You used to be so confident, successful in your career, juggling life responsibilities and bringing home a paycheck. But then came a career break, an extended period of time where for family or other reasons you left the full time workforce. Now there is a gap in your resume and a sense of professional unease has crept into that opening.
Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin, the founders of iRelaunch, the back-to-work organization, have been there. It is easy to forget when watching these two high-energy, confident professionals lay out a step by step plan of how to return to work, that as the mothers of a combined nine children they have walked the walk.
Cohen and Rabin have researched and written a smart book on the subject (Back on the Career Track, 2007) but far more than that, they are two moms who each took extended career breaks and came back roaring. Rabin refers to her time off as “reproductive hibernation” and admits that during her cave years she lost all touch with her professional life and contacts. She and Cohen realized that they were pioneers in a growing demographic, parents who had left the workforce only to return in midlife, their skills out of date and their confidence dented.
The professional return to work cohort is huge, by iRelaunch’s estimate nearly two million strong, and from an employer's perspective relaunchers are an attractive hire with maternity leave behind them, fewer spousal relocations, a mature perspective and an abundance of energy and enthusiasm.
Are you ready and what do you want to do? If you have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time, both of these questions may be tough to answer.
When Cohen returned to work after more than a decade at home with her kids, she started at Bain Capital because her background was in finance. During her time off she had not examined whether her career goals or area of interest had changed. After a year at Bain Capital she recognized her mistake and has spent years interviewing women and employers developing the tools to help others avoid this pitfall.
Cohen advises everyone to take a career assessment and examine what you like to do and where your skills lie. Relaunch has a readiness quiz free on their website; it is a guided tool which will let you take a long hard look at yourself. As Cohen points out, we make career decisions at a very early age and a career break gives us a pause to reasses if the decsion was correct.
Learn Confidence and Update Skills
Confidence comes in part from competence and experience and those re-entering the working world may feel themselves lacking in both. Cohen suggests that relaunchers consider going back to school for a few courses or even a degree, looking for a paid or unpaid internships, earning a certificate or attending relevant conferences to get current. Universities and community colleges have executive education and career retooling weekends, weeks and semesters. They offer hundreds of courses covering every conceivable job category, most of which can be taken in an abbreviated period and many times, online. In a recent shift, some universities even have dedicated programs to help their alumni reenter the workforce, complete with individual counseling.
While you are taking steps to ready yourself for the job market, Cohen advises returners to volunteer in ways that add bulk to your resume. That means no more snack duty for the soccer team. If you are looking for a job in PR, volunteer to do publicity for a large tournament in your town. If you are looking to get back into health care, volunteer at a local health fair or at a hospital. Find volunteer activities, consulting projects or temporary work that can be resume builders.
Credit Image: iRelaunch
Network and Social Media
LinkedIn may not have been part of your last job search, but it will be a big part of this one. Speaking with recruiters, there is unanimous agreement about the value of this tool and as one of the most important avenues in finding those returning to the workplace. For job seekers it provides unparalleled access to employers and it is a great research and networking vehicle. Through this social networking site you can contact former colleagues who may have moved on but might still be in the industry you hope to return to and may be inclined to help you make some crucial contacts.
Sign up for every form of social networking. First, nothing screams “out of date” more than the inability to use these modern tools. Second, looking for a job is hard and you will need every tool available. Facebook is not just for swapping baby pictures any more. You wouldn't want to go on Facebook begging for job leads but when your status says, “Second interview today, looking forward to it,” you will have planted a germ of an idea with your online friends that you are back in the job market.
Social networking will allow you to cast your net widely but some of your best contact may still be in your real life. Rabin found her first job back through a neighbor and another conference presenter found hers through her child’s baseball coach. Many times friends and acquaintances will not know of jobs but be more than happy to help set up an informational interview that will move you up the learning curve and expose you to people in your field. When you have a good lead, ask the person for twenty minutes of their time to explore your field of interest. Tell them you will be brief but come in with a carefully prepared list of well-researched questions that will show how serious you are about getting a job. Before you walk out the door of your informational interview ask if there are others that your interviewer can suggest you speak to as every conversation is a networking opportunity.
In the end, a personal referral may be just enough to get you out of the resume slush pile. One large consumer bank noted that while many resumes may get only a cursory look, personal referrals always get a careful once over.
Read, study and work hard...that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the amount of information available about any company you are interested in working for and the managers who will interview you. So do your research, consult a company’s twitter feed to read the latest news about that company and find out the areas of interest/expertise of those who will be interviewing you.
Advice from the experts at iRelaunch:
Credit Image: iRelaunch
Don’t apologize for your time away. Rather, show how you have recently honed your skills and taken leadership roles outside of the paid workplace.
You were smart and capable before your career break and you still are. No matter how hard or daunting this may seem, it is easier than some of the really hard things you have done in your life.
Treat getting a job as a job. Get up early, get dressed in something that says purpose, spend seven hours a day on constructive job seeking activity.
You may be working with people who are much younger than you or who never took time away from the workforce. Get over it.
Do not underestimate the value of your core skills. Your value to an employer before you left was not simply a body of knowledge or a list of clients. Your core competencies, be they analytic skills, leadership, sales ability, are all still there and remain an asset. Remind yourself of that and then make it sure it appears on your resume.
Get talking. Practice what you are going to say to interviewers with people who like you, will be nice to you and will give you realistic feedback.
Get out of the sweatpants, tee shirts and anything else that makes you look like someone who is not serious about work. You need to get out of the house and meet people and when an opportunity arises, even if it at the grocery store, you need to look like you are ready for it.
Interviewing may require new clothing and, for once, you can justify shopping as an investment. Enjoy.
Jobs do not come to people sitting behind a computer screen simply filling out forms. Jobs come from informational interviews, from talking to friends and acquaintances about their companies and from volunteering in organizations that soon realize that they cannot live without you.
Look for jobs in unexpected places and remain open to where your skills stack up. The world has changed even in the short time that you may have been out of the job market, keep your mind open to opportunities you might never have thought of before.
IRelaunch is a multiplatform back-to-work strategy organization. Through years of study and interviews, Cohen and Rabin have co-authored a book and developed a website, webinars, coaching circles and a series of highly successful conferences. The founders and their staff are passionate about helping women return to the right job. Over half of the iRelaunch conference participants returned to work within a year of attending the conference and attributed their relaunch to strategies learned at the iRelaunch conference. Cohen and Rabin have run the conference fourteen times. At each conference there are nearly three hundred women who all look like they are on a client visit for JP Morgan or McKinsey. Even if you’re not walking into, or out of one of those places, it is a real shot in the arm to be in this sophisticated, engaged and insanely smart group and to hear that their stories are just like yours.
Credit Image: iRelaunch