Sally: “The best part about Credit Suisse Real Returns has been the connection with a “buddy” and a “mentor”. I still maintain both relationships and have benefitted greatly from the stewardship and guidance I have received. My Mentor supported a very wide spectrum: culture at CS, career advice; personality management; sounding board for presentations, supplier of additional resources for presentations, networking, advice on negotiating strategy and strategy regarding finding a conversion role. We met initially once a month and then on an as-needed basis.”
Krithikta: “My Credit Suisse mentor is very encouraging, helpful and available to talk whenever I asked for advice. We discussed effectively networking virtually and building relationships.”
Tatyana: “My mentor Christina is an amazing person. She was always available for me in case I needed her. We discussed my progress in adjusting to the working environment…I could reach out to her any time. She was always open to help and support me and I received lots of wise advice from her. She helped me a lot.”
Training is another important component of Real Returns and each of the women we interviewed mentioned that the training helped them assimilate into their new roles.
Training topics included software systems, hard skills, leadership, and career development training. Importantly, the training exposed participants to leaders from different departments at Credit Suisse, which helped participants understand where their team and role fit into the big picture and gave them exposure to people that helped them build their professional networks.
In addition to the formal training sessions, Krithika benefitted from informal learning opportunities on her team: “I received excellent on the job training that helped me be successful with my project work.”
The Insider Perspective – Beyond Real Returns
After the formal program ended, each of these women was able to transition successfully into a position at the bank. Sally is currently an Assistant Vice President (AVP) Securitized Products Operations Control Team Management. Tatyana is a Business Analyst, CS Regulatory Services. Krithika is an AVP Regulatory Reporting. Sreedevi’s title is AVP GCP DA Production Support.
Sally and Sreedevi leveraged the connections they made on other teams at the bank to secure their roles, while Tatyana assumed a position with the team she worked on during Real Returns. Krithika moved into a position on the IHC Regulatory reporting team where she works on the bank’s quarterly reports.
A Few Of My Favorite Things
I wanted to know what each person’s favorite part of Real Returns was and they did not hold back! Here’s what they told me:
Sally: “The access to absolutely anything I was interested in. We are encouraged constantly to reach out to anyone, regardless of position, to satisfy our curiosity. I also loved the autonomy I was given with the project I was assigned; I was allowed to stretch my knowledge and skillset in its completion and presentation.”
Sreedevi: “My favorite things in the Real Returns program are meeting with the cohort every week, networking sessions, and training sessions.”
Tatyana: “It helped me to get back to work smoothly and easily, without stress. With participation in the Real Returns Program, I got back confidence that I lost due to the break in my career. I received support and was provided with all the needed information and knowledge that helped me to demonstrate that I can become a valuable team member for my group. It was also a great opportunity to meet people who are professionals and to learn a lot from them. I am very thankful to Credit Suisse for the opportunity.”
Krithika: “I enjoyed everything about the program from the networking sessions, to being a part of a wonderful cohort and working on a project with an amazing and talented team where I got to learn a lot and experience the professional environment once again.”
This Could Be Your Next Chapter!
So there you have it: the complete stories of 4 Real Returns participants! I found their insights valuable and was cheering these women on as I wrote this up.
If your career break was at least 2 years, consider applying to Real Returns and joining Sally, Tatyana, Sreedevi and Krithika. Returning to work at a company that values all of your experience, including the time you spent out of the paid workforce, can be an exciting next chapter in a successful career.
Thanks to Sally, Tatyana, Sreedevi and Krithika for sharing their stories with the Back to Business community!
Learn more about Real Returns here.