Dear Working Mother,
Going back to work after an extended period away is seldom easy. Regardless of the reason you left work, whether to escape an unpleasant work environment, to travel or to raise a family, getting back to meaningful employment can be difficult. The reality is that once you’ve left, it can be challenging to return.
And let’s face it, the task is larger for women. Oftentimes women stay out of the workforce longer than they intended because they become the default parent. And then there is the uphill battle of convincing an employer that you are indeed ready, willing and able. Employers wonder “Is she really ready to return to work? Will she be able to slot back in to a changed, fast-paced environment? Are her previous skills outdated?”
It is easy for women to get disheartened while job searching after a gap period in their career. They’re now competing with younger candidates who are fresh out of college and driven with ambition, or candidates who are eagerly climbing the career ladder (who don’t need to explain away the gapping whole in their CV).
On top of this, mothers who’ve taken time out often lack confidence after spending years out of the workforce. They tend to write off or down play their previous experience. They fail to recognise the knowledge and skills that has been gained by raising a family.
Thankfully it’s not all bad news for woman wanting to return to work. In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote “43 per cent of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time”. Managers are beginning to recognise the hole this leaves in their company and the years of retraining necessary to get candidates to the same level. Companies are also beginning to acknowledge the enthusiasm, passion and focus a working mother brings to her role.
So if you’re ready to head back to employment after an extended period away here are a few tips to help you land a job:
- Evaluate your decision to go back to work. More than likely you’ll have changed as a person in your gap period and the same job you left may no longer be of interest. Commit time to figuring out what type of job you want and if you have the skills necessary. Priorities will have changed and these will help guide this process. With experience and children under your belt, flexibility and work-life balance may be more important to you than climbing the corporate ladder and big bonus cheques.
- At this point you may need to upskill or retrain, based on your evaluation. However, don’t write off the experience you’ve gained from being at home. As a mother of three I’ve become a master in conflict resolution and negotiation. I manage the family’s busy schedule, balance the books and learned a thing or two about patience while being on call 24/7. These are all very valuable and attractive skills to potential employers.
- Update your CV. This can cause stress to many mother who’s been out of work for years. How to explain the gap? It’s not as challenging as many fear. List all volunteer projects you’ve been involved in (e.g. at your child’s school, parent’s council, local hospice, tidy towns committee etc.). This shows you are being proactive, acquiring new skills and also gives you contacts that can provide references. Be sure to include any unpaid work you did to help out friends or family (e.g. setting up a new website, doing accountants, writing etc.). If you would like some help, check out our top three tips to creating a strong CV.
- Get some help. If the thought of trying to figure out how to re-enter the workforce and rewriting your CV is too much, consider hiring a career coach or attend a ‘back to work’ workshop.
- Network, network, network. Along with the traditional route of applying for jobs, tell your family, friends, old colleagues, acquaintances that you’re looking for work. Networking is crucial. Many jobs are never advertised and most posts are filled with referrals. Make sure to update your LinkedIn profile also.
- When you get called for interview, do your homework. Your CV and cover letter have gotten you in the door. Don’t go unprepared and waste the opportunity. Learn as much as you can about the company and the person interviewing you. Prepare some questions to take to the interview. Relevancy is key – explain why you want to work for that particular company and why you are the best candidate for the job.
Lastly, don’t make excuses for your time at home. Be direct about your choice to stay at home to raise your family and that you have zero regrets about doing so.
The Working Mother