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’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!