Re-entering the Workforce: Tips for Success

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If you are one of America’s five million stay-at-home moms and you’re planning on re-entering the workforce in the near future, you may find yourself facing some significant challenges.

Some employers are wary when it comes to job applicants who have big gaps in their employment history. One of the things they worry about is hiring someone who hasn’t kept up with new technology and with advances in their field. They also may question your future commitment to work.

Like anything that’s worth doing well, getting back to work after an extended absence requires some careful planning. If you start preparing several months before your actual job search, you are much more likely to be ready for the challenges you’ll face. Besides contending with biased employers and the possibility that your skills are out of date, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome could be your own self-image. Being out of the job market for a few years has a way of deflating professional self-esteem, but preparing ahead of time will help you develop the confidence you need to convince a hiring manager that you’re right for the job.

Begin by thinking about the kind of work you want to do. Is it something that you’ve done before or something new? You may find that it’s difficult to resume your career where you left off or that your industry has changed so much that your previous job no longer exists. Don’t be afraid to start back to work at a lower rung on the corporate ladder or make a lateral move to a different career path.

Once you know the kind of job you want, you can start to think about creating a resume that will get the attention of those who are hiring. Current work experience always looks good, so you may want to try part-time freelancing, volunteer work or an unpaid internship before you begin your actual job search. If you haven’t kept up with the technology used in your industry, look for relevant courses online or at your local community college. Mastering new skills will help you feel more in touch with today’s work environment and boost your self-confidence.

Don’t just update an old resume. Instead, compose a new resume that focuses on your experience and accomplishments rather than job history. Consider including the interpersonal “soft skills” you have developed while you’ve been out of the workforce. Managing a family or helping a loved one navigate the healthcare maze may have turned you into a person who is organized, has great time management skills and pays attention to detail. Don’t be shy about letting people know that you are mature, capable and an effective problem solver.

A great resume will help get your foot in the door, but then you’ll need to make it through the interview. Forethought and practice can ease the process. Prepare some answers for questions you may be asked about your work history and be ready to describe everything you’ve done to stay current in your industry. If you made the choice to be a stay-at-home mom or full-time caregiver, then own it and be proud of it. Be ready to talk about your job gap in a positive manner and reassure potential employers that you are eager to return to work and will be fully committed to the job.

When you’re ready to begin your job search in earnest, let everyone know. Ask family, friends and former colleagues to spread the word. Ask for job advice from those who are working in your industry and seek out professional mentors, especially other women who have re-entered the workforce. You will find that the wider your network of contacts, the greater your chances of getting back to work. Don’t use job websites or a recruiter as your only source of job leads; personal contacts are still one of the most important tools in any job search.

Re-entering the workforce takes time, and you’re likely to encounter some bumps along the way. Try to be flexible about where you think you should enter the workforce. You may not be able to pick up where you left off or return to the same position you left, so before you turn down a job offer that feels beneath you, consider its value as a stepping stone to something better and an opportunity to demonstrate your skills. At the same time, you don’t want to get stuck in a job that doesn’t use your skills and provides no path for advancement.

Finding a company with family-friendly policies that support women in the workplace can make all the difference in the world, so do your homework and find out all you can about your future employer before accepting the job. ■

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