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BY Elana Konstant

5 Steps You Should Take If You're Trying to Return to the Workforce

Woman's feet contemplating career break next steps

Photo credit: Creative Commons

TAGS:Career advice, Career break

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in professional women returning to the workforce after taking time off to raise children.  High-profile technology companies like Paypal and Google, are incorporating programs to train and hire skilled women after a career break.  Financial services companies, such as JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and legal firms using OnRamp Fellowships, have already seen the benefits of such programs.  Given how important it is for companies to maintain top talent and increase their diversity, it’s no surprise that they would recognize the value in this pool of women. 

While such internships and training do make it easier for some, many women find it daunting to even determine what they would like to do for work after a number of years caring for children or other family members. Often, they discount their philanthropic and freelance work, simply because the roles were voluntary or underpaid. Fear and a lack of confidence prevent many accomplished women from putting themselves out there, which is the greatest disservice when seeking a job. 

As a career coach, I support women in transition, either between roles or after an absence from the workforce.  In teaching courses on how to best position yourself for a return, we focus on the following steps:  (1) figuring out what you want, (2) learning to market your talents (3) building a strong network, (4) getting strategic experience, and (5) preparing for this transition.

Step 1:  Assess Yourself

In order to know where you are going, you need to think about where you’ve been.  What did you like/dislike in your prior roles?  What are your strengths/weaknesses?  What would you do if you knew you would succeed?

Begin to consider and rank the various factors at play in seeking a new position, including salary, flexibility, status, and intellectual stimulation.  What you perceive to be important may change when the options are presented in front of you and you have to choose. This is about being honest with yourself and knowing what you need out of your next job and how that meshes with what you want. What matters now might not be the same as it was before you birthed a baby or four.

Of course, it is necessary to also think about the market demand for your expertise.  If you want to start your own business, fantastic!  However, be prepared to have at least a year where you are not reaping a profit.  If you want to try a completely new career that requires a lot of training, be realistic about the time/energy/financial requirements to get that training.  That said, there are so many online resources now that it is much less intensive than it used to be to say, learn how to code, or begin an interior decorating business.  More than anything, you need to consider these three components in your assessment:

-What are you passionate about?

-What are your talents?

-What is the market need for the combination of these two?

Step 2:  Network Yourself

Networking gets a bad rap. People still associate it with awkward cocktail hours filled with boring people.  Thankfully, while those parties still exist, networking as a whole is much less contrived now.  You can do it on your own time, from the safety of your computer, calling the shots on when and where to meet or speak over the phone.  Breaking down the initial barrier is the hardest part! If people don’t know that you’re looking, they definitely won’t think of you.

To begin, make a list of those in your immediate circle to inform them of your desire to return to the workforce.  The more specific you are, the more helpful someone can be to you.  Even if these people are seemingly unconnected to the industry you want to be in, they all have contacts themselves.  In addition to colleagues and former supervisors, also reach out to those you supervised as these individuals may be running the show by the time you want to return.

After starting with your contacts, expand beyond your comfort zone and connect with people you don’t know, or at least don’t know well.  It always helps if there is some kind of commonality, whether it’s a mutual contact, school/workplace alumni association, or kids school groups, to encourage the person to respond. 

Ask to set up a call or meeting to get information- about career paths, companies, industries, and the market generally.  Conducting informational interviews can also help you lay the foundation for future applications.  When opportunities do arise, then you have already established a relationship with someone who can serve as a reference.  Try to create partnerships wherever possible-make introductions, pass along industry knowledge, etc.  Always thank everyone you meet with for their time and remind them to think of contacts and opportunities for you. 

Step 3: Market Yourself

Having persuasive marketing materials helps establish your professional identity and empower your next steps. Consider your values, talents, and career goals in creating resumes, profiles, and elevator pitches that work.

In addition to LinkedIn, Apres is another multi-faceted career platform offering jobs and content specifically for women returning to the workforce. Make sure your professional profile stands out and demonstrates your accomplishments.  Always keep an eye on how others in your prior and/or desired field describe their work so that your profile stays fresh.  Include recent relevant roles and activities, even if they were voluntary or informal. For example, serving on a board or executing a large-scale community event allows for the development of marketing, time-management, and numerous other skills.  Rather than downplay un- or underpaid experience, use it as a selling point demonstrating your ability to succeed in a related role.

When updating your resume, remember that most companies employ recruiters or software programs to weed out irrelevant applications.  Be sure to have yours speak directly to the needs of the position by including key terms, the proper context for those buzz words, and the names of high-profile competitors.

In considering the jobs you want, think about where you are really lacking expertise and then create opportunities to build those skills. Bolster your expertise by taking classes through Coursera or the like to keep up with technological developments. Renew relevant certifications or licenses.    

Follow companies on social media and join relevant professional groups to receive updates about events, networking opportunities, and job openings.  Set Google alerts on industries/companies to stay abreast of developments.

A good elevator pitch is integral to a job search and tailoring it to the audience can make it that much more persuasive.  Your pitch to a friend about returning to work should be different than your pitch to someone working at your dream job.  Practice saying it out loud- in the mirror, to a friend, or to your child- to ensure that you are conveying what you want to convey.

Step 4:  Professionally Develop Yourself

The key to getting a new job is to get relevant experience. Depending on various factors, including childcare and financial constraints, you may need to look beyond a full-time position, at least initially. Find short-term opportunities that will lead you to your long-term career goals.  These might be volunteer programs, consulting projects, community leadership, or other ways to make connections and boost your skillset in a particular area.

Leveraging your current resources is imperative as you begin your search.  If you plan to return to the legal world, perhaps start with a local bar association pro bono programs or ask a sole practitioner about contract work.  If you have a marketing background, offer your services to launch a new campaign for your kids’ preschool or a friend’s small business.  Do not stress about the status or pay, as it is up to you to spin your background in the most advantageous way.  Potential employers care more about your accomplishments and the skills you developed, than the exact number of hours worked and income earned.  You need to value this work so that others will as well.

Create opportunities for yourself if none currently exist.  Start writing articles about a particular subject matter to garner expertise.  Offer to cover someone’s maternity or medical leave, or check out Upwork or Thumbtack for freelance work.  Look into the long list of returnships.  While highly competitive, these offer a very targeted on ramp back into a specific field. The possibilities are endless if you are willing to be creative and sacrifice some time and income.  That said, make sure to always be progressing toward your long-term goals by creating accountability for yourself.  Whether through hiring someone to help you or enlisting a friend to serve as an accountability partner, establish metrics to ensure that you are moving forward.

Step 5:  Prepare Yourself

Returning to work will be a major shift for you and your whole family.  You will need to actively manage the shift by creating routines to increase efficiencies and minimize stress.  While it may take a while (or forever…) to achieve true balance, there are measures you can take to maintain some sort of equilibrium for yourself and your household. 

Depending upon the ages of your children, childcare may be the biggest impediment to a return to work. While the US is sorely behind other developed countries in its lack of subsidized childcare, there are ways to reduce the cost, particularly for very young children.  Offer to swap childcare days with someone with similarly-aged children, hire an au pair to live with you, or potentially seek out work at a school in your relevant field to take advantage of tuition reimbursement.  The sooner you establish a cohesive plan for childcare, the sooner you can begin to focus on your career.

As you manage your family and your work, don’t neglect yourself.  Calm your mind and focus your energy by setting aside time for meditation through apps like Buddhify, Mindfulness App, and Take A Break. Incorporate short bursts of exercise or yoga into your day through Daily Yoga or Seven-Minute Workout and devote more time to fitness as you can. Keep your body and your brain happy by regularly eating 10 everyday superfoods.

Once you start working again, your time management skills will be tested. Delegate what you can, as you will no longer be able to do everything you used to do.  Buy the week’s groceries online and have them delivered through Instacart. Seek out a laundry/dry-cleaning delivery service such as Washio. Hire a housecleaner and landscaper through Taskrabbit.  Cook multiple meals at a time, or use a meal delivery service like Munchery.  The goal is to maintain your sanity and health so that you can actually enjoy your new career. 

Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoaching.com

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