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.
Whether you are re-launching your career, making a career change or bringing in more business for your own venture, you simply must be “LinkedIn” these days. Use these tips to update your profile and get the most out of your LinkedIn experience.
Approach LinkedIn as a professional reconnecting with colleagues in the working world and finding ways to make a meaningful contribution. This tilt in attitude will help you enter with confidence instead of as someone who wants a job. Just as you are eager to expand your network, so are others. People will welcome your invitations to connect.
Sign up for a free LinkedIn account
First things first. A free account is all you need. You can decide after you’re using it regularly if you need the deluxe model and are willing to pay for it.
Turn off your Notification
Start by clicking on your picture icon on the bar at the top of the page. Go to Settings & Privacy, then scroll down to ” Share job changes, education changes, and work anniversaries from profile”. Change that setting to “No”. This is just while you’re getting set up. We want to prevent your network from being notified of every change you make as you update your profile as you build out your page. Once your profile is to your liking, go back and turn this notification to “Yes”. You’ll want to notify your network when you are adding a skill, a recommendation or a new position (!), but not right now while you are completing your profile and making edits. Build out your profile before you make lots of connections. Then start by connecting with people you know.
Create/Update your Profile
Now for the heavy lifting. Recruiters and hiring managers view your LinkedIn profile as the new version of the resume, and it could be the first thing they see – even before there is a job posting to respond to. So update your profile the right way – and do this before making connections – but know that your profile is an evolving creation that you will be editing regularly.
Even a clown uses a professional photo! You are selling the image that will get you that job, whether it is for a data manager or a clown. A professional photo is important because you’ll be reconnecting with people from the past and with people who have just interviewed you and might need to be reminded of who you are. In fact, professional photos are so important that we make it a priority at The Back to Business Women’s Conference to have a professional photographer on-hand to take photos for everyone. If you need to get yours done, I urge you to spend the money to have it done professionally. This is an investment that is well worth it. There is data to show that profiles with pictures get a much higher percentage of looks and connection invitations.
The first thing people see after your name and photo is your headline. It is not just a job title — pack it with keywords to attract others to read your profile. It does not need to be your current position (or lack thereof) since that will appear again under Experience. It should be strong and personal but not too salesy. Some examples include:
- Experienced Project Manager with pharmaceutical industry experience
- Competitive Intelligence Professional who applies data analytics to enhance decision making
- Certified Professional Facilitator | Helping Teams to get from Chaos to Clarity
- or just pack your “title” with keywords that relate to the job you want and the skills you have. Here’s an example:
Talent Management | Leadership Development | Succession Planning | Diversity & Inclusion | Executive Coaching
Customize your profile URL to include your name by following these steps:
- Click on your profile in the left sidebar to edit your URL.
- Then click on the blue pencil icon next to the box that says “More”.
- Scroll all the way down to the “Contact Info” section of the pop-up box to select your own customized URL. Keep it as simple as possible.
- Then add your personalized LinkedIn URL to your resume and email closing when sending out professional correspondence.
Take a moment right now to look up keywords that are applicable to your field of interest if you haven’t already done this for your resume. Use LinkedIn profiles for people in your line of work and job descriptions to find several keywords they use and then be sure to use them in your summary. When you use keywords in many areas of your LinkedIn profile, recruiters have a better chance of finding you.
This is an essential place to tell readers who you are and what makes you great. Be creative with this – you want to stand out and show enthusiasm – but use those keywords here and keep it professional.
Use your updated resume to populate your Experience section with your work history, education, and certifications. Pull out your biggest accomplishments at each job you’ve held to add to your LinkedIn “Experience” section. Don’t list all of your responsibilities: You just want to highlight your accomplishments here. Be sure to include new volunteer positions, skills training and organization memberships. The Back to Business Women’s Conference is a professional development opportunity, and as such can be included under the Interests or Organizations section of your LinkedIn profile. Also, be sure to join our LinkedIn group called “Back to Business Women’s Conference” and contribute to or start a discussion here.
So now you’re ready to start using LinkedIn and making connections. Turn your notification back on. Start with low-hanging fruit – connect with people that LinkedIn recommends for you. You are looking for quality connections: If there is someone you’d like to meet, you can ask for an introduction from a common connection. Set yourself a goal to make a specific number of new connections each day and track your progress. These could be former co-workers, friends and professional acquaintances. When you reach out be sure to note what they are doing and offer a kind word or a quality recommendation for a fantastic former co-worker. Remember that right now as you are connecting, you should be seeing how you can help them.
Tip: When you are requesting a connection with someone (especially someone you don’t know personally), be sure to include a personal note in the connection request that establishes why you want to connect. The generic LinkedIn request of “I’d like to add you to my professional network” is so impersonal!
Recommendations are testimonials to your service, expertise and skills. Ask others for recommendations and be willing to write a recommendation for them as well. Former co-workers, managers and clients are the best people to ask. If you’ve been out of the paid workforce for a while, think about asking people you’ve volunteered with to write you a recommendation.
Groups and Online Learning
Join a group (such as the Back to Business Women’s Conference group) under the Interests tab and get involved in a discussion. This will help to make you known to others in your field so be sure you are contributing in a constructive manner! Belonging to several groups but not participating will not help you. Similarly, check out some of the online learning opportunities – LinkedIn Learning offers online training on a variety of topics and adds completion links automatically to your LinkedIn Profile. Join your alumni organizations’ group, local networking groups and a professional group that interests you.
Use and Update
Use LinkedIn on a regular basis – the more you use it, the more likely you will come up on others’ radar. Keep your profile up-to-date and be sure to add any new skills, training programs or professional affiliations. Offer endorsements of skills for those who are deserving and recommendations where appropriate. Your connections will likely do the same for you.
Use LinkedIn to research potential companies and expand your list of target companies. Get to know everything about them and make new connections who work there. Know where your friends are working and check out who they’re connected to.
LinkedIn is another social media outlet that will demand some time upfront. Knowing how people make a living is a good use of your time for your own future, as is having them find out about you.
I saw this sign on a shop in St. Augustine, FL during spring break. Naturally, I went in. Who wouldn’t? Such confidence!
What does your sign say? Are you open and awesome? I’m willing to bet that you are, but I’m interested by the confidence gap I keep reading about and how some say that it’s preventing women from taking risks, reaching for that stretch job and speaking up enough. So how to build up that confidence level when you may just be returning to work after a career break? Read on for 5 confidence-boosting ideas that you can start practicing today.
5 Confidence-Boosting Ideas For You!
Confidence Booster #1: Transfer Your Confidence
We all have areas of our life where we feel more confident than others. For some, work is their confidence comfort zone. For others running the show at home is where they feel in-charge. So what if we applied the confidence we exhibit at our confidence comfort zone to our less-confident zone? For women returning to work after a career break and struggling to regain their professional self-assurance, I’d like you to apply your confidence in your non-professional pursuits to your job search and your professional life. Here’s how: notice your posture, body language, the volume and tone of your voice when you’re taking care of business in a place where you feel like the boss. The next time you’re heading into a professional event, a networking meeting, or an interview, recall that in-charge feeling. You are the boss.
Why does confidence matter? In “For Women to Rise, We Must Close the Confidence Gap”, author Margie Warrell argues that in the context of job-searching, a less-confident woman won’t apply for certain jobs if she doesn’t feel fully qualified. You’ve probably all heard the statistic from a Hewlett-Packard internal report that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women will only apply if they meet 100% of the qualifications. Over the many years of a career, the cumulative effect of consistently not reaching for the next job or applying for one you have the potential to do can add up to tremendous missed opportunities, lower salary and fewer promotions.
Confidence Booster #2: Just Act!
The Atlantic Magazine cites perfectionism as “another confidence killer” in “The Confidence Gap” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. “Study after study confirms that it is largely a female issue, one that extends through women’s entire lives. We don’t answer questions until we are totally sure of the answer, we don’t submit a report until we’ve edited it ad nauseam, and we don’t sign up for that triathlon unless we know we are faster and fitter than is required. We watch our male colleagues take risks, while we hold back until we’re sure we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified. In order to become more confident, women need to stop thinking so much and just act.”
Margie Warrell had some of my favorite advice on the topic of exhibiting more confidence: “After working with thousands of women across diverse professions and cultural background, I’ve learned that nothing builds confidence in any arena more than stepping right into the middle of it…palms sweating, stomach knotted, beside the guys…despite the chorus of doubts urging you to play it safe in the stands…The only way to build confidence and courage is by acting with it.” This is a modern-day echo of the famous Eleanor Roosevelt advice to “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
Confidence Booster #3: Pay Attention to the Words You Use
Your word choice can be a powerful signal of your confidence level. Be cognizant that you’re presenting ideas in a way that is not apologetic or timid. Don’t fear disagreement – a healthy exchange of differing opinions and ideas can be an amazing way to reach a good outcome. But if you’re afraid to speak up and present your opinion or ideas, this exchange won’t ever happen.
Confidence Booster #4: Visualize Success
A technique often taught to sales professionals that you can use to build your confidence is to visualize a successful outcome. This takes goal-setting an important step farther, as you actually spend a few minutes imaging what success looks like for you in the situation you are faced with. If you’re entering a job interview, visualizing success means imagining yourself getting the call from the hiring manager to welcome you to the team and offer you that job. It’s a pretty powerful technique and one I urge you try the next time you’re faced with a situation that challenges your sense of confidence.
Confidence Booster #5: Remember Your Victories
Ever heard of an “Attagirl File?” It’s a file, either physical or electronic, where you keep confidence-boosting accolades, thank you notes, awards, and anything that you’ve received that points out a job well-done or makes you feel positive about an action you took. I call mine “Wins.” If you don’t have one, start one today and refer to it whenever you need a reminder of how awesome you are. It’s also handy when you go to update your resume or have a performance review.
A few months ago I was invited to lead the discussion on Women Returning to Work at an MBA Women’s Leadership Conference. My first thought was “Who, me?” But then I realized that I live this stuff, read about it constantly, write about it weekly, obsess about it and talk about it with everyone I meet. I’m the expert! Yeah, me.
So when you see a job that you want, roll up your sleeves and apply, find a connection at the company to put in a good word for you and visualize yourself getting the job after wowing them in the interview. Be open and awesome! Yeah, you.
Today’s blog is special because it features Q&A with Beth, Stefani and Kathleen, three successful relaunchers who attended the Back to Business Women’s Conference in 2015 and started new jobs shortly thereafter. Each of these awesome women worked hard at their job searches, learned along the way and achieved results, but they each did things a little differently. Read on to benefit from their wisdom.
What made you decide it was time to return to work?
Stefani: I was working part time with the thought that it would lead to a better position, but it wasn’t going anywhere and I knew I needed more.
How did you get your job?
Stefani: I heard good things about Indeed.com so I focused on that website and that is where I found my current position.
Kathleen: I applied to numerous jobs at UNC and NC State over a 4-month time period. I finally got an offer for a job that would have been good and on the same day got called to interview for a job that was specifically event planning, which is what I wanted. That same day I was attending the Back to Business Women’s Conference and met a UNC HR person there. He suggested emailing the hiring manager something to show her what I would do if I had the job so I emailed her a detailed event plan that she mentioned in the interview and the next day she called me and offered me the job.
What job search tactics were effective for you?
Beth: I found that networking was the most effective. Contact everyone you know and their spouses. Ask for any help you can get. It is amazing how one conversation can spark an idea or a contact that ends up becoming an opportunity. Be bold and don’t be afraid to ask for help – that’s what everyone does. In the end, my best friend’s husband’s recommendation got me my job.
Did you ever feel frustrated during your job search?
Beth: YES! Job boards were a waste of time for me. Target specific companies related to a skill or an industry where you have previous experience. Now that I have been on the other side of it as a recruiter, I see how quickly resumes are passed over, for the smallest thing. But keep trying – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince! LOL!
Stefani: Absolutely! I quit looking for a while but with encouragement from my spouse and friends I started back searching again. And what really, truly lifted my spirits was attending the Back to Business Women’s Conference! It inspired me when I had been very discouraged.
Kathleen: Very frustrated! I couldn’t get an interview for a while and it felt like it was impossible to speak to a person during the application process. I learned that I needed to be networking.
Was the type of job you went back to different from your previous job? If so, why?
Stefani: I’m back in the field in which I used to work but I changed my strategy to target a less technical position. I realized that I could not walk back into a role like I used to have due to advancements in technology. This new strategy alone truly helped me get more interviews.
Did you do anything to refresh your skills to get the job?
Stefani: I didn’t, but I was considering it. It’s just difficult to justify when a home has one primary income. Kathleen: Yes, I needed to learn a variety of software programs and I am still learning.
What is your best advice to women on a career break right now?
Beth: Do something with your time that can translate to a job later on. I heard a recruiter colleague of mine (who didn’t realize I had a career break myself) criticize a woman who had been out of work. “Could she not have had a part time job? I can’t help her!” Even a volunteer position that develops skills that can be useful in the workforce is important. Show that you had the initiative to keep current and the energy to volunteer or work at something important.
Stefani: Looking back I wish that I had a strategy in place to return to work as soon as I made the decision to put family first for a while. I was really just “a candle in the wind” but I learned that I should have attempted to keep myself involved in my field, in a professional organization or have a more pertinent part-time job. I just became totally involved in organizations and part time work that focused on my children – not career-forward thinking.
What’s your best advice to women returning to work after a career break?
Stefani: If your search is stagnant, attempt a different strategy. Keep an open mind and try different avenues – don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone!
Kathleen: Do a lot of research on the field or business you’re interested in, update your business attire to match the environment you would like to work in, make sure your resume is updated in a way that is being used now, create a LinkedIn account, tell people you know you are looking for a job and look confident even if you don’t always feel it.
How did you manage the transition back to work?
Beth: That was really hard at first, but my advice is to give it time – it will get better. I used an online family calendar (Cozi) to keep track of schedules – that really helped. Everyone will adjust – it does take some getting used to though.
Stefani: My mother always wants to help out so I asked her to make a casserole for my first week of work. And she really came through and made me a casserole each week of my first month – it was great! And my kids have chores they are required to do after school before I get home, such as setting the table for dinner.
Kathleen: I planned out everything I could with multiple plans and became more flexible with what “had” to be done and what could wait.
We made it a family affair, everyone does their part.
Do you enjoy being back at work?
Beth: Yes, I do. I love being an adult again, feeling like a professional and being able to support myself and provide for my family. It wasn’t my first choice for this time of life, but my confidence has returned and I love the new person that I am.
Stefani: I’m loving it – it’s like I’ve gotten back to myself and it really has improved my personal self-esteem.
Kathleen: I love my new job and schedule, so glad I did it. I learned so much from the process that I can share with my teens who are looking for a job!
Career switching is a common occurrence for women re-entering the workforce. You’ve probably heard the statistic that the average working person will have 7 different careers in their lifetime. Women often make a conscious decision to return to the workforce in a field other than the one where they previously worked. Here are 7 tips for successfully approaching a career change as you re-enter the workforce after a career break.
1) See this as an opportunity to re-invent yourself
Approaching this career change with the attitude that you are going to make a fresh start in a new field is going to carry you through the inevitable tough times of a job search. Commit to putting in the hard work required to get a new job and sticking with it through the ups and downs. Not sure which direction to take your career in? Click here to check out 10 free career assessment tools.
2) Determine which skills you’ll need in your new field
The trick to being a successful career switcher comes down to two words: transferrable skills. If you can show that the skills you used in one job will transfer well to another job, you are on your way to having an effective pitch for why someone should hire you. Comb job postings and LinkedIn profiles of people who hold the job you’d like to fill. Do informational interviews to determine which skills you’ll need. Make a chart with 2 columns – in the first column list the skills mentioned most in job postings for the position you’d like to have. In the second column list an example of a time when you used that skill.
3) Get the skills you don’t have
Switching careers takes work. Chances are you are going to have to do some re-skilling. Look into a professional certification or an industry conference, take a class at a community college or online or attend a meet-up to acquire the skills you don’t yet have. The nice thing is that you know exactly what those skills are, thanks to the work you did charting the required skills for your new field. You can also get those skills by volunteering in your intended field.
4) Craft a compelling story around your skills
Everybody loves a good story. Take a project you worked on in which you used the skills listed in your chart (see #2) and turn it into a story. Set up the situation, the task that needed to be completed, the action you took and most importantly, the result you achieved – all while focusing on how your skills enabled you to accomplish something big. Then tie it all together by relating the skills you used to your intended field. Don’t be afraid to have a story around something you accomplished while on a career break. This can show that you used your time out of the paid workforce productively and never stopped achieving, even when you weren’t getting paid.
5) Join a professional group geared toward your new industry
This is a great way to learn what the insiders know, meet people in your new field and get the lingo down. Chances are they have educational events you can attend. Finding these organizations in your local area is as easy as doing a Google search. These organizations often need volunteers and have job-search groups, so get involved. Join a LinkedIn professional group and first monitor, then participate in the conversations happening there.
6) Find an internship or offer to do project work at a target company
Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore. This idea is catching on among women returning to work, according to iRelaunch’s Carol Fishman Cohen in this TED talk. Some industries may also be open to the idea of having you do project work. I had a friend who wanted to be a recruiter but balked at the idea of working for commission only for a trial period. This would have allowed her to learn the business without costing the company anything. She didn’t want to work for free, but 6 months later she was still looking for a job, hadn’t earned any money and still hadn’t learned the field of recruiting. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all!
7) Act like you’ve been there before
When you pull all of this together, it will help you act like you’ve been there before instead of seeming like an outsider trying to break into a new field. The funny thing about job searching is that recruiters want to hire people who have done the job before! If you don’t have direct experience in a field, you’ll have to prove that you possess the required skills and understand how to apply them to be successful in the role.
And here’s a bonus tip:
If you’re not getting the desired results from your job search, consider creating your own job. While I was looking for my return-to-the-workforce-full-time-job, I realized that there were a lot of other women out there facing the same challenges I was. I decided to do something to help all of us. I started Back to Business and in the process acquired skills that employers found attractive. I seized the opportunity to re-invent myself, developed a host of new skills that gave me a pretty convincing story to tell, met a ton of new people through the groups I joined and never missed a chance to learn something new. Ironically, just over a month before we launched our first conference I started a new full-time job that I love.
Keep at it. You’ll find a job that you love too and when you do, tell me about it on Facebook so I can congratulate you!