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BY Elana Konstant

Back to School Doesn't Have to Mean Back on the Struggle Bus

By Elana Konstant

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Photo credit: © Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

For anyone with children (and pretty much everyone who remembers being a child), September is a month of renewal. The start of the school year means new supplies, new clothes, new friends and new potential.

As a career coach who works with many women returning to work after a career break, September is my busiest month. Once the kids are back at school many women, particularly for those whose children just started elementary school, feel the desire to reclaim their time (thank you, Maxine Waters!). Even hiring cycles tend to follow the academic calendar with a big push in the fall and then again in the new year.  

If you’ve been thinking about returning to work or seeking a career change, now is a great time to kick off that process. Here are four key points for you to focus on to make your career transition a successful one:

1. Look For The Right Roles In The Right Places

More and more attention is being paid to the value of hiring experienced women in the corporate world as there is a stronger understanding that a linear professional path is not the only option. Time out of the workforce is no longer a career killer and neither is the need for flexibility. According to Brad Bertner, a field director with Northwestern Mutual West Los Angeles, he appreciates hiring women in their second careers.

“Women control the vast majority of the money and want to be engaged in the financial conversation," Barter said. "For women re-entering the workplace who desire more control over their work and a meaningful connection... it all starts to add up.  To be a part of that dialogue and fill a need in the marketplace is exciting for me, the potential new advisor and her market.”

Many larger companies are now offering returnships, which are paid programs for a set period (say three months to a year) for women to have a route back into the professional world. Such returnships can be found at Paypal, Goldman Sachs, General Motors, IBM, and On Ramp Fellowship, among others. While highly competitive, these offer a very targeted on ramp back into a specific field. Perhaps if your desired company of interest doesn’t have a returnship program, then you could offer to establish one.

You can also check out Fairygodboss job listings and Fairygodboss' Work-Life Balance Guide, which provides info on which companies offer the most flexibility. Apres, Werk, Flexjobs, and MomCorps are other places where you can look for roles that will take into consideration your need for flexibility. Hire My Mom, Power To Fly, and The Second Shift all offer opportunities specifically for women, many of them remote or part-time. Emissaries specifically lists roles providing coverage for parental leaves.

2. Know What Skills You’re Missing — Then Get Them

If you have been out of the workforce for some time or if you are looking to pivot into a new field, a training program might be necessary before you can get the hands-on experience. For those of you in technical fields, such as programming and graphic design, it is key to stay on top of the latest developments. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), like Coursera, EdX. Alison, and more, can be helpful by teaching you about social media, marketing, fundraising or other skills you'll need to land your dream role. While some of these courses are offered for a fee, many are free for you to audit. Now there is no excuse to have antiquated knowledge.

Similarly, for roles in which you need to be licensed or certified for, such as teaching, or medical jobs, you want to make sure that everything is up-to-date before you kick off your search. Check in with people currently working in the fields you want to go into to see what you are missing in your repertoire so that you can focus your efforts on gaining those qualifications.

There are now also a number of resources focused on women returning to the workforce, such as the iRelaunch conference, reacHire programs, and my own newly-launched eCourse, Leaping Back: providing a step-by-step process for your return to work.

For those looking to reboot their technology skills, including coding, U/X and data science, there is General Assembly and the Flatiron School. Of course, there are so many other programs as well in various fields. Many of these are for a steep fee, but they also include career services and placement to help you land a role.

3. Market Your Experience To The Job You Seek

Remember to treat your application materials as a piece of marketing to sell yourself for the role. Your resume should address the needs of the position by including key industry terminology from the job description and other sources.  Your cover letter should show that you have researched this company/role and know how your experience relates. Your LinkedIn profile should demonstrate your accomplishments and career highlights. Research how others in your prior and/or desired field describe their work for ideas and proper vernacular.  

Rather than downplay voluntary or underpaid experience, use it to demonstrate your ability to succeed in a related role, i.e. discuss how executing a large-scale community event honed marketing, communication and delegation skills.  Own your prior work and make sure to focus the descriptions on the skills and achievements most relevant to the positions you seek.

Practice your elevator pitch out loud to ensure that you are conveying what you want to convey and customizing it as needed to the audience.  

4. If You Can't Find The Opportunity, Create One

If you aren’t seeing the specific jobs you want, start thinking about how you can pitch yourself to a particular company or industry. Write articles, organize conferences and build a network in a particular subject matter to garner expertise and connections.  Strategic networking can be incredibly helpful when you are reentering the workforce or shifting career paths.

By focusing on specific companies and industries, you can establish a relationship with someone who can serve as a reference when opportunities arise.  Get out there and let people know that you are looking for work. Be systematic about your networking by using a spreadsheet to keep track of outreach, notes and follow up.  As you begin to narrow down your search, make your outreach more tailored. The more specific you are, the more helpful someone can be.  

Try to create partnerships wherever possible make introductions, pass along industry knowledge, etc. Thank everyone you meet with for their time and remind them to think of contacts and opportunities for you.   

To get experience without the commitment of a full-time job, consider taking on project-based or consulting work. Offer to cover maternity or medical leaves, or check out Upwork, ThumbtackCatalant or Freelancer for freelance work through a structured platform.

Make sure to establish some measure of accountability through regular homework to keep progressing toward your long-term goals.

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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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