Erin and I have blogged extensively about work and family balance issues — in particular, our posts on opting out of the workforce to stay home with kids, and the opt-out penalty box, generated a great deal of commentary.
Honestly, we wrote those articles as a way to get a bunch of “inside” information out in the open. We wanted to candidly discuss the topics that bounce around quietly, but never really see the light of day.
Our intent, however, is to be constructive (as opposed to merely complainers). So today we’re talking about what to do if you are an opt-out-er that is now a wants-back-in-er! So you took a few years off to raise your kids, move across the country, take care of your ailing parents, take care of other family members’ kids, not to mention everything else you probably squeezed in (PTA seats, board meetings, charity activities, etc.)? Now…. now you want back into the mainstream workforce.
It’s probably not going to be easy, but here is a list of what we have seen be effective:
- Be Authentic. When you get an interview, the people interviewing you are going to want to know where you have been and what you have been doing. You have the (legal) right to keep some information private, should you want to do so, but (again, subject to your own judgement) it’s perfectly legit to explain that you were helping to handle a family health crisis, staying home with small children, or whatever. Pretty much everyone has an understanding of what this means. And, candidly, you probably don’t want to work for anyone who doesn’t have empathy for it. Put whatever you have been doing in a professionally positive light and go with it.
- Be Prepared. Before you tread back into the work world, you need to get prepared to do so. Do some advance research on childcare, figure out how you are going to get your kids to and from wherever they need to be, and determine how much it’s going to cost. It’s simply not workable to just ignore these important issues until you get a job offer, because the reality is that no job will work if it doesn’t work for your family. As an example, if you cannot actually GET to daycare by 6pm when it closes, it’s not the right job for you.
- Make Sure Your Resume Is Up To Date. Obviously. But wait – make sure you are not overlooking skills and accomplishments undertaken while you were out of the workforce. You spent 2 years on the board at your kid’s school? You chaired the fundraising committee and doubled the annual giving? You donated 1500 hours to your local homeless shelter? You run an independent business on the side? Good gracious, put it on your resume! List it proudly, and professionally. It’s work.
- Consider Changing Careers. The helpfulness of this advice depends on many factors. How long have you been out of your career? How specific are your skills? Do you have a professional degree into which you invested significant time and money? We have a number of friends who have gone back to school for an entirely different profession than the one they had before children. One is now a labor and delivery nurse (so awesome!). Another works in development at our children’s school (previously a bonds trader!). You can do it.
- Consider New Training. Maybe you don’t need an entirely new career…maybe you need an educational refresh on the one you have. Were you a teacher before kids? Consider getting a master’s in education (a one-year full time degree). In my legal world, there are many professional designations that are very valuable and marketable. Also, the training time kind of “fills in” your resume with a substantive work-related achievement, in addition to linking you up with your educational institution’s recruitment office.
- Consider Professional Training. This is a segway from the point above. If you are a teacher, a lawyer, an accountant, or anyone else with a license to do what you do, consider brushing up your skills at school — getting a new certification can refresh your skills and link you back into your professional network like nothing else.
- Use a Recruiter. When I had been out of work for a number of years and wanted to get back to work, I called a recruiter. She is now a very close friend, but at the time, she and I met in person and she was then able to convey to potential employers how skilled and hire-able I was in a way that never would have happened otherwise. If you have a profession where this is possible, don’t delay in reaching out to one or two of your choice (be sure to be upfront about who you are working with).
- Talk to Friends. Your most valuable network is the network around you. Generally, it’s our experience that people like to help those they know… but that’s only possible if you tell others what you are looking to achieve. We’re adults now (not college kids)… we – and you – have networks and connections that did not exist when you began your work life.
- Be Brave In Networking. Erin and I literally repeat this mantra all the time… “Be Brave.” We have found that people are extraordinarily generous with their time, advice and talents… if you ask nicely (and intelligently). Just get out there, join some meetups, talk to people, go to recruiting events, use LinkedIn. You might just be as surprised as we have been.
- If It’s Not Working, Consider Volunteering. We have a number of friends that had a really hard time getting back into the workforce after an extended leave of absence (plus other circumstances, including a cross-country relocation, difficult divorce, parental health problems, etc…. you know, LIFE). In a couple of instances, they just decided to work for free to get their work mojo back in gear, network, have something to put on their resumes. Friends, it totally worked. It’s not pretty, and it doesn’t feel good, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
All in all, it’s a pretty messy landscape… but if you are smart, and approach it right, things can come together in ways you never expected. Be brave CluckCluck friends!
Heather & Erin