Focusing on our job search means updating our resumes….which means a solid review of our skills – determining which relevant skills we already possess and which require an update. Here are the critical skills we’ve identified and then what some experts have to say about them –
Professional Skills: Communication, Leadership, Teamwork
These are interpersonal skills that are so vital, yet not always common, in a work environment. Clear and concise verbal and written communications, the ability and confidence to have others follow your lead and the ability to work well with others as a leader or member of a team are crucial for success.
Business Basic Skills: E-mail, Spreadsheets, Word processing, Budgets, Scheduling
Being proficient on e-mail and in scheduling is probably not that tough for women re-entering the workforce as we’ve just spent the last many years coordinating our families’ activities! But a Microsoft refresher course is definitely in order with recent technological upgrades and advancements.
Technical Skills: Software-specific, Coding
Recruiters and employers are often looking for technical skills. Search job postings in your area of interest and check on LinkedIn to see what skills people working in your intended field possess. Remember that even if you don’t plan to go into a technical field, it can be important for you to understand the language of technology and have a basic understanding of modern technical terms.
Use our Job Re-Entry Checklist to assess your skills and identify any gaps that might need a refresher or training.
What the Experts Say
These skills are so important, that reacHIRE’s comprehensive PowerUpTM training program includes 70+ hours of training in these areas. reacHIRE has a program in Boston and RTP that helps women to successfully re-enter the workforce. Sonja Neiger, reacHire’s Regional Director, Talent & Training tells us that they include finance fundamentals, working with big data and understanding the software development process in their training.
“Most businesses are very interconnected, so strong communication skills are critical” says Leigh-Wallace Hines of The Select Group. “I typically also look for responsibilities listed on a resume where the candidate has given presentations using various methods (in person and teleconference) to groups of people and written documentation or marketing materials. When speaking to a candidate over the phone or in person, I want to make sure that they speak clearly and that their personality will mesh well with the environment that they will work in for our customer.”
Regarding technical skills, Hines says that “if someone is looking to ‘start from scratch’ and enter the technical world as a Help Desk Analyst or a Network Technician, then having some sort of certification (unless they have a Bachelor’s Degree in the field) will demonstrate that they have the baseline knowledge to be successful in the role. For a data analytics role, having demonstrable experience with software relevant to their field (SAP, SPSS, SQL, etc.) is important. If someone has been out of work for some time, candidates should be able to show some sort of effort in keeping their skills up-to-date by attending seminars, conferences, or classes at a local technical school.”
If you’ve been a busy, involved parent, chances are good that you’ve probably cultivated many of the skills that employers find desirable in candidates while you were on your career break. Many women stay active by managing committees through their churches or children’s schools, leading PTAs, organizing events or fundraising. Don’t overlook the value of these activities. Take a good look at what you’ve been involved in and make a list of the tools and skills you used in those situations, even if it wasn’t paid work.
Once you identify those skill areas in which you are relatively weak, make a plan to improve them. Your plan could include attending Back to Business events where you can brush up on some of those critical job skills in a hands-on environment. And if you’ve been putting off volunteering, now is a good time to pick a few activities that will help you strengthen a skill area you’ve identified as important to your next career move.
Communicating that you possess these skills is the next step. We’ve addressed that in subsequent Back to Business articles on effective networking. So keep working on your checklist and stay tuned!
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:
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.
Role Modeling – 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.
Responsibility – 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!
Additional Income – 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. 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’re 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.
I get this question a lot from women who want to go back to work. 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.
To get started, we’re going to make a plan. And write it down.
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.
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.
Whether you’re ready to go back to work after taking time off or just thinking about it, my Returning to Work After a Career Break Webinar will be helpful. It’s full of the professional advice that I use in my position as Senior Associate Director, Career & Leadership at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School but geared toward women returning to work. Sign-up to receive the Webinar Replay that you can watch at your convenience — it’s about 30 minutes — and the accompanying Worksheet, and return to work the right way.
Returning to Work Webinar Replay
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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.