Would you like to return to the work world but are concerned about how to find an opportunity that will allow you to fulfill your family or other non-work obligations, nervous about how to market yourself to potential employers, or unsure about what type of work you want to do? We know how you feel. We took time out to be home with our children, and then relaunched our careers years later. Based upon our experience, and that of the 100+ women we interviewed for our forthcoming book, as well as the career counselors, recruiters and employers whose advice we sought, weve developed a detailed process to help you negotiate this major transition. Here it is in a nutshell:
1. Relaunch or Not: You Decide. If financial reasons require you to return to work, go to step 2. If not, determine whether you are ready to go back to paid work or whether deepening your volunteer involvement or engaging in a non-work passion might satisfy your restlessness. If youre not sure whether or not you want to return to paid work, visit www.backonthecareertrack.com and take our Relaunch Readiness Quiz.
2. Learn Confidence. If a lack of confidence is one of the obstacles holding you back, dont worry. You can regain it. Remember, whether you are a nurse, speech therapist, computer programmer, scientific researcher, or salesperson, your former colleagues and classmates image of you is frozen in time. They think of you as a consummate professional, and as you start to renew your professional persona and reconnect to the professional world, your confidence will grow. Following Steps 3 and 4 will also help increase your confidence as you update your professional knowledge and become more articulate in expressing what you want to do and why.
3. Assess Your Career Options. Dont think that returning to the conventional full time workforce is the only way to resume your career. The moms we interviewed did everything from starting a home based afterschool enrichment program (former teacher) to running career services for a law school on a flexible schedule (former public defender) to job sharing a hospice administrator position (former social worker) to creating a marketing campaign for a new mutual fund from home (former mid level marketing executive). Break down your old job(s) or volunteer experiences into their component parts and focus on what you did best and what you liked best. Then try to think of new opportunities that build on those skills and interests.
4. Update your Professional and Job Search Skills. A sure way to increase your confidence and bolster your employability is to update yourself. Read relevant journals, take continuing education classes and attend industry events. In terms of job search skills, develop an elevator story (a two minute talk answering the what do you want to do question) that summarizes your expertise and the kind of opportunity you seek in a few key sentences.
5. Network and Market Yourself. Order yourself a business card with your name and contact information. That way you dont have to scribble on a piece of scrap paper if you meet someone who wants to keep in touch with you. Then, start talking to people, beginning with those you know well. Branch out to those to whom they refer you, and discuss your professional interests and the kinds of opportunities youd like to explore. These informal conversations essentially function as interview rehearsals, as you gradually hone your message. Prior to formal interviews, make sure you prepare extensively by studying the employers website and practicing answers to the most common interview questions. When asked about your resume gap, answer matter-of-factly that you took some time out to raise your children/take care of an elderly parent, etc., but that youre now eager to get back to work.
6. Channel Family Support. Get your spouse, if you have one, on board with your plans as soon as possible. If you encounter resistance, make it clear how important this is to you and point out that with extra income you might be able to outsource some of the tasks that neither of you wants to perform, such as cleaning and shopping. The older your children are, the sooner you should tell them as well. If you need to change your childcare arrangements, try to implement the changes before you start your new job, so you can work out any problems. Streamline your household routines to maximize time to devote to either work or family. Develop a support network of family and/or neighbors to help you out in a jam.
7. Handle the Job or Find Another One. You found the right opportunity and youve relaunched. Initially, keep your employers expectations low. Better to underpromise and overdeliver, rather than the other way around. Ask for early and frequent reviews — ideally, every six months, because neither you nor your employer will be able to predict the rate of your career trajectory. Help your colleagues whenever possible, so theyll reciprocate when you need them. And, remember, this is just your first foray back to the professional marketplace. If it doesnt work out, you can always make a change.
© 2007 Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin