Are you on a career break and thinking about rejoining the workforce? Is some kind of fear holding you back? Women at all stages of their career struggle with feeling unqualified with their roles (hello, imposter syndrome!), but career reentry can be an especially scary process for even the most qualified applicants. You aren’t alone in wondering: “where do I start, and is it worth it?”
We broke down two of the largest apprehensions women face when they reenter the workforce. Then, we asked six women with varying career gaps, who participated in IBM’s Tech Re-Entry Program, for their best advice on breaking down these barriers and jumping back in.
“Trying to reenter the workforce, my challenges were three-fold: I had a gap in my resume, I was changing careers, and I was bound by geography,” Avanti Tilak, an IBM Data Scientist, said. “Whenever I introduced myself as an astronomer wanting to switch to data science, there was a lot of interest. But it would easily peter out once they found I had a gap on my resume.”
One of the biggest fears women reentering the workforce face is that they are no longer qualified for the jobs they are applying for, or that representing their career break will be difficult. What if you missed out on the newest industry developments? How do you explain your gap as growth? How should you write it out on your resume? And what if the interviewer doesn’t think you’re dedicated because you spent years outside of the workplace?
You can quell these concerns by taking a few action steps during your job search. First, tackle your fear that you aren’t knowledgeable by reminding yourself that you have relevant and important previous experience.
“Don’t undersell your previous experience,” Jill Burns, an IBM Software Developer, emphasized. If your experience doesn’t perfectly translate to the role you’re applying for, focus your resume on more general professional skills and key accomplishments you gained during your time in the workforce.
Burns suggests that you can also learn more about how to apply your previous experiences to a new field or role by talking to women in the field in a casual setting.
“Join some meetup groups in areas that interest you. This gives you the opportunity to learn what is relevant in the field and consider if this is the direction you want to go,” Burns said.
Now that you’ve tackled how to present your previous experience, how should you present your gap? Karuna Barla, a Software Engineer at IBM, suggests talking up any new skills you learned in an organic setting. For her, that meant learning coding languages for her parenting blog and adding those to her resume.
“When I had my twin girls, as all cool moms do, I started blogging. However, I found myself more intrigued in the design/layout of the blog pages rather than the content. I began experimenting with all the web development knowledge I had amassed… Even as my heart enjoyed my time raising my baby girls, staying in touch with technical learning kept my mind excited,” she said.
Remember that not all skills are technical or job-specific skills. Tilak emphasizes that you’ve likely gained many applicable soft skills from the life you’ve been experiencing outside of work — and that those can be very valuable.
“As I was searching for jobs, I found ways to keep updating my skills… by enrolling in online classes or by doing various projects… But it was hard to build a strong narrative that would compensate for the seven-year gap.
“I picked up so many skills during these early years of motherhood — soft skills that are exceedingly valuable in the workplace, like negotiating with unreasonable parties to get the best possible outcome, setting expectations and boundaries, and focusing on the task at hand despite the surrounding chaos.”
Another common fear women have when they reenter the workforce is that they will not have enough skills to contribute to their new team, that they will take a long time to recover or gain these skills, or that they generally will not be a strong team member. That’s imposter syndrome to the extreme.
“I had concerns about being able to get up to speed quickly enough on new technologies,” Anna Nguyen, an IBM Software Engineer, shared.
“It had been over a decade since I took a break to be a caregiver. I was concerned about how much I needed to learn before I could contribute to a project,” said Priti Shah, also an IBM Software Engineer.
First, it’s important to remember that you were selected for a reason.
“My advice would be to have confidence in one’s ability,” Nguyen said, emphasizing trust in the interview process and your new manager.
Jen Jones, a Data Scientist, points to the importance of setting aside your imposter syndrome and being vulnerable enough to ask for help.
“I had to learn when and how to ask for help,” she added. “I started a 72-hour rule: Work a problem for 3 days, and if you haven’t solved it by COB on the third day, ask for help.”
The best way to get meaningful advice and guidance? Seek out a mentor, like Priti Shah did.
“My mentor was critical to helping me identify my existing core skills and capacity, and identifying what I needed to learn so I could contribute to the team,” she said.
This paid internship will help relaunch your career as you get exposed to continuous training, challenging projects, and the breadth of IBM resources. The program will allow you to update your technical expertise, develop new skills, and forge new professional relationships. If you’ve taken a career break, love to learn, and are very interested in reskilling and learning new skills, you’re exactly who we are looking for.
“Don’t give up, and OWN the journey you have taken,” Priti Shah said. “Opportunities and pathways are always changing.”
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