Stay-at-home moms-- Don't fall for the chatter that "opting out" of the workforce to raise kids sounds the death knell for your career. It is possible to get back in. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low in August-- 5.1%. The jobs are there; it's just a matter of finding one that is right for you.
Moms who have been out of the workforce for a while face a host of challenges, from explaining gaps in their resume to brushing up on skills to negotiating salaries. Wynn Burkett, a San Francisco-based career coach who runs "Getting Back in the Game" workshops for moms re-entering the workforce, says the biggest obstacle women face is loss of confidence.
"One of the biggest fears women have is feeling obsolete, like their previous skills and experiences are no longer relevant," explains Burkett. "Stay-at-home moms often ask themselves, 'Do I still have what it takes to be successful in the workplace?'"
While job hunting may seem like a daunting task, here are 10 practical steps you can take to help you decide what you want to do in your "next act" and how to get there.
1. Perform a self-assessment.
This means thinking deeply about why you want to go back to work. Whether you've been out for two years or ten, you need to assess what it is that you want and expect from your next job, or possible career. Are you going back to work for the money? To be in the presence of other adults? Because you want to find more meaning in your life? Your reasons for working at this stage in your life may not be the same ones that drove you in your pre-baby years.
According to Karen Steele, career coach and creator of The Passion Shift, "When you become a mom, you experience a shift in your priorities and values. Many women don't want to go back to the high-powered, high-stress job they had before kids." Your shifting priorities may necessitate pursuing a less traditional career - or a completely new route. With experience and kids under your belt, you may care more about flexibility and work-life balance than a big paycheck. Take time to figure out what matters most to you in your next job. Don't rush this step. You can do this on your own, or with the help of a career counselor.
2. Explore your career interests.
What do you want to do? According to Gwenn Rosener, Founder of FlexProfessionals, "Your time at home with kids is a great time to dabble in different interests and possible career paths." You can do this by volunteering in fields that interest you. For example, if you are thinking about going into counseling/psychology, intern at a nonprofit that focuses on mental health. If you want to be a writer, start a blog. Go for coffee with friends and acquaintances that work in fields that sound interesting to you and pick their brains: How did they get started? What do they like and dislike about their jobs? What skills do they need to perform their job? If you want to go back to your pre-child profession, seek out volunteer opportunities that can help build your resume. Lawyers who want to go back into practice can take on pro bono projects through local bar associations. If you want to go back into marketing or development, do some pro bono fundraising work.
3. Stay in touch.
Going back to work often means calling on former work colleagues, so do your best to stay in touch with them during your time off. Today it's easier than ever to connect thanks to social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. But make sure to get yourself out of the house and meet people in person. Sitting behind a computer does not equal "networking." Stacey Delo, Founder of Maybrooks.com, an online community for working moms, recommends "setting up informal coffees and lunches with former work colleagues to let them know you are getting back in the market." If your former colleagues don't have a job to offer you, they may know of other people you can talk to. Never leave a meeting without getting the names of a few other people you can contact.
4. Update your skills.
How familiar are you with the latest version of MS Word and Excel? What about social media tools? If you're like me, your kids are probably more tech-savvy than you are. Now is the time to brush up on your computer skills. Delo recommends reading over job descriptions like those posted on Maybrooks to find out what skills are required for the jobs you're interested in. Then learn these skills! You can find classes - often for free or at minimal cost- at local libraries, community colleges, and even online. You will want to create or update your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, as well as your website if you have one.
5. Update your resume.
At its core, your resume should communicate your mission statement and your brand. As a stay-at-home mom, you most likely have a large gap in your resume but we all know that these years were not dead time. You need to figure out how to fill this gap with the skills and experience that you've acquired during your time out of work. Most moms have spent a good deal of time volunteering, whether in their kids' schools or in the community. Volunteering is great. It keeps your experience relevant, shows you are proactive, and gives you contacts that can provide references and networking opportunities. Did you raise thousands of dollars for your kid's school? Serve on a committee or a board? These are important roles that you should include on your resume as "Relevant Experience," along with the position you held and your job responsibilities.
One great tip from a marketing executive who took 9 years off to raise her kids: During your time out, create a consulting company in which you list all of the volunteer work you do. If you help out the school with their website or do PR for a friend, add these to your resume as "pro bono" consulting projects. In this way, you can get credit for all of the unpaid work you have done during your stay-at-home years.
6. Respect your unpaid work.
As a stay-at-home mom, you've probably been hard at work balancing budgets, managing multiple tasks and deadlines, mediating disputes and doing a whole host of other things that have taught you valuable skills that can benefit employers. Allison Kelley, Founder and CEO of MomCorps, advises moms to not sell themselves short. "It is possible to find a company that will value your experience, both your previous work experience and what you've learned during your time out of the workforce."
Mastering the skills you need to run a family can make you a shoe-in for administrative, customer service and many other positions. During interviews, don't make excuses for you time at home. Be upfront that you chose to stay home to raise kids and that you don't regret that choice.
7. Spread the word.
Don't keep your job search a secret! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of all jobs are found through networking. The same people you've been working with through volunteering, chatting with at play dates and calling for parenting advice are critical to your job search. Let them know that you are looking for work. You may be surprised by the kinds of job opportunities that turn up when your network is helping you search. After you meet with somebody--be it a former colleague, college alumnus or neighbor - always send a thank you note.
Other ways to network? If you belong to a professional association, visit its web site for career assistance. Are you a college alumnus? Contact the Career Services office at your alma mater - many universities have online career networks where you can find alumni who will be thrilled to help you with your job search. Making connections is the name of the game when it comes to job hunting.
8. Hire a professional.
If the idea of rewriting your resume or figuring out what you want to do now seems mind-boggling, consider hiring a career coach or consultant to help you figure out your next step. If you're concerned about finances, contact your university or grad school's career services office. The counselors there will often work for free, in-person or remotely. Other organizations provide career guidance at a discounted rate, such as the YMCA or YWCA.
9. Look for "mom-friendly" jobs.
There are a number of websites that help moms who are trying to re-launch their careers, whether they're seeking a traditional 9-5 job or a more flexible or part-time work arrangement. In addition to online job boards, these sites offer back-to-work "toolkits" that provide resources like interview and resume writing tips, networking opportunities and webinars with leading careerexperts. MomCorps YOU is a recently launched service, which, according to CEO Kelley, "provides the tools moms need to revamp their resumes, answer tough questions about career gaps and negotiate flexibility." Other sites that list flexible and "mom-friendly" job opportunities are Maybrooks.com and Power To Fly (for moms with technical skills).
10. Practice interviewing.
You wouldn't run a marathon without training, and you shouldn't interview without practicing. If you've landed an interview, your qualifications must have appealed to the employer. Your next objective is to ensure the interviewer that you are the right person for the job, and also ensure that this job is the right one for you. Before you interview, learn as much as you can about the company and the person who is interviewing you. Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer about the company and the position. During the interview, it's your job to explain why you want to work for this company - and why you are the best candidate for the job. This is a time to exude confidence, even if you aren't feeling very confident. Fake it till you make it. It's always a good idea to do a few practice interviews with family and friends before you head to the real one.
As you follow these steps, try not to get discouraged. Re-entering the workforce might mean taking a lower position or salary than what you had before kids. Give yourself time to rebuild your career and gain your footing in the work world. You are on your way to your next act, and hopefully a healthier, happier work-life balance.
Adapted from original post on ModernMom.com.