This article was published in the Winter 2018 edition of Career Developments (NCDA).
Start Early – As soon as your client knows they want to go back, they should start preparing. They need to decide if they want to do the same type of work as before. If so, make sure they are on LinkedIn and other social network platforms that allow their presence and occupation to be known. They should reconnect with old colleagues, get updated on the latest industry changes and news and find somewhere to volunteer to keep skills current and relevant.
Brandon (dad of two, Event Production) had a few months to prepare when the family decided to move back to the states. His wife was working overseas and he was the primary caregiver, so they were switching roles.
When Terese (mom of 3, Bank Loan Officer) decided she wanted to go back into the field of financing, it took a good 5-6 months to find the “right” job.
Emily (mom of 2, Corporate Attorney) had a similar experience going back to her field of corporate law “I started to network casually and refresh professional contacts about a year before I wanted to go back. I met friends and former colleagues for coffee and lunch to let them know I was available and looking to rejoin the workforce. I started to look in earnest in the fall, when my younger child entered elementary school (and I had more time during the day to network and interview.) I accepted a new position in May the next year, so the process took about 9 months. I was very particular about my return to work, and did not take the first offer that I received. I wanted to be sure that it would be the right job for me. It’s been 4 years and I remain very happy at that same job."
If your client does not want to go back to the same career as before, they should be spending this time off to decide what it is they want to do. You can help them determine best fit roles based on interests, skills, work style and values. Have them spend time sampling different careers out. They can accomplish this by volunteering, doing research and conducting informational interviews to get a feel for what they would be doing. When they find a better fit job, determine what gaps need to be closed before they can make this happen. Education, training, work experience and knowledge are all things they can begin to tackle prior to job hunting.
Jen (mom of 3, Tutor) initially went back as a full-time teacher. However, needing more flexibility to care for her kids, she decided to take additional training so she could manage her own time and schedule as an independent tutor instead.
While doing all this, make sure they keep records of everything. Clients should constantly be updating their resume to reflect new skills, experience and education. That way, when they are ready to go back, it should be a lot easier to target the job or jobs they desire.
Create an Action Plan –Many people find themselves going back to work because they know someone is hiring. They are usually overqualified but take the position because it offers the flexibility they need. This is fine if they are in a financial crisis. However, if your client has the time, putting together a long-term action plan can result in achieving higher success and satisfaction in the long run. Once they know the type of jobs to target, it becomes easier to go it.
FlexProfessionals, llc is a Washington D.C. based company that matches employers with employees wanting flexible work schedules (PT, FT flex, remote). They say, “The first step in feeling bullish again about getting back into the contemporary workforce is to figure out what your anxieties are and to put a specific plan of action in place to address each area. Make a list – then make a plan. It may take a few months to work through it all, so plan ahead, but do not jump back in until you are armed and confident to hit the interview trail.” Some of the things they identify that can possibly derail job hunters are being out of touch with industry knowledge and expertise, limited memory of accomplishments, hesitance about what this change means for the family and lacking a professional image.
Here are two critical things anyone getting ready to reenter the workforce need to prepare:
First off, have a resume that matches the position(s) clients are applying for. A resume should communicate to employers what the job seeker will be able to do for them. It should not be a summary of everything they have done in the past. It should reflect the skills, summaries and qualifications of the targeted job. Having a great resume will also make it easier to interview. While interviewing, clients should expand on what their resume says and provide examples. This may mean they will need different versions of their resume. However, they should limit it to no more than three, to target real passions.
They must also identify critical job elements that are needed. These include schedule (full or part-time), working remotely, flexible work hours, salary and benefits, type of culture and location/commute times. Help them identify which elements are most important and seek out positions offering those first. They may need to concede on one or two later if unsuccessful in finding one that has all. “Starting out in a new field might mean taking a lower position and salary than what you’ve been used to. Don’t get discouraged. Remember that these are all milestones as your work towards rebuilding your career and gaining your footing in the work world. You are on your way to your next act, and hopefully a healthier, happier work-life balance.” April, 2014, Samantha Parent Walravens, ModernMom.com.
If flexibility is top on the list, there are many more options now than in the past to find flexible work. They should seek out companies that:
• Find work for people needing flexible positions (flexprofessionals, flexjobs)
• Hire freelance and contract positions
• Offer remote or other flexible work arrangements
Anticipate and Manage Challenges - Once they land their dream job, they should be prepared for the challenge that lie ahead. Some common ones include: before/after school care; taking off for snow/sick days and school holidays; limited time to run errands, clean the house, drive to practices or get dinner ready. This will require working with their partners to share “at home” responsibilities, hiring a babysitter/nanny or working out a flexible work schedule with employers. Planning how to manage these ahead of time can make things go smoother and alleviate stress.
Brandon went back to his career after being a stay at home dad for three years. He was used to being there for all his children’s milestones and activities. Now, when he has an event going on, he works all the time and is barely home. Luckily, he said this doesn’t happen often.
Emily says, ”I am lucky to work at a place where I have some flexibility over my schedule. I can attend an afternoon performance at school and make up work hours in the evening. Trying to achieve 50/50 balance is setting yourself up for failure, because it’s not sustainable. I enjoy my family life when work is slow. If it is very intense, then I focus on that for a couple of weeks, and then rejoin the family afterwards for quality time.”
Many parents report making better use of the time they have with their families when they are not working.
Terese explains, “I am more present on the weekends and the days we are together. Some things don’t get done right away, some days we eat cereal for dinner or do take-out more than before but that’s ok because spending time with them comes first.”
Jen, who works PT in the afternoon shares, “Working less than full time has been a game changer for us as our kids grow older. I am able to accomplish all my planning and work while my kids are in school. Having the flexibility to grocery shop and run errands in the morning allows me to maximize time with my family after school and on weekends.”
Even if the new job doesn’t work out, clients shouldn’t get discouraged. Asist them in determining if the role was a good fit and if critical elements were more or less important than they thought. Then, help them adjust to target what’s next.
Terese started out as a substitute and preschool teacher to have the flexible hours she needed. A year later, she felt unfulfilled and tirelessly working to make ends meet. This is when she decided to go back full time to something she was better qualified for and enjoyed more.
Other Suggestions from Parents:
• Create and/or seek out a position that excites you and is worth your time.
• Let everyone know you are available and looking for work. Former colleagues, friends and other connections are the best way to find a good opportunity.
• Sign up for an on-ramp program such as iRelaunch.
• Be patient! It can definitely take longer than anticipated to find the right job. Don’t jump at the first opportunity as it may not be the best one for your family.
• Make sure the company you will be working for is family friendly and flexible if you need to leave early or take off for doctor appointments, class events, etc.
• Practice interviewing and be prepared!
• You do not need to apologize or feel embarrassed by the large gap in your employment history. Steer the conversation towards your qualifications, education, experience, or whatever is most helpful to the job listing.
• Don’t feel guilty about your decision to go back to work. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for - trust that they will be fine and better for it in the long run.