Leaning Back In: 5 Tips for Women Returning to Work
In the US, women are the primary caregivers, often opting to drop out of the workforce to care for children, aging parents, and ailing relatives. According to a study conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation (2010), of the 90% of women who wanted to resume their careers after taking time off to have children, 70% found a way to return to their careers but only 40% found full-time, mainstream work. In addition, a growing share of stay-at-home mothers say they are home-bound because they cannot find a job (6% in 2017, up from 1% in 2000).
What do stay-at-home moms do all day?
After 15 years in the professional world, I stepped back to stay home and raise my kids. It used to bother me when people would ask if I “worked”. At dinner parties, someone would inevitably try and make conversation with me by asking,
“Do you work?”
“Oh, yes,” I’d answer.
“What do you do?” they’d continue.
“I cook, I clean, drive kids, help with homework…it’s 24/7.”
They would laugh, as if there was some joke there, then look away uncomfortably when they saw I wasn’t kidding.
For some reason, the type of work a woman does when she cares for her family often does not count as “work”. Nor does it count as legitimate career development, presumably because money does not change hands. The reality is, staying home for a time to care for your family is both a job and an education.
Most working moms step back from their careers at some point to raise children, whether for a few months, a few years or a few decades. And when they do, they find that they undergo a unique hands-on, pressure-cooker type of leadership program. It has long hours, zero pay and a hap-hazard vacation policy, at best. Technically, they do not even get sick days. But what they do get is an excellent management education. They learn to motivate, lead, negotiate, train, manage a budget, and drive to results with the most difficult, untrained work force imaginable: children under the age of 10.
Yet, for women seeking to return to the paid workforce, this intense leadership education gets little or no recognition in an interview setting. Unless you’re going for a nanny position, the person across the desk may not readily acknowledge the people management or budgeting skills you’ve developed in your hands-on, stay-at-home Mom program. One of the biggest challenges a woman faces when returning to the work force is how to take the experience she has gained in her time off and leverage it to land a paid position.
Here are some tips that helped me, and could help you, make the most out of your stay at home experience.
1. Break down the tasks you’ve used at home into marketable skills-
You may have developed digital and networking skills through social media, blogging or other online programs. If you’re like many women, you’ve spent a big portion of your time volunteering and helping at your kid’s school. You’ve raised money by selling tickets for events, rounded up and managed volunteer workers to get the job done, and thrown entire events often without spending a dime.
In job terms, these skills are:
Social media & communications
Project team leadership and,
These are all resume builders. Step back and look at what you’ve done and the skills you’ve developed as an employer might see them. Whether you performed them for an educational institution, a nonprofit entity or an athletic leisure association, you’ve done it. Remember to be specific and state the percentage of total revenues you drove, the number of people you managed and the impact you had on the organization. These are all sound building blocks for a resume which reflect what you’ve accomplished in your “time off.”
2. Showcase your skillset digitally-
Once you’ve got your resume updated, make sure you set a credible and updated online presence on LinkedIn. Using the building blocks of the career skills you outlined above, try showing your experience by skillset rather than chronologically if your work experience is not recent. Then develop your digital footprint by attaching a professional photo and by growing your network to around 100 connections, initially and ultimately to 500+ as your network grows.
Remember to round out your profile by stating what is important to you and what you value. Employers appreciate volunteer work and want to see your personality in addition to your skills. Spend some time making your profile is as complete as possible and include a crisp summary paragraph stating what you’re looking for and the skills you have to demonstrate your capability in this area.
3. Network through your immediate circle of friends-
Though you may not have been in the work place recently, you still have the ability to develop a strong network. In addition to the strong network from your daily interactions, remember that the women you see in car pool lines, waiting for kids at after school activities and volunteering at your child’s school also have connections. They may have spouses with jobs, know others that work for companies in your area or hold jobs themselves. They are not only great networking opportunities, but women you can develop personal relationships with that could help you professionally later on.
4. Have your elevator pitch ready-
It is important to you take some time to sketch out a brief description of what you're looking for—your elevator pitch-- and rehearse it in private until it rolls off your tongue naturally. The more confident and well-articulated this "pitch" is the more credible you'll appear. Start by announcing your intent to get a job to friends and share the pitch which you've rehearsed in private earlier.
Friends want to help; ask them if they know anyone you can reach out to for an informational interview. Most people are happy to share information as long as they do not feel put on the spot to hire you and will be happy to connect you by email. In your informational interview, ask questions about the industry, the company or their job responsibilities to bring yourself up-to-date in your field of interest. Any of these conversations can convert to more interviews and ultimately, an actual job.
It may not happen overnight (and probably won't), but your chance to move from an unpaid position to a part-time paid position or from a side hustle to a full-time job is out there. Be open to volunteer opportunities if it expands your skill set (and your resume!) and don’t forget to ask for a detailed LinkedIn recommendation for your work contributions. You can keep your efforts going strong by connecting with other friends that are looking to pivot, too. It’s more fun to go with someone to the career meet-ups, lectures or career fairs.
Ultimately, as in other areas of life, you will get out of your job hunt what you put into it. If you take some time to figure out what you want, articulate the new skills your time off has given you, and share your abilities with friends and potential employers, you will stand out. And when you do get that job, remember to take time and encourage that next woman who may be trying to move out of her comfort zone and find a way back to paid employment.